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‘Thin Blue Line’ patches not allowed on VPD uniforms, Vancouver Police Board confirms

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Police Board endorses the ban on the ‘Thin Blue Line’ patch'
Vancouver Police Board endorses the ban on the ‘Thin Blue Line’ patch
Vancouver's Police Board unanimously endorsed banning officers from wearing the so-called 'Thin Blue Line' patch on their uniforms. Some officers see the patch as a symbol of their mission to protect citizens, but critics say it carries a message steeped in hate and division. Emad Agahi reports – Jan 19, 2023

The Vancouver Police Board reaffirmed Thursday that officers are not permitted to wear the controversial ‘Thin Blue Line‘ patch on their uniforms.

The symbol, a black and white Canadian flag with a blue bar across the centre, has become a cultural flashpoint, with police and supporters saying it represents service and honours fallen colleagues, while critics say it represents division and has been adopted by racist movements.

The matter came to the board Thursday in a report, produced after the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner received a complaint in 2021 about an officer wearing the patch on their uniform while attending a “land back” rally.

The report confirmed that the Vancouver Police Department’s uniform policy does not allow for the patch — or any other unauthorized symbols — to be worn on duty without permission.

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“There are no unauthorized badges or patches or pins that are allowed on our various uniforms unless they have been approved by our uniform committee. As it happens, they have not been approved by our uniform committee,” Dept. Chief Fiona Wilson, who authored the report, told the board Thursday.

The only pre-authorized items in the policy are the VAN PRIDE pin, which is optional during Pride week, and the police officers’ Memorial Ribbon, which can be worn after an officer’s death or around Peace Officers’ Memorial Day, according to the report.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver city councillor defends wearing thin blue line police patch'
Vancouver city councillor defends wearing thin blue line police patch

“Just to set the record straight — to police officers, the thin blue line means service, sacrifice, esprit de corps, it’s recognizing fallen officers and officers injured in the line of duty, so it has deep meaning for police officers,” Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer said after the meeting.

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He insisted no officers have racist or ill intent when displaying the symbol, and that any associations with white nationalist groups were an offshoot of things happening in the United States, or involved the symbol being co-opted.

“I’ll give the example of the Canadian flag. When you see the Canadian flag now in the back of a pickup truck, driving around the Parliament buildings, you have a different feeling about that than you would have two years ago. So people can sometimes co-opt symbols that mean things to Canadians and give them other meanings,” he said.

However, a second briefing report delving into the Thin Blue Line’s meaning, also presented to the board Thursday, highlights how the symbol is not universally viewed as positive.

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That report presented the Thin Blue Line’s history in a positive light, pinning its origin with U.K. forces in the Crimean War as a “thin red line,” and later popularized for police in the 1950s by Los Angeles Police Department Chief William H. Parker.

The report claims the symbol only began to take on negative connotations in the last decade, amid the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S., when a flag version was developed as a part of a counter movement in support of police.

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That same report, however, notes that nearly all members of the VPD’s Indigenous Advisory Committee said they view the Thin Blue Line as a dividing line, with the perception of Indigenous people as the “them” and the idea it represented police “circling up.”

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

The VPD’s African Descent Committee told the department racialized people’s experience with police informed their view of the Thin Blue Line.

It told the department that there had not been a needed reckoning with police, and expressed the belief that the history of policing has been one of protecting those who “have,” the report states.

“It’s disappointing, when you ignore the criticism that many Vancouverites have of this symbol and engage in that behaviour, you’re dismissing their concerns, you’re dismissing their rights as citizens within the city,” Matthew Norris, president of the Urban Native Youth Alliance told Global News.

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“You have to engage, that’s absolutely critical going forward.”

Norris disputed the claim that the symbol had recently been co-opted by racist groups, arguing the Thin Blue Line has always had its roots in colonialism and racism.

He pointed specifically to former LAPD chief Parker’s role in popularizing the term, describing the former LAPD chief as being “known for racial division.”

Parker integrated LAPD patrol officers, but also compared Black people to monkeys and referred to Latinos as being from the wild tribes of Mexico, and some critics say police treatment of minorities under his leadership helped spark the deadly Watts riots of 1965.

“The thin blue line represents a division, and a division that all too often Indigenous people are on the other side of that line. Where the police are what divides Indigenous people from the rest of Canadian society,” he said.

Click to play video: 'More calls for Montreal police officers to stop wearing thin blue line logo'
More calls for Montreal police officers to stop wearing thin blue line logo

“And it’s also been used in white supremacism movements, in local history, in opposition to the black lives matter movement, in opposition to the Indigenous land rights movements human rights movements, so it really represents a lot of pain to a lot of people.”

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Norris said the department’s report confirming the patch does not belong on police uniforms was a good first step, but that it must be followed up with police reform and the acknowledgement that systemic racism exists in a variety of public institutions, including policing.

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.”

According to the police board report, the Metro Vancouver Transit Police are the only policing agency in the country to approve the patch being worn as a part of officers uniforms.

The Thin Blue Line controversy last flared up in Vancouver when ABC Vancouver Coun. Brian Montague — a former Vancouver police officer — was spotted wearing the patch in public.

Montague defended the patch as a symbol of solidarity with fallen officers, and on Thursday Mayor Ken Sim reiterated his support.

“I will 100 per cent support Brian, or Coun. Montague, in his decision to wear it,” Sim said.

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“Being part of the BIPOC community myself, look, we support diversity and inclusion, and that’s how we run our office and it’s one based out of empathy. If I thought that this was an issue that was, the spirit of it was one of negativity I would feel differently, but I know that’s not what Brian is doing when he wars it.”

— with files from Emad Agahi

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