As Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart urges his colleagues to vote to put an end to police street checks, other local city councils are preferring to leave it to their police boards or committees to ask for changes.
Demands for changes in how cities 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.
“We’ve been wanting this ban for years. In this time period, a lot of people have been street checked, have been harmed, as a result of this,” said Harsha Walia, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
Street checks are the police practice of stopping people randomly to either look for signs of criminal activity, such as hidden guns, or to check on their welfare.
The association, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and BCCLA have raised concerns about the checks for a couple of years. Data released in 2018 by the Vancouver Police Department through a freedom-of-information request showed stops disproportionately involved people who were Indigenous or Black.
The data said 16 per cent of street checks were of Indigenous people, who make up about 2 per cent of Vancouver’s population. It said 5 per cent of checks were of Black people, though they represent 1 per cent of the population.
Mr. Stewart has been urged on by his left-of-centre councillor colleagues, who have been demanding the mayor go further than his call two weeks ago for the province to reform policing. As well as an end to street checks, those councillors say reducing the police budget is next.
“The call we’re getting to look at the budget again is a big one,” Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr said. “Stay tuned.”
She, along with Green colleagues Pete Fry and Michael Wiebe, as well as OneCity Councillor Christine Boyle, say the council needs to give more direction about policing in Vancouver.
But outside Vancouver, many other local politicians are not prepared to issue orders or move too quickly on either street checks or budgets.
In Delta, any discussion about potential changes is being handled by the Delta Police Board, which issued a statement June 12 together with the city’s police department, saying police must “constantly improve and be part of the solution.” There is a public meeting June 30 for further discussion on the matter.
In North Vancouver, Mayor Linda Buchanan said that now is a “time for all politicians to be listening and learning.” But there is nothing planned at her council on policing other than a police committee meeting in the fall and a general discussion about budget adjustments for all departments.
Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov said his office hasn’t received any complaints about street checks, but the issue could be viewed at the city’s next police board meeting in July.
On Vancouver Island, Esquimalt Mayor Barbara Desjardins, who is also lead co-chair of the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board, said the body has not requested anything around stopping such a practice but will be watching other boards.
“I would say that the board feels right now that Vic PD [Victoria Police Department] do a very good job in terms of their compassion and fair and impartial approach,” she said in an interview.
The Victoria department is responsible for policing in both Victoria and Esquimalt. According to a report released by the force, 297 checks were conducted in 2017. Among 407 people checked, 6 per cent were Indigenous people, who make up about 4.8 per cent of Victoria and Esquimalt’s population. It shows visible minorities, who represent 13.6 per cent of the total population, accounted for 4 per cent of the checks.
The Vancouver Police Department says it is taking the position for now that it “will await further discussion and policy direction on this topic from the Vancouver Police Board.”
In an e-mail responding to The Globe and Mail about potential changes, department spokesman Sergeant Aaron Roed noted that street checks this year are 91 per cent lower than last year and will likely work out to about one check per year per front-line officer for 2020.
But, he wrote, they are still useful.
“Street checks are a valuable proactive crime prevention tool for police, even though they are used infrequently,” Sgt. Roed wrote. “A street check occurs when a police officer encounters someone believed to be involved in criminal activity or a suspicious circumstance, and documents the interaction. They are not random or arbitrary checks.”
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