Vancouver’s city council has voted unanimously to ask the local police board to ban the practice of street checks, two years after an internal report showed Indigenous and Black citizens were disproportionately stopped in public to be “carded” and have their various personal details recorded.
Council approved Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s motion Wednesday night and he will now write a letter to the board exhorting it to ban the Vancouver Police Department from continuing this practice – a demand from dozens of community groups across the province who hope Vancouver’s motion will spur other cities to start the process of abolishing street checks. Though he chairs the police board, the mayor cannot move board motions and may only vote on matters in the event of a tie.
“Thank you to all the speakers who shared their stories and supported this important change – especially Black, Indigenous and people of colour who are disproportionately impacted,” Mr. Stewart posted to social media after the vote.
Stephanie Johanssen, executive director of the board, said council may not direct the board in any capacity, but the motion passed Wednesday signifies to the board that ending street checks is a priority. The motion will be discussed at the next board meeting in September. At last month’s meeting, board member Rachel Roy indicated she will bring a motion in September asking the board to review the practice and weigh in on whether it should be abolished.
Demands for changes in how people are policed have erupted across North America in the wake of the death of George Floyd in the United States, and B.C. advocates for police reform say street checks should end everywhere in British Columbia once and for all.
However, outside of Vancouver, most municipal politicians have no desire to issue similar orders or move too quickly on street checks.
The VPD maintains the practice is vital to preventing crime even though these checks are used sparingly. In the first six months of this year, the force’s head of communications Simi Heer said in an e-mailed statement, the VPD recorded roughly 220 street checks, a 91-per-cent drop from the same period in 2019.
Latoya Farrell, staff counsel for the BC Civil Liberties Association, said the department’s ability to enact the huge drop shows that police can carry on without these discriminatory stops.
“It goes to show that the street checks you are conducting are not a valuable tool, are not necessary and are, in fact, holding onto an archaic relic of a policing practice that is illegal for that last 9 per cent,” said Ms. Farrell, who spoke to council Wednesday about her experience as a Black woman who has been stopped by police multiple times while walking.
Pete Fry, the lone councillor of colour, told the hearing he had been subjected to these random checks “many, many times in my youth” and that he welcomed VPD’s recent reduction in street checks, but the force needs to abolish them.
Two councillors, Melissa De Genova and Sarah Kirby-Yung, asked the city’s legal department whether their vote on the motion would constitute a conflict of interest because they are both married to Vancouver police officers.
Both women, who have been bullied online for their family ties, were told they could vote because the motion does not influence their financial interests. Ms. Kirby-Yung recused herself because she said she did not want to distract from the important conversation while Ms. De Genova took part in the hearing and voted in favour of the motion.
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