Vancouver’s mayor wants the B.C. government to conduct a review of policing across the province, claiming city councils can only “rubber stamp” decisions.
City council can do little to change municipal policing in Vancouver because the provincial government can override its decisions, Mayor Kennedy Stewart told a news conference on Thursday.
“The province’s Police Act requires us to more or less rubber stamp police budgets outside minimal discretionary spending,” he said.
Instead, B.C. Premier John Horgan should initiate a comprehensive review of all levels of policing, including the RCMP, Stewart added.
Stewart, who is also the chairman of the Vancouver Police Board, said city councils lack the ability to create large-scale change and the province should review everything from systemic racism to the impact policing has on vulnerable populations.
“While many U.S. cities, including Minneapolis, can massively restructure its police, neither organizations which I chair can legally do this even if they wanted to,” he added.
In a statement, Vancouver Chief Constable Adam Palmer said: “If the province of B.C. chooses to initiate a review of policing in B.C., the VPD will participate fully.”
Stewart also offered support for an end to street checks, where a police officer can ask for a person’s identification and personal information, and for police departments to examine using body cameras.
Ontario has curtailed the practice of street checks, also known as carding, in light of data suggesting that people of colour were disproportionately stopped by officers in that province and asked to provide identifying information even if no particular offence had occurred.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which earlier on Thursday called for an end to street checks, called Stewart’s push for a review ”disappointing.”
“This is a game of passing the buck,” said Latoya Farrell, a policy lawyer with the association. “There’s nothing preventing (Stewart) and city council from taking action now.”
Instead, Stewart should be taking immediate action to stop procedures like street checks instead of initiating another review, she added.
“Right now, it seems like he’s saying ’I would like the province to review this and come up with recommendations’ and that’s not enough at this point.”
B.C.’s solicitor general said in a statement the province will create a committee to consult with communities and experts on how to best update the Police Act.
“Everyone deserves to be be treated fairly by the police — and our government acknowledges that for many Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour, that hasn’t always been the case,” said Mike Farnworth.
Stewart’s assertions come during a larger discussion across Canada about the way police departments are funded and operated after the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Chantel Moore in New Brunswick.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Monday that he would push premiers and the RCMP to equip police with body-worn cameras.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland followed that on Wednesday by saying all federal government institutions, including police, should operate with an understanding that systemic racism is an issue in Canada.
Palmer, in a statement released as the president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, acknowledged racism as an issue in Canada and said he welcomed more independent civilian oversight.
“This powerful moment we are experiencing has culminated after more than a century of systemic racism in Canada,” the statement said. “It is time for change in all aspects of society. Tackling racism requires a response from the entire community, including the police.”
The mayor’s announcement comes after the organizers of the Vancouver Pride Parade said all police and corrections officers will be barred from this year’s online event.
The roots of Pride stem from “righteous anger, riot and uprising against police brutality,” said a statement from the Vancouver Pride Society.
The police department said it was “disheartened” by the decision.
Stewart’s comments also play out as the city and its police department engage in a back-and-forth about budget cuts.
Vancouver city council passed a motion in May calling for a one per cent cut to the police department’s budget as the municipality struggled with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Vancouver Police Board, which oversees the department, called for that cut to be rescinded in early June.
“Any reduction in staffing, or a set target of one per cent reduction to the budget is not viable, and would be detrimental to public safety,” Barj Dhahan, chair of the police board’s finance committee, wrote in a June 2 letter to city council.
The police department has incurred roughly $2.3 million in costs related to the pandemic, and the large-scale protests following Floyd’s death will also affect its budget, the board says.
This report was first published by the Canadian Press on June 11, 2020.
Nick Wells, The Canadian Press