Vancouver city councillor defends wearing controversial ‘thin blue line’ patch

Click to play video: 'Vancouver city councillor defends wearing thin blue line police patch'
Vancouver city councillor defends wearing thin blue line police patch
WATCH: A Vancouver city councillor is defending his decision to wear a patch some consider controversial. On December 17th, at an event in Gastown, councillor Brian Montague was pictured wearing a jacket with a Thin Blue Line patch on the sleeve. Montague, a retired Vancouver police officer, refuted the claims in a statement. – Dec 20, 2022

A Vancouver city councillor is defending his decision to wear the controversial thin blue line patch that critics say symbolizes division and has been linked to some far-right movements.

Coun. Brian Montague, a former Vancouver police spokesperson, was spotted sporting the patch on a jacket sleeve at a Dec. 17 event in Gastown.

The thin blue line image depicts a greyscale Canadian flag, with a blue line across it. Supporters say it honours fallen police officers, while critics argue it represents police power, and was overtly used as a racist symbol, particularly in the U.S., in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

A photo of the event drew swift reaction on social media, with some calling the patch a symbol of white supremacy.

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Montague responded on Twitter, saying the patch symbolizes “a line of dedicated people who protect.”

“It is a memorial to many of the friends and colleagues I have lost. It symbolizes courage and sacrifice,” he wrote.

“I earned the right to wear it. How dare you, or anyone, attempt to redefine, hijack, or appropriate my symbol.”

Click to play video: 'RCMP orders Mounties not to wear “Thin Blue Line” symbol'
RCMP orders Mounties not to wear “Thin Blue Line” symbol

In a statement, Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim, who leads Montague’s ABC Vancouver party, offered his support to the councillor.

“As a veteran of the Vancouver Police Department, Councillor Montague wears the patch as a memorial for the many friends and colleagues that he and countless other officers have lost over the years — We stand by Councillor Montague’s choice to wear the patch,” Sim wrote.

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We condemn those who attempt to redefine or co-opt the thin blue line symbol for hatred or political purposes.”

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While the mayor defended the patch, numerous police agencies in Canada have pulled away from it, ordering officers not to wear it on their uniform.

In 2020, the Victoria Police Department and the RCMP both directed officers not to wear the insignia on their uniforms.

Earlier this year, the Calgary Police Commission ordered officers in that city to remove the patches from their uniforms, saying in part that it has “history and roots in colonialism and racism.”

Click to play video: 'Calgary Police Commission works to remove ‘thin blue line’ police patches'
Calgary Police Commission works to remove ‘thin blue line’ police patches

Simon Fraser University criminology professor Martin Andresen said the symbol has a history and meaning offensive to many.

“The police like to state that this symbol has been coopted by the extreme right … but this is actually a misunderstanding of the symbol,” he said.

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“It is literally a line, the blue line represents a line of police, and they say that it’s about them preventing society falling into chaos or falling into violence — but who ends up making those definitions?”

Andersen said the symbol has a long history in Canada, where it has also become an expression of power and colonialism.

As an elected official, he added, Montague risks signalling that he does not represent all of his constituents.

Downtown Eastside outreach social worker Tyson Singh Kelsall was among those who expressed concern about the patch on social media.

Click to play video: 'Saint John Police ordered to stop wearing ‘thin blue line’ patches'
Saint John Police ordered to stop wearing ‘thin blue line’ patches

He noted the symbol was widely adopted by people and groups looking to explicitly target the Black Lives Matter movement following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., in 2020, and can be viewed as threatening by people in marginalized communities.

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“We know that the patch itself has ties to white supremacy and white nationalist movements. But what we also know is that the patch itself is representative of how the VPD act in the communities they police most — that there’s a good and bad side,” he said.

“We can see that in the street checks data, we can see that people of certain races were disproportionately stopped. We can see in the way that the police have campaigned around fear of mental health issues and drug use in the city.”

Kelsall added Montague’s display of the patch shows a worrying closeness between police and the city’s new governing majority party.

During the 2022 civic election campaign, the Vancouver Police Union broke with a tradition of neutrality and endorsed ABC.

“To just say that those concerns (about the symbol) are not valid is … concerning and it’s representative in how they’re going to be running the city because the police budget is already well over $1 million a day and it looks like they’re set to approve close to $390 million for the upcoming year,” he said.

Andersen said there are other items Montague could make use of to express support for fallen officers, including a black and blue ribbon, that do not have the charged associations the thin blue line does.

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He said the incident was also a good opportunity for the councillor to reach out to concerned communities for a discussion on how to honour officers who died in the line of duty in a sensitive way.

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