BC Police Act Reform and Substantive Equality


BC Police Act Reform and Substantive Equality

The Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act review is timely given ongoing racial, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, two spirit, intersex, and other sexual minority (“LGBTQ2SI+”) and other group-based disparities in police interactions. CBABC members and the public should carefully follow this work and actively advocate for reforms promoting justice for these communities disproportionately affected by aggressive and ineffective policing. The social context of the Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color (“BIPOC”) and LGBTQ2SI+ communities interactions with Canadian police forces is illustrative of the dire need for reforms.

These communities suffer from a double-edged sword, overrepresented in negative interactions with police, yet underrepresented in accessing policing resources for serious crimes against them.

Police-involved deaths remain tragically high (BC’s rates are the highest in Canada per capita) and disproportionately involve the BIPOC community. There were 98 police-involved deaths from 2000-2017 in BC. Indigenous persons accounted for 14% of those deaths (despite BC’s Indigenous population being only 4.6% of BC’s 2016 census population). There were also 25 fatal incidents where the deceased’s race/ethnicity was unknown, suggesting that these racial disparities could be even higher. In Toronto, data shows that from 2013-2017 a Black person was nearly 20 times more likely to be involved in a fatal police shooting. The absence of a comprehensive police deaths and injuries data registry or collection process, nationally and provincially, (that considers and reports race and other equity variables) remains a continuing obstacle to understanding the full scope of this problem.

Similarly, data from 2008-2017 showed that Indigenous and Black persons were disproportionately involved in Vancouver Police Department (“VPD”) street checks. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs and BC Civil Liberties Association reported that street checks of Indigenous and Black persons were 16% and 4%, and those groups population rates were only 2% and 1% in Vancouver. These disparities are amplified when reviewing race’s and LGBTQ2SI+ status’ intersectionality. The November 2020 TransPULSE report from Ontario reports that 73% of all racialized trans persons were worried about negative police interactions. Trans persons also reported an eight-fold difference (16% vs. 2%) in negative justiciable legal problems involving police when compared to cisgender Canadians.

Under-policing also affects the BIPOC and LGBTQ2SI+ communities when crimes targeted against them go uninvestigated and unaddressed. During the COVID-19 pandemic, in Vancouver, Anti-Asian hate crimes have risen by 717% and hate crimes generally by 97%. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry heard many accounts of BC police showing little concern for Indigenous victims. Further, last summer, there was a high-profile assault incident, after anti-LGBTQ2SI+ hate street preachers repeatedly espoused their rhetoric in the Davie Street enclave over several days, without the VPD intervening. More education for police and corresponding greater enforcement of hate crime provisions will, hopefully, reduce future disturbing incidents.

Only comprehensive reforms will remedy these disparities. Steps like eliminating arbitrary street checks, collecting better demographic data on police interactions, greater accountability and liability for police-involved deaths (including reforming wrongful death compensation laws), and better education leading to anti-hate crime enforcement will start to narrow the gap. However, a collective paradigm shift on police funding levels and the need for carceral state action to remedy social ills best addressed with other measures, is likely necessary to see true reconciliation and transformation addressing the equality gaps in policing.

Submissions to the Committee are due by April 30, and we encourage readers to make their voice heard on this critical social justice reform process (either through ongoing CBABC submissions or other group or individual submissions).