VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — An anti-racism advocate addressed the Vancouver Police Board Thursday, calling on Chief Adam Palmer to resign — saying his position that there is no systemic racism within the department is “untenable.”
Markiel Simpson told the board that their mandate is to act in the community’s best interest and that having Palmer leading the force is irreconcilable with that mandate.
“It is incumbent on you, appointed members of the board, to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism within the [Vancouver Police Department], and release Chief Adam Palmer of his duties, as his leadership has caused great trouble to our public institutions, and the relationship between racialized people and the Vancouver Police Department,” he said.
“Simply put, the current situation between the city of Vancouver, and the Vancouver Police Board, and the Vancouver Police Department is untenable.”
I'll be speaking at today's @VanPoliceBoard meeting at 1PM PDT to voice my concerns around the lack of policies regarding anti-racism & systemic racism in the @VancouverPD, and the impact its having on racialized communities in Vancouver. Tune in here https://t.co/etHOkLWRGK
— Markiel Simpson (@MarkielSimpson) June 24, 2021
Simpson said the board and the department are failing to address systemic racism because they will not admit it exists.
“While there is overwhelming evidence of systemic racism in all public institutions, including policing, throughout the province and country, anti-racism strategies are not represented anywhere in the strategic priorities of the Vancouver Police Board or the Vancouver Police Department,” he said.
“The VPD has noted a strategic goal of fostering relationships, understanding, and trust with diverse communities which include racialized communities. However, it could be argued, trust and understanding between racialized communities and the VPD has never been lower. I am asking the police board to fulfill its mandate, and act in the community’s best interest by acknowledging the existence of systemic racism within the VPD, and develop a plan of action to combat it.”
Mayor absent amid conflict with police chief, board
The board was meeting for the first time amid a very public conflict between Vancouver’s mayor and the city’s top cop over systemic racism in the VPD. Mayor Kennedy Stewart was not present at Thursday’s meeting, citing a scheduling conflict.
In 2020, following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, VPD Chief Const. Adam Palmer told the Vancouver Sun he did not think systemic racism wasn’t evident in Canadian policing, calling the suggestion “offensive.” In May, 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.”
Stewart has been increasingly vocal about systemic racism within the Vancouver Police Department. Earlier this month, Stewart 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.
Stewart wants the police department to address systemic racism and has asked the province to give mayors like him who chair police boards more power.
“Unfortunately, the laws which govern my authority as chair of the Vancouver Police Board, prevent me from moving or amending motions or leading any policy changes or reviews,” he said.
“I will keep pushing to reform B.C.’s Police Act so local mayors and councils have more authority over police boards. Because until that happens, we won’t be able to name & dismantle systemic racism.”
Stewart recently stepped down from his role as spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Board, telling the CBC he did so because he finds their position on this issue “indefensible.”
The board responded by releasing a statement from the vice-chair and spokesperson, Faye Wightman.
“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,” it read.
“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 a whole.”
Independent review of VPD handcuffing policy launched
Deputy Chief Howard Chow said in light of the two high-profile instances of racialized people being wrongfully handcuffed and detained, a draft policy for the use of restraints has already been drawn up.
“Changes will incorporate discretion, but also restraint when we’re talking about the issues of marginalized or vulnerable communities,” he said.
“Every member will have to read and understand the policy, note the changes. As well, there’s a reporting mechanism to ensure that they’re in compliance with them.”
Re: Third party complaint about handcuffing of retired Justice Romilly, board now discussing correspondence seeking further investigation and improved training.
— Marcella Bernardo (@Bernardo1130) June 24, 2021
The board decided it was a matter of public interest to have the policy independently reviewed.
An Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion review of Vancouver Police policies and procedures impacting all 2,200 hundred VPD employees is also slated for completion by the end of this year.
With files from NEWS 1130 Staff