The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) have lodged a formal complaint to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner about the Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) “street checks.”
The technique, often referred to as “carding” involves police stopping people and gathering their information when they are not suspected of any specific criminal offence.
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Last month, the VPD published data to its website which showed that between 2008 and 2017, 15 per cent of the street checks performed by its officers involved Indigenous people, despite them representing just two per cent of the city’s population.
Four per cent of contacts involved black people, who make up less than one per cent of Vancouver’s population.
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The BCCLA and UBCIC are calling for an immediate investigation into what they say is a significant racial disparity in carding incidents.
“The statistics demonstrate the lived reality of institutional racism that our people face, despite the public rhetoric and celebrations around reconciliation,” said Chief Bob Chamberlin, UBCIC vice president.
Elaine Derocher with the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre says indigenous people are stopped up to six times a day.
“Did they forget where I come from?” she said.
“I’m a Canadian citizen. Why do they call me First Nations if I’m always last in line?”
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Vancouver Mayor and Police Board Chair Gregor Robertson said he’d like to see a province-wide policy on carding, but worried about drawing links between race and street checks.
“I do note that white people are actually disproportionately street checked more often than their percentage of the population too. Not as much as Indigenous or black.”
According to the VPD, the majority of street checks involved Caucasian people, who make up 46 per cent of the population but 57 per cent of documented carding incidents.
Robertson said the issue would be discussed at a Police Board meeting on Thursday afternoon.
In a statement, VPD Chief Adam Palmer rejected allegations that street checks are based on ethnicity.
“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,” Palmer said.
“If our officers see potential criminal activity or a threat to public safety, they are bound by law, including the Police Act, to address it… A person’s race does not factor into an officer’s decision to take action to prevent a crime.”
Palmer said there is a strong connection between street checks and criminal charges, and that when street checks and charges are broken down by ethnicity the percentages for both are comparable.
“The VPD does not control where crime falls along racial and gender lines. It is unrealistic to expect population and crime ratios to be aligned,” Palmer said.
“For example, women make up about half of the population and men make up the other half. However, more than 80 per cent of crime is committed by men.”
The VPD will hold a press conference Thursday afternoon to respond to the controversy.
-With files from Gord MacDonald and Erin Ubels