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Vancouver Police Department’s use of carding disproportionately targets Indigenous people

Street checks conducted by the Vancouver Police Department disproportionately involved people who were Indigenous, according to data released by the force, a disclosure that drew swift condemnation from civil-liberties advocates.

The data, recently posted to the department website, said 16 per cent of those who were subjected to street checks last year were Indigenous people, who make up about 2 per cent of Vancouver’s population.

The data said people who were black, about 1 per cent of Vancouver’s population, were also disproportionately stopped. About 5 per cent of street checks last year were of black people.

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In a written statement, the department denied its street checks were driven by race and said its focus is on crime.

Street checks, or carding, involve stopping people to gather information without a reasonable suspicion of an offence. The issue drew attention in Ontario after complaints about privacy violations, and police were accused of disproportionately targeting minorities. Justice Michael Tulloch of the Court of Appeal for Ontario is reviewing the province’s laws on street checks, with recommendations expected next year.

Douglas King, former police accountability lawyer with Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society, said the numbers confirmed what he had suspected.

“The way that the police conduct their work, the way that they’ve created their boundaries with the street-check system, is inherently going to lead to bias, it’s going to lead to people who are aboriginal and black more often checked than others,” he said in an interview.

Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, called the data “alarming.”

“We know First Nations are overpoliced, and this is just another shocking indication of the degree,” he said in an interview.

Sergeant Jason Robillard, a Vancouver police spokesperson, said in a statement on Monday that street checks are a valuable public-safety tool and occur when an officer “encounters someone believed to be involved in criminal activity or a suspicious circumstance, and documents the interaction.”

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“Our street checks are not based on ethnicity. They are based on a crime or an action – not the person,” he wrote.

He said individuals who were Caucasian were also overrepresented in the stops last year. He said they made up about half the population, but 57 per cent of those checked.

The street-check data were posted to the Vancouver police website on May 24 in response to a Freedom of Information request. The website does not say who filed the request.

Mr. King, now executive director at the Victoria-based Together Against Poverty Society, said he made an FOI request for ethnic data and Vancouver street checks more than four years ago, but received nothing.

He said he was told the department did not track such information.

“I was told so many times that they did not keep that data and that they saw it as a breach of privacy to be keeping that data. So I do not understand where this is coming from, it’s honestly quite shocking,” he said.

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The data provide yearly street-check totals from 2008 to 2017. In 2008, 9,358 individuals were checked – about 15 per cent were Indigenous and about 5 per cent black. Fifty-four per cent were Caucasian.

The number checked has dropped over the past several years, from 11,011 in 2014 to 6,322 last year.

The ethnicity of about 6 per cent of the people checked last year was marked as other or unknown, or the field was left blank.

The data said 1,826 of the individuals checked last year were for “problem-oriented policing.” The reason given for 1,280 checks was “suspected criminal” while another 1,231 people were stopped for “suspicious activity.”

Sgt. Robillard said problem-oriented policing is “a pro-active, targeted approach to reduce crime or disorder after an underlying problem has been identified.”

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