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Vancouver police probe of student’s racist video needs more clarity, watchdog says

Click to play video: 'Concerns raised about Vancouver Police investigation of racist video' Concerns raised about Vancouver Police investigation of racist video
In a new report, the Office of the Police Complaints commissioner says the Vancouver Police Board should further review the police department's investigation of a racist video featuring a high school student. Nadia Stewart reports. – May 12, 2020

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner of B.C. has asked the Vancouver Police Board to clarify how police in that city handled a racist incident at a high school in 2018 involving a video on social media.

In a letter dated May 6 and obtained by Global News, the civilian oversight agency asks the board to look deeper into the policies and programs used to address the incident, after it received a complaint from the BC Community Alliance, a group that fights inequality created by anti-Black racism.

READ MORE: ‘I felt like I didn’t matter’: calls for anti-racism policies at emotional VSB meeting

“I was actually quite encouraged at the news that the OPCC is holding the … department to account,” said alliance spokesperson Markiel Simpson.

“The next meaningful step is that the Vancouver Police Department re-look at their investigation, (and) potentially involve the hate crimes unit.”

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In November 2018, a then-Grade 10 student at Lord Byng Secondary shared a video on Snapchat of himself uttering racial slurs and obscenities and expressing his apparent wish to kill Black people. The clip was then shared by other students.

A parent reported the video to school administration, who reported it to police.

Two Black students transferred to other schools not long after, saying they felt threatened.

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VSB discusses anti-racism motion at emotional meeting – Dec 5, 2019

In August 2019, the alliance sent a complaint to the police department, the school board and other groups that accused local authorities of failing to respond appropriately to the video and to protect the community from future racism.

In its 4,500-word complaint to the police oversight agency, the alliance said authorities took no measures to protect racialized students at Lord Byng Secondary in the wake of the video, and that the only consequences on the boy were self-imposed and “not meaningful.”

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The group would later file a human rights complaint against the school board, alleging delays in dealing with what happened and a lack of willingness to deal with similar incidents more effectively. The school board has said staff followed procedures.

According to a report to the Vancouver Police Board, the police investigated the video, concluded there was no intent to commit harm, and would not recommend charges to Crown counsel.

“There were elements of the video that could be constituted as a threat,” said the report, dated Jan. 6.

“Once the student was identified and interviewed, he admitted to having made a horrible mistake and apologized.”

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The boy had no prior incidents with school administration or police, it added, and was an “exemplary” student.

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Instead, the report said, he wrote a letter of apology, offered to meet with those who had been offended, and self-imposed an “education plan,” following guidelines in the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA).

The act states that police shall consider “extrajudicial” actions or penalties for young offenders in bid to keep them out of the criminal justice system, if possible and appropriate.

Other measures the police force took included getting a senior investigator to review the findings, the report said, and meeting with the school board and the alliance to discuss the matter.

READ MORE: Human rights complaint filed against Vancouver School Board over student’s racist video

In her letter, deputy police complaint commissioner Andrea Spindler recommends that the police board provide specific information about the department’s policies so that the alliance can better understand its response.

“The use of police discretion, particularly as it pertains to the criminal conduct of youths, is an important function … I therefore make no comment on the exercise of that discretion in this instance,” writes Spindler.

“However, it is unclear whether the matter was dealt with pursuant to a program established under the YCJA or a specific program of the VPD.”

Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who chairs the police board, did not respond to a request for comment.

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