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B.C.'s incoming travel restrictions worry RCMP, advocacy groups

Last Updated Apr 22, 2021 at 6:49 pm PDT

Summary

The National Police Federation says logistics, impact on vulnerable communities some key concerns

Advocacy organizations have written the province, raising concerns about the impact of new rules on BIPOC communities

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The union representing Mounties and a coalition of advocacy groups have added their voices to the chorus of concern over B.C.’s incoming travel restrictions.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth is set to lay out the specifics of an order meant to deter non-essential travel in the province Friday. However, since Premier John Horgan announced the plan to introduce these restrictions a number of organizations have questioned how they will be enforced and who will be targeted. Farnworth has said individuals will not be randomly stopped but rather roadblocks will be set up near ferry terminals and on the highway to target and interrupt “leisure travel.”

Robert Farrer speaks for the National Police Federation, which represents 20,000 RCMP members across Canada, and says they have a lot of questions.

“Are we going to be asking our members to randomly stop people and find out why they’re travelling? What are the ramifications if they’re not travelling for a good purpose? Are we ticketing them? Who’s determining whether the purpose of that travel is essential or not?”

He says while stopping interprovincial travel from Alberta would be fairly straightforward, doing so within British Columbia along the borders of various regions will create logistical challenges.

“How many checks? Are they going to be manned for five weeks straight 24 hours a day?” he asks.

“Just the sheer number of officers that would be required to do something like this. We don’t have people sitting around waiting for extra duties. All of our people are doing things.”

Farrer says he worries if police are expected to enforce this order it could damage public trust, which is already fragile.

“We’ve taken great steps to try to improve our relationships with vulnerable communities, and just the optics of stopping people and asking, ‘Where are you going, and why are you going there?’ — that’s tough for a lot of police officers to swallow. They want to serve Canadians but, but it is tough to swallow,” he says.

“Is this going to get the result we want, and is the cost going to be worth it?”

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One of the key concerns raised about these restrictions is the potential for discrimination, with advocates pointing out the danger that “random” checks will disproportionately target Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour. In Vancouver, this was found to be the case when police conduction ostensibly random street checks. Data released in 2018 showed 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 than one per cent of the population were the subject of five per cent of checks.

In Ontario, a plan to give the police sweeping power to stop and question people about their movements was walked back less than a day after it was announced, with police saying they would not exercise this power, and advocates saying the move would be unconstitutional and likely harmful to BIPOC individuals and communities.

On Thursday, a coalition of organizations including the BC Civil Liberties Association, The Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and Pivot Legal Society, has sent a letter to Horgan and Farnworth outlining their concerns with expanding police powers.

“It is concerning to us that the government would make two public announcements about a provincial order of this magnitude in such a vague way and with no accompanying details,” the letter begins.

“The lack of information and details about the order has raised many alarm bells, especially in the middle of a global and local reckoning about systemic racism in policing and policing powers.”

The letter questions how restrictions will be enforced, what questions police will be able to compel people to answer, and whether or not failing to comply could lead to criminal charges. Overall, the groups argue the danger is that police will be given unprecedented, discretionary power.

“All police powers, and especially discretionary police powers like police street checks, have a documented and indisputable history of being racist especially against Indigenous and Black people in B.C.,” it reads.

“How will the Province ensure that Black, Indigenous and racialized people are not subjected to increased police harassment, interrogation or surveillance during this questioning process by police?”

With files from David Zura

Joint-Letter-to-Province-Regarding-Proposed-BC-Travel-Restrictions-April-2021