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Vancouver Police Board hits back at Mayor's 'systemic racism' comment

Last Updated Jun 19, 2021 at 6:19 pm PDT

FILE (Lasia Kretzel, NEWS 1130 photo)

The Vancouver Police Board released a statement Friday regarding Mayor Kennedy Stewarts comments about systemic racism

On Wednesday, Mayor Stewart said he would push for the reform of B.C.'s Police Act

Anti-racism advocate, Markiel Simpson, says the police board's statement isn't clear

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The Vancouver Police Board is taking aim at City of Vancouver Mayor and Police Board Chair, Kennedy Stewart, following his comments that they need to step up and address systemic racism within the department.

The board’s statement released on Friday by the vice-chair and spokesperson, Faye Wightman, says, “Acting as a buffer from political interference, a police board must not conflate disparate topics, such as the important discussion around systemic racism in police services, or the work that is being done at the board and VPD, with the Mayor’s opinions regarding his role as Chair and spokesperson of the Vancouver Police Board, and the need to reform the BC Police Act.”

The board’s statement continues, “Like all police services, the VPD is built on a foundation of structural racism and colonization, and the Board and the VPD have a responsibility to ensure that the essential work of dismantling any systems of inequity within our processes remains on the forefront of our priorities.”

“The Board agrees with Mayor Stewart in that we all want to listen, learn and do better when it comes to addressing systemic racism, diversity, and inclusivity in police services and other institutions, as well as in our community as whole,” writes Wightman.

Read More: Vancouver mayor says arrest of Indigenous girl, grandfather at BMO ‘glaring example of systemic racism’

Speaking on Kennedy’s comments, Wightman says, “These are important discussions to have, but differences should never become the story, or a distraction to the crucial work that is being done and must continue to be done in these areas by all levels of government, including municipalities and police boards.”

On Wednesday, Stewart said he would push for the reform of B.C.’s Police Act to ensure local mayors and councils have more power over Police Boards.

“Because until that happens, we won’t be able to name & dismantle systemic racism,” Stewart tweeted.

Stewart has recently been vocal regarding systemic racism within the Vancouver Police Department. On Wednesday, Stewart also addressed the newly released CCTV footage of an Indigenous man and his granddaughter who were handcuffed as they tried to open a bank account a year and a half ago.

“Naming systemic racism is not an attack on individual employees. It is pointing out that the way in which we make decisions and policies is broken. Naming systemic racism is simply the necessary starting point on any journey to become better,” he said.

The statement also comes after VPD Chief Const. Adam Palmer said systemic racism wasn’t evident in Canadian policing. When asked if the wrongful handcuffing and detention of Vancouver’s first Black Supreme Court Justice, Selwynn Romilly, changed how he views that, he said simply, “No, it doesn’t.”

Anti-racism advocate Markiel Simpson says the police board’s statement isn’t clear.

“The police board isn’t taking a firm decision on where they stand on as far as the behaviour of the chief of police. As well as, they haven’t been clear on whether they’re supporting the Mayor in his position that systemic racism exists and needs to be dealt with.”

Meanwhile, Simpson says recent police actions speak otherwise.

Read More: B.C.’s police complaint commissioner to oversee VPD response to handcuffed judge

“It’s hard to say that the Vancouver Police Board is committed to anti-racism work, when they’re employing a Chief of Police who does not believe systemic racism exists within their force when there’s overwhelming evidence that systemic racism does exist within the Vancouver Police Department,” says Simpson.

The idea that these public discussions on systemic racism are a “distraction” points to a bigger issue for Simpson.

“I think it speaks to the degree of the problem that we have currently within the city of Vancouver — specifically at the police board — is that these issues aren’t distractions. The statements being made aren’t rhetoric. It’s speaking truth to power,” Simpson adds. “The mayor of Vancouver holds the highest seat in the city and he’s saying that we have a problem within our police force.”

Mayor Stewart says he’s continuing to push for the reform of B.C.’s Police Act, as part of the path to naming and dismantling systemic racism.