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B.C. Legislature announces plan to update Police Act, points to ‘systemic racism’ in B.C. institutions

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth speaks during a news conference on the provincial response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 26, 2020.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth speaks during a news conference on the provincial response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 26, 2020. Global News

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says a new legislative committee will be reviewing “systemic racism” in police forces across B.C.

Farnworth says provincial institutions have “systemic racism built into them” and need updating.

“B.C.’s Police Act is 45 years old,” Farnworth said.

“It’s out of date and out of step with our government’s approach to harm reduction and mental health. Expectations on front-line police responders have grown and our policing and public safety model needs to reflect communities’ current and future needs.

“Everyone deserves to be treated fairly in our province and we acknowledge that for many Black, Indigenous and other people of colour, that hasn’t always been the case.”

Read more: B.C. Premier John Horgan promises changes to Police Act, says calls for defunding ‘simplistic’

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But Farnworth would not answer specifically whether the committee address instances of racism in each police force in the province or how often concerns of racism are raised within those police forces.

The special committee on reforming the Police Act is tasked with suggesting reforms related to independent oversight, transparency, governance, structure, service delivery, standards, funding, training, education and any other considerations which may apply, respecting the modernization and sustainability of policing in the province.

The committee is also being asked to examine the scope of systemic racism within British Columbia’s police agencies, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, independent municipal police and designated policing units, and its impact on public safety and public trust in policing.

B.C. premier on need to review and update the 45-year-old Police Act
B.C. premier on need to review and update the 45-year-old Police Act

The role of police with respect to mental health and wellness, addictions, and harm reduction is also part of the committee’s mandate.

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The committee is expected to report back to the legislature by May 14, 2021.

“Ensuring the police are accountable to the highest standards for fair and unbiased conduct is crucial to maintaining public trust,” Farnworth said.

“Our government has strengthened the Independent Investigations Office and introduced new standards on police stops, which include not permitting arbitrary stops or ones based on race. But more can and must be done.”

Read more: B.C. looks to tweak legislation governing civilian police watchdog service

The committee consists of NDP MLAs Nicholas Simons, Garry Begg, Bowinn Ma, Rachna Singh, Liberal MLAs Jas Johal, Mike Morris, Ellis Ross, Michelle Stilwell, and Green Party interim leader Adam Olsen.

The committee is also being asked whether there are measures necessary to ensure a modernized Police Act is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We want to modernize the Police Act and I think you can do that,” Johal said.

“By modernizing the Police Act you actually help the police do their job, it’s not one of the other. We want to give tools to police so they can do their jobs effectively.

“You have to remind yourself there are wider concerns around gender diversity and racism and the change to the Police Act will not change that.”

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