Vancouver youth who say their voices aren’t being heard gathered outside the city’s school board office Wednesday, ahead of a meeting focused on the future of police officers in schools.
The Vancouver School Board is in the midst of a review of its School Liaison Officer (SLO) program, initiated last June amid the renewed global focus on racism and policing spurred by the death of George Floyd.
Trustees were scheduled to discuss public feedback on an independent report into the program which was released last month.
Quincy Johnson, a Black student at Vancouver Technical Secondary, said she doesn’t understand why liaison officers are needed on site for other roles like mentorship.
“A lot of cops don’t have mental health training, so why should they be the ones giving us advice? We need actual mental health professionals that we feel like we can connect to,” she said.
“Because if I feel like I am having a problem I do not want to go to a cop. Honestly that is one of the last people I want to go to. So going to high school and knowing that is my resource is very hurtful, and that is what makes me feel unwelcome.”
The review, conducted by Argyle Communications, found a “spectrum” of experiences with the program — both positive and negative.
While 61 per cent of respondents said the officers contributed to a sense of safety, that opinion was not shared by many Black and Indigenous students.
Just 15 per cent of Black students agreed, while 47 per cent of Indigenous students agreed.
“We know that law enforcement represents a larger message in today’s society,” said Owen Ebose, a Grade 12 student from Burnaby who came to show solidarity with the Vancouver students.
“The uniform, the badge, the gun, it’s sending a message … that that constable wasn’t there to provide mentorship or provide guidance, they were there to police us, they were there to intimidate us, they were there to scare us into conforming to what the schools are hoping to see from us.”
Vancouver police say the program, which has run since 1972 and is fully funded by the VPD, serves both a crime prevention and safety role, as well as a role in breaking down barriers between young people and police.
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“Much of what our SLOs do daily is engage with the students and make the schools a safe and inclusive place for them to learn. While we certainly do investigations, our focus is on ‘public safety’ and student/staff engagement,” Vancouver police Const. Tania Visintin told Global News in March.
Zoe Craig Sparrow, a member of the Musqueam First Nation and Co-Director of Justice for Girls, said much of the frustration from the students at the rally stemmed from the fact they felt like the board wasn’t listening to their experiences.
“Enough is enough. I hate that we have to be here today,” she said.
“They are kids, they should feel safe in their schools … and the reality is kids don’t feel safe, and especially BIPOC kids don’t feel safe.”
“I do not feel like the board is listening to them. I feel like their concerns are being pushed to the margins. And the argument that some students like the SLO officers does not outweigh these student’s concerns.”
The program is listed as a discussion item for the VSB’s Policy and Governance Committee Wednesday night, while the full board is expected to vote on the program’s future later in April.