Review of police street checks in Vancouver welcomed by advocates

The Vancouver police board ordered an independent review of the controversial practice at the Sept. 26 meeting

Image: flickr.com/bcemergencyphotos
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Reported by Lisa Steacy

Advocates say they are relieved that the Vancouver police’s street-check practices, which were intimidating and frightening for many Indigenous people, will be subject to an independent review.

Lorelei Williams, an activist who also works with the Vancouver Aboriginal community policing centre, said the review should consider the historical roots of the distrust that Indigenous communities have for the police.

“They should definitely look into our history,” she said. “They need to understand why and where we come from, and why we don’t like the police. Our people do get profiled a lot. It’s never good. It’s pretty scary.”

Police say racial profiling is not an issue

The Vancouver police board ordered an independent review in September of the controversial practice of stopping people, asking them for identification and recording their personal information in a provincial database.

The board also agreed with six recommendations made by police on how to improve street-check practices, including a data release once a year on who is checked and more training for officers.

Chief Adam Palmer, who maintained that street checks are a valuable policing tool, said the findings of an internal review of the department’s use of street checks over the last ten years proved that checks have proven to target people who needed to be targeted.

“The people we’re checking are people that have a heavy history of criminality regardless of their race. They’re people that are in situations where they need their well-being checked,” he said. He noted that checks aren’t always done at police initiative.

“In many cases, these calls are coming from the general public.”

Board chair Sherri Magee was reassured by the report.

“What this showed me and what I understand much better and feel confident about is that it wasn’t racial profiling,” she said.

Police perspective only one piece of the puzzle

In May 2018, the department released data on all street checks conducted between 2008 and 2017.

Indigenous people, who make up two per cent of the overall population, were the subjects of 15 per cent of checks.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed a complaint saying that this data strongly suggested that checks are being conducted in a discriminatory manner.

Josh Paterson, BCCLA’s executive director, said the police perspective is only one piece of the puzzle.

“In Canadian law, something is judged to be discrimination by the effects on people, not by the intent,” he said.

He said that although the police describe some street checks as “well-being checks,” it’s not clear that Indigenous people experience them that way.

Robert Chamberlin, vice-president of the UBCIC, welcomed the decision to review the practice.

“We’re hoping with the fulsome engagement of a third-party analysis, by working with community and people that have experienced this, that we can come out with a policy that’s going to meet the needs of everybody involved,” he said.

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