Updated: November 24, 2021
Vancouver B.C. – Today, B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner, Kasari Govender, released her submission to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act (SCORPA), which makes recommendations to address a disturbing pattern of discrimination in policing in our province.
BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner’s (BCOHRC) written submission, “Equity is Safer: Human rights considerations for policing reform in British Columbia,” includes expert analysis of data from five police jurisdictions that reveals disturbing racial disparities in policing activities across B.C. The submission makes 29 recommendations for reforming policing in B.C. to reduce systemic discrimination and improve safety.
The Commissioner’s recommendations centre on:
- realizing B.C.’s obligations to Indigenous peoples
- implementing a human rights-based approach to the collection of disaggregated data
- reforming the practice of street checks
- de-tasking the police
- improving police accountability
The report also includes expert analysis of data from the Vancouver Police Department, the Nelson Police Department and the Surrey, Duncan and Prince George RCMP detachments, which were selected to represent different communities with varied demographic populations in distinct parts of the province.
Among the findings:
- Indigenous people are highly overrepresented in arrests or chargeable incidents in all five police services studied. For example, in Vancouver, Indigenous men are 17.3 times more likely to be arrested than their presence in the population would predict.
- Black people are highly overrepresented in arrests or chargeable incidents in three of the five jurisdictions examined: namely, Vancouver, Surrey and Nelson. Hispanic and Arab/West Asian people are also overrepresented in many police jurisdictions.
- People with mental health issues have frequent interaction with police services, which in turn also has a greater impact on Indigenous, Black and Arab/West Asian people. For example, in Nelson, Black people are 4.7 times more likely to appear in mental health incidents involving police than their presence in the general population would predict.
- Indigenous women are either grossly or significantly overrepresented in arrest statistics in most jurisdictions examined in B.C., despite the fact that women are generally underrepresented in arrest statistics. In many cases, their arrest rate exceeds that of white men.
“Systemic racism in policing undermines community trust and safety. We need to reimagine the role of police in our province.”
“Systemic racism in policing undermines community trust and safety,” Commissioner Govender said. “To restore this trust, we need to reimagine the role of police in our province, including shifting our focus from the police as default responders to other community-based strategies.”
Scot Wortley, professor of criminology in the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto analyzed the policing data on behalf of BCOHRC.
“One thing is clear: profound racial disparities in police arrest and mental health statistics exist in British Columbia. These disparities demand monitoring, policy attention and action by police, government and oversight bodies to redress the disparities that this data points to,” said Wortley.
“While this report analyzes data and numbers, it is critical to acknowledge that the data is about individuals, particularly Indigenous, Black and other racialized individuals who experience significant and long-term harm, trauma and mental health impacts as a result of police interactions and involvement in the criminal justice system,” continued Commissioner Govender. “This report calls for immediate and sustained action to address the structural discrimination behind these numbers and to redress the harms caused by it.”
Concern about collection and retention of police data
The Commissioner is concerned about the limitations of the police data available for research and study purposes in B.C. For example, BC RCMP is the largest policing agency in B.C. and serves 70 per cent of the population, yet they do not currently retain historical records of data for research purposes after a file is closed beyond the minimum national standard, which in some cases is just 24 months. This makes it difficult for researchers to access the kind of data needed to examine policing patterns over time. The Commissioner recommends that provincial data retention schedules be established through consultation with community.
“The B.C. RCMP’s failure to retain historical policing data for research and study purposes is deeply troubling as it contradicts principles of transparency and accountability in policing,” Commissioner Govender said.
Support for impacted communities
The data we are releasing points to a trend of over policing of racialized people in British Columbia. We recognize this information will be deeply disturbing for many people in our province to hear. This issue, while critical to examine, is extremely challenging, especially for people who have experienced or witnessed negative interactions with police or law enforcement. Members of police services who are shocked by these statistics and concerned with the conclusions drawn may also feel the need for support. British Columbians who experience distress at hearing this news or who need immediate help can access a list of crisis lines and emergency mental health supports we have compiled on our website at: bchumanrights.ca/support
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President, Union of BC Indian Chiefs:
“It’s going to take incredibly strong commitment, leadership and decisive action to fully eradicate the racist attitudes inherent in all police forces within B.C. and right across Canada. First Nations must be true partners in changing policing in B.C. The Commissioner’s recommendations give us a basis for badly needed action. Importantly, those recommendations start with a government-to-government relationship with First Nations on changes to the Police Act. That’s the first step to addressing the vast racial disparities that these submissions point out.”
Jonny Morris, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division:
“The Commissioner’s submission clearly articulates the presence and impacts of systemic racism across structures and the steps needed to achieve a more equitable society. CMHA BC supports the recommendations to reduce reliance on police as the first and only response to 9-1-1 calls related to mental health and substance use.”
Alicia Williams, BC Community Alliance:
“The numbers presented in these submissions are devastating, especially for the communities grappling with this discriminatory treatment and for people who have experienced or witnessed negative interactions with police, but the Commissioner’s recommendations give us a roadmap for change. With bravery and commitment on the part of our leaders, we can reimagine policing in this province to create safer and more equitable communities.”
Raphael Tachie, President, Canadian Association of Black Lawyers:
“We want to see meaningful action to address systemic racism in policing here in B.C and across the nation. The Commissioner’s report uses data to illustrate what Black people in this province have long been saying—namely, that anti-Black racism is pervasive in our policing and justice systems. But these numbers don’t tell the full story about what these disparities mean. Many people will remember the incident from earlier this year when former Justice Selwyn Romilly, a man in his 80s and the first Black person appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court, was mistakenly handcuffed and detained while walking on the Vancouver seawall. Behind each of these numbers are people and communities who experience real harm as a result of discriminatory policing. We cannot forget how deeply individuals and communities feel this harm and the ensuing and enduring inter-generational trauma. Our families and communities deserve better. The time for action is now.”
Read the submission
A PDF of BCOHRC’s written submission, “Equity is Safer: Human rights considerations for policing reform in British Columbia,” and links to supporting materials can be found at: bchumanrights.ca/SCORPA
For questions about this release or to arrange interviews with Commissioner Govender or Professor Wortley, please contact Charlotte Kingston, Director, Communications, at Charlotte.Kingston@bchumanrights.ca or 1-250-216-4534.
Commissioner Govender will be available for interviews between 1 and 2:30 p.m. PST on Nov. 24. If you are unable to book an interview in that window, we will do our best to accommodate your request.
Dr. Scot Wortley is available until 5:00 p.m. PST/8:00 p.m. EST on Wednesday, November 24, 2021.
Download our media kit for images of Commissioner Kasari Govender.
BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner exists to address the root causes of inequality, discrimination and injustice in B.C. by shifting laws, policies, practices and cultures. We do this work through education, research, advocacy, inquiry and monitoring.
About the Commissioner
B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner, Kasari Govender, started her five-year term on Sept. 3, 2019. Since then, our Office has been working swiftly to build a strong team, to listen deeply to the concerns of British Columbians, to deliver education materials on our rights and responsibilities, to issue policy guidance to protect marginalized communities and to lay a human rights-based foundation for our work. As an independent officer of the Legislature, the Commissioner is uniquely positioned to ensure human rights in B.C. are protected, respected and advanced on a systemic level throughout our society.
About Scot Wortley
Scot Wortley is an expert in race and crime research who has worked as a professor at the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto since 1996. His key areas of research include street checks, race-based data and youth violence and gangs. In 2017, he served as an independent expert to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, examining police street check data related to people of African descent. In 2020, his work examining arrest, charge and use of force data of Black communities by the Toronto Police Service was highlighted in the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s “A Disparate Impact” interim report.
In 2020, the Legislative Assembly appointed an all-party Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act (SCORPA) to examine, inquire into, and make recommendations on reforms related to policing under the Police Act. The Committee is examining the role of the police with respect to complex social issues including mental health and harm reduction, the scope of systemic racism within B.C.’s police agencies and ensuring the Police Act is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Commissioner made oral submissions to the Committee in February 2021 and is now making written submissions.
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