Premier John Horgan says the existing Police Act in the province is out of date but defunding police is a “simplistic approach” to a much more complex challenge.
Speaking to reporters following a health-care announcement in Sooke, part of his own riding, Horgan said the act is 45 years old and needs to be reviewed to meet modern day concerns.
“Minister (Mike) Farnworth and I have been talking about policing for some time. It wasn’t just the advent of the frustrations and the challenges that we’ve seen south of the border. We have issues with law enforcement in Canada as well, we’re not immune to this,” Horgan said.
“What we expect law enforcement to do today is quite different from what they were doing 45 years ago. An understanding of mental health issues, an understanding of the consequences of addictions are just two that I think of off the top of my head.”
Police forces across North America have been under intense scrutiny after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
On Thursday, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart called on the B.C. government to conduct a comprehensive review of policing in the province.
Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Stewart said city council can do little to affect policing because of the B.C. Police Act.
Critics have also called on different jurisdictions across North America to defund police.
Horgan says the focus should be on increasing funding for health services, whether it be mental health, addictions and funding for housing so to address the issue of homelessness.
The premier says his vision includes expanding the capacity for communities, whether they’re responsible for their own policing or they contract to the RCMP, to make sure the province is not asking more from law enforcement than they’re capable of delivering.
“There’s a range of other challenges that we have that we are now burdening law enforcement officers with. So when I hear people talking about defunding I think that simplifies a very complex series of issues,” Horgan said.
“We need to provide more resources to those challenging files. That’s why we established the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions so that we could focus specifically during the opioid crisis on addressing addictions. We also have a whole host of mental health challenges that we need to focus our attentions on and I think it’s inappropriate to expect law enforcement to do that.”
Horgan added he couldn’t respond directly to Stewart’s comments because he hasn’t seen his press conference. But added Stewart has significant powers as police board chair to “implement changes himself”.