VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Street checks in Vancouver could be coming to an end after Mayor Kennedy Stewart announced his intention to move forward with a plan to abolish them Monday.
Stewart says he will bring a motion to city council to “begin the process of ending the practice.”
The practice involves police stopping a person, demanding they produce identification and then recording that information in a provincial database. These checks are not done as part of criminal investigations, and have been found to disproportionately target Black and Indigenous people.
The Vancouver Police Department released data on street checks in 2018.
Indigenous people, who make up two per cent of the overall population, were the subjects of 15 per cent of checks. Black people, who make up less that one per cent of the population were the subject of five per cent of checks.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed a complaint saying that this data strongly suggested that checks are being conducted in a discriminatory manner.
That complaint prompted a review, and since January of 2020 Stewart says instances have decreased by 89 per cent.
“Thanks to the actions of the Province and the Police Board, 89 per cent of street checks have already been ended, but we can’t stop there. Now is the time to bring the practice to a complete end,” Stewart says in a release.
“Black, Indigenous and other communities of colour have long called for an end to this practice, and that is what I hope to see happen at the Police Board.”
Stewart says the Police Board has the authority to end the practice entirely.
Although the mayor is the chair of the Police Board, he can’t vote or set the agenda.
His motion asks that, “Council direct the Mayor to write to the Vancouver Police Board to inform the Board that while Council deeply appreciates recent efforts to reform policing services and the efforts of the Police Department to quickly implement related changes, Vancouver City Council’s priority is to end the practice of street checks in Vancouver.”
City council will consider the motion at the July 7 meeting. The mayor will give notice June 23.
Advocates want province-wide ban on ‘illegal and discriminatory’ practice
Latoya Farrell, policy lawyer with the BCCLA says Stewart’s announcement is welcome, if a bit overdue.
“Initially this was not something that Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he could do. Initially, as you’ll remember, in his announcement a few weeks ago he said that this is up to the proivince and that we don’t have the authority to do this,” she explains.
“And of course the BCCLA and UBCIC argued that the Vancouver Police Board can — in fact — stand up and stand in solidarity with communities and say they’re going to put an end to street checks.”
Farrell hopes the motion will pass at the municipal level, and that Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Director of Police Services Brenda Butterworth-Carr will take note.
“We are hoping that this action creates a domino effect where we see a province-wide ban on this illegal and discriminatory practice,” Farrell says.
She objects to the notion that a street check can ever be truly voluntary, given the power police have and the fear and mistrust that exists in communities that are “over-policed and under-protected.”
“Fundamentally, we argue that this is an illegal use of police powers, that they do not have the legal authority to conduct street checks in Vancouver. They define them as a ‘voluntary interaction outside of an investigation,’ meaning that there is no reasonable suspicion, there is no investigation into a crime or prevention of a possible crime,” she explains.
“It is a voluntary interaction because there is no lawful authority to conduct it, that’s why they need the cooperation of community.”
But when people are frequently subjected or witness to arbitrary, harassing, and violent treatment by police, refusing to cooperate with police does not seem like a safe or strategic option.
“Police exercising an unlawful authority to stop an individual, and question them can create emotions of powerlessness, it can create emotions of panic, it can create fear,” she explains, adding that people with irregular immigration status, or criminal records, or who are wary of child protective services can experience police intervention as threatening.
“They’re constantly and frequently having interactions with the police, most of these interactions being negative. We’ve seen that the idea of ‘voluntariness’ does not exist for them. The idea that they can walk away from this police interaction is not a reality for them, so that’s why we argue that this is basically an illegal form of detention.”