Vancouver’s police board has ordered an independent review into the police department’s use of street checks, with the city’s mayor describing the outside report as an important next step.
The board, which is chaired by Mayor Gregor Robertson and includes members of the community, recommended the independent report at a meeting Wednesday. Mr. Robertson said the review will begin in January and wrap next July.
“I think the Vancouver Police Board, as a civilian board, will benefit from having a third-party review the data, working with the community, with the VPD, and also taking a good look at what the real experience is for Indigenous and racialized people who are dealing with street checks,” he told reporters.
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed a complaint about the checks in June. Data released by the Vancouver Police Department through a freedom-of-information request showed the stops disproportionately involved people who were Indigenous or black.
The force has denied the stops were discriminatory, a position it repeated in its own report into the street checks released earlier this week.
Chief Constable Adam Palmer told the board at Wednesday’s meeting his department would support an independent report, something the two groups who filed the complaint had called for.
“If the board feels that there is more analysis required, or another look at this by an independent third-party academic who has the qualifications to come in, look at the data or do further research, then we would definitely be happy to facilitate that and participate fully,” Mr. Palmer said at the meeting.
The data the force released earlier this year said 16 per cent of street checks in 2017 were of Indigenous people, who make up about 2 per cent of Vancouver's population. It said 5 per cent of checks were of people who were black, who make up 1 per cent of the population.
The percentages have been about the same over the past decade. In 2008, about 15 per cent of individuals checked were Indigenous, while about 5 per cent were black.
Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, after the meeting said it was very important that the matter be looked at independently. He said the police department’s report was only one piece of the puzzle.
“We know that what the police want to do is protect people here in the city of Vancouver, we know they want to find the best ways possible to fight and prevent crime. But ... depending on the tools that they choose, there can be disproportionate impacts on people in racialized and Indigenous communities,” he said.
Chief Robert Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, questioned some of the police report’s findings, including its claim that 53 per cent of Indigenous women who were subjected to street checks from 2008 to 2017 had been the subject of a missing-persons report. He asked when those reports had been filed and at what point during the street check that was realized.
As he defended the force’s use of street checks, Mr. Palmer said 91 per cent of calls for service last year for suspicious circumstances were from members of the public. However, the report noted only 8 per cent of street checks over the past decade were the result of a civilian’s call.
And though the report said 23 per cent of street checks involved people who were homeless or of no fixed address – with the department putting them under the heading of well-being checks – Mr. Palmer acknowledged to reporters he did not know how many of those stops involved a person’s well-being.