The Vancouver Police Board voted Thursday to defer a motion calling for a review on the department’s practice of street checks, police can provide updated statistics on how often they are used.
Delegations from the BC Civil Liberties’ Association and other community organizations spoke at the board meeting, calling for the practice to be abolished entirely because of its discriminatory application against racialized groups.
“No amount of reviews can justify an illegal and discriminatory practice. No amount of reductions in the number of street checks will justify an illegal practice either,” association staff counsel Latoya Farrell told the board.
The board voted 4-2 to defer the motion to the governance committee until further data could be made available.
Multiple members said things would be moving too quickly if they were to start a review of the process straight away, given that the Vancouver police had updated their policy on street checks in January of this year.
Officers are now banned from stopping civilians based on race, sex, homelessness or other identity factors, and are required to tell people who are stopped but not detained that their interaction is voluntary and they do not have to produce identification.
But Rachel Roy, who brought forward the motion, disagreed that the timing was too fast.
“I gave verbal notice of this motion several months ago, as I believe this is something urgent that needs to be dealt with. We need to have these conversations with the community sooner rather than later,” Roy told the board.
“The long-lasting impacts that come from street checks that are conducted in a way that creates fear or distrust of the police stays forever.”
BC Civil Liberties executive director Harsha Walia told Global News there have been plenty of reviews done on the matter already, including 2018 data from the department itself that found that 1 in 5 people ‘carded’ by VPD were Indigenous women. Indigenous women represent two per cent of the population of Vancouver.
She also said a previous review on street checks commissioned by the police board and carried out by Edmonton-based Pyxis Consulting Group was criticized for “methodological failures” after it was found to have omitted “disturbing and inappropriate conduct and comments about racialized and vulnerable people from two Vancouver police officers witnessed by Pyxis contractors.
“It is very frustrating that there is yet another review being ordered and that likely that review will plausibly have some of the same methodological failures,” said Walia.
“And instead of another review, they have community very directly telling them what they want. There doesn’t have to be more time or resources spent on this.”
Earlier this year, Vancouver police said that under the new policy the use of street checks has declined by about 90 per cent. But a spokesperson said they remain an important policing tool.
“Street checks are a valuable proactive crime prevention tool for police, even though they are used infrequently,” Const. Tania Visintin told Global News in June.
Walia said those statements contradict each other.
“I think they’re holding on to street checks despite the fact that they have a discriminatory impact and importantly that they are illegal. There is no common law or statutory authority for police to conduct street checks,” she said.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart — who also sits as chair of the Vancouver Police Board — told Global News he was told by the board’s ethics advisor to recuse himself from the discussion after board members raised concerns that it would be a conflict of interest.
Earlier this year, Stewart brought a motion in city council asking the police board to ban all street checks.
“Some of the testimony that we heard during some of those public hearings — which I think were very healthy for council to hear — were quite alarming,” he said.
That motion passed unanimously.
Stewart called his position on the police board a “weird balancing act” and sympathized with past mayors who have also held the position.
“It’s quite a strange position to be chief spokesperson for a board on which I cannot vote or pass motions.”
Because Stewart has recused himself from the board’s discussion, he told Global News he can’t comment on the motion.
But he said the data presented as part of the city council motion he brought showed that street checks do target racialized groups disproportionately, and said public consultation is key on the matter.
“Hearing from the public is an essential part of determining police policy, especially involving street checks,” he said.
“I found it very enlightening. That’s why I put forward the motion that I did, and that’s why I’m so glad city council unanimously approved it.”