Committee hears ‘clear evidence of systemic racism’ in B.C. policing, recommends new legislation

Click to play video: 'All-party committee report into policing targets systemic racism' All-party committee report into policing targets systemic racism
WATCH: An all-party committee of B.C. MLAs made an announcement in the legislature Thursday, calling on the province to drop the RCMP and instead adopt a province-wide police force. Vice-chair of the committee, Dan Davies, explains what led to the creation of the report – Apr 28, 2022

A committee charged with examining policing in B.C. has heard “clear evidence of systemic racism” in enforcement throughout the province, it revealed in a landmark report published Thursday.

To address the pervasiveness of discrimination and other service failures, the all-party Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act recommended new legislation be drafted to govern policing, based on values of “decolonization, anti-racism, community, and accountability.”

Indigenous peoples and municipalities must be involved in creating the new Community Safety and Policing Act, which would oversee the committee’s recommended new provincial police service.

“Throughout our consultation, we heard about a lack of trust between many individuals, communities, and the police, particularly Indigenous and racialized communities,” read the report.

“To rebuild this trust, a significant shift in police culture is needed.”

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Read more: All-party committee calls on B.C. to replace RCMP with provincial police force

The committee was appointed in February to dive into the accountability, service delivery, training, education, structure and governance of policing in the province. More than 400 people and organizations made submissions to the committee, and over 1,400 responded to its survey.

Members were mandated to examine the scope of systemic racism in B.C. policing, including the RCMP, and its impact on public safety and trust. It was also charged with determining whether new measures are needed to bring the Police Act in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“The output is not going to be easy, it’s going to be difficult,” said Adam Olsen, Saanich North MLA, committee staff member, and a member of Tsartlip First Nation. “The recommendations that we make are not recommendations we make lightly.”

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According to the report, Indigenous communities must have input on all policing that affects them, including self-administered policing that could also serve neighbouring non-Indigenous communities.

New recruits and existing officers should undergo screening and performance tests for empathy and a “lack of bias and prejudice,” it added. Standardized training and education should be also enhanced on the topics of anti-racism, cultural competency and trauma-informed practices, the report said.

Members also recommended benchmarks be created to ensure these initiatives are effective in shifting police culture and conduct, and that education be focused on outcomes, not the completion of courses.

Read more: ‘It is time to act’: Report on B.C. policing finds ‘disturbing pattern of discrimination’

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said he supported the recommendations.

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“Historically speaking, the relationship between RCMP and Indigenous people has been deeply steeped in colonial, racist notions. It’s been abysmal at best,” he said.

“In spite of the fact it would take a tremendous effort to transform to an umbrella, provincial police force, I think in the long run, it would be a worthwhile investment.”

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In its report, ‘Transforming Policing and Community Safety in British Columbia,’ the committee also recommended police services collect and report disaggregated race-based data, in consultation with members of racialized communities.

“Members noted that this data is needed to better understand systemic racism and make improvements to policies and practices across policing,” the report said.

Members further recommended a single, civilian-led independent oversight agency be established to oversee complaints, investigations and disciplinary matters. If adopted, it would replace B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, and the Independent Investigations Office.

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The new watchdog, they added, should revise the definition of “misconduct” to include demeaning and discriminatory conduct, language, gestures and behaviours.

Read more: Many B.C. institutions have racial bias, chief coroner tells committee on police reform

Provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the report’s findings echo the government’s belief that “everyone deserves equal treatment by the police.”

“This has not always been the case for many Indigenous, Black and other people of colour,” he wrote in a Thursday statement. “Public trust requires that the delivery of police services is fair, equitable and responsive to all British Columbians.”

His said his office will review the report’s recommendations and begin consulting Indigenous peoples, community organizations, health and mental health groups, police agencies and oversight bodies on the report this summer. The ministry aims to “meet the new vision for the Police Act,” he added.

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Doug White, chair of the BC First Nations Justice Council, said the council is ready to hold the government’s feet to the fire on policing reform. The organization’s justice strategy, signed in 2020, was developed by the council, the government and First Nations communities with accountability in mind, he explained, and B.C. must uphold its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

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The BC First Nations Justice Council provided input for the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act’s report, and White said he felt the MLAs were “responsive.”

“What became the RCMP was created to control Indigenous peoples, to facilitate the development of Canada through to the West, and that basic storyline has never really changed,” White told Global News.

“The fact that they so clearly state that we need to co-author legislation, we need to work with Indigenous peoples, we need to work with municipalities to bring about a new police act in B.C., I think, is so welcome.”

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Robert Phillips, political executive for the First Nations Summit in B.C., said the prospective reforms are happening at a “critical time,” as police agencies and justice institutions across the country reckon with “disturbing levels” of systemic racism and discrimination.

“The work that’s now being taken on can’t be overstated, because for Indigenous people, it’s literally a matter of life and death,” he said.

“That work needs to be fulsomely engaged with Indigenous people at all stages, from the very beginning to the very end … and I think if we do that work together in co-development, there will be co-existence and then we can start righting some of the wrongs of the past 150 years.”

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Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, acknowledged the “good goals” in the report, but said she’s not sure how a new provincewide policing service will be better than the RCMP.

“If they can start a police force that is free of racism and has independent investigations, and looks more at trauma-informed ways of policing, then maybe that’s a good thing,” she told Global News. “But I’m not really sure it’s all the answers.”

There’s needs to be more national discussion on when police are needed and if they’re needed, she added, citing cases of Indigenous peoples being shot by police or dying in their custody. Indigenous peoples must be given an opportunity to be “the pen” on new police legislation, she explained, rather than being allowed to comment or respond to regulations written by politicians.

“In the end, this legislation has to go into the legislature, they vote on it, they send it to committee, they make changes and it doesn’t come back to us,” she said. “It’s a good goal, but can we do it in the right way? Can we be sure that any legislation on policing captures it?”

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