The BC Civil Liberties Association has organized a petition asking Vancouver city council to make ending police street checks a political priority. Since it began collecting signatures, 73 organizations and over 1,000 people have added their names in support.
Hogan’s Alley Society, Black Lives Matter Vancouver, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, WISH Drop-In Centre Society, BC Civil Liberties Association, YWCA Metro Vancouver and 67 other community organizations have signed their names to a letter demanding city council put pressure on the Vancouver Police Board to end the practice.
“City council does not have explicit jurisdiction to do so itself,” the BCCLA’s website reads. “The motion is not as strong as we would like, so it is important for city council to make clear that its political priority is to end police street checks.”
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In a letter being sent to council, bearing the name of all the signatory groups, a street check is defined as a practice where police stop a person in public, question them outside the context of an investigation or arrest, and often record personal information in a database.
According to the group, street checks are racist, specifically towards Indigenous and Black Canadians, potentially harmful to low-income people, and “fundamentally illegal.”
Between 2008 and 2017, the BCCLA says Indigenous people accounted for over 15% of street checks despite being 2% of the population. In 2016, Indigenous women, who comprise 2% of Vancouver’s female population, accounted for 21% of those who were street checked.
Black people also made up 4% of street checks during 2008 t0 2017, while making up 1% of the population.
The legal basis that these checks are performed is also fairly shakey, the BCCLA says, as there is no legislation or statute law that gives police authority to perform these checks.
The group quotes the supreme court of Canada’s ruling on the subject, “Most citizens, after all, will not precisely know the limits of police authority and may, depending on the circumstances, perceive even a routine interaction with the police as demanding a sense of obligation to comply with every request,” going as far as to call it “psychological detention.”
While the municipality has limited influence over the practice, council does set the priorities of the police force. Ultimately, the VPB and the provincial Director of Police Services can issue the type of policy required to end the practice.
Vancouver Police Board held an independent review of street checks in 2018. The final report and recommendations were approved by the board in February 2020.
“In mid-January, the VPD finalized its ‘street checks and police stops’ policy in line with new provincial policing standards issued by the Province of BC,” a police spokesman told Daily Hive in a statement. “The standards were developed by the Province through extensive stakeholder and community consultation over a two-year period.”
The city’s police force still believes that street checks are a “valuable proactive crime prevention tool for police, even though they are used infrequently.” Street checks are supposed to occur only when a police officer encounters someone believed to be involved in criminal activity or a suspicious circumstance. Officers document these interactions and the VPD says they are “not random or arbitrary checks.”
The department adds that the number of street checks performed by officers has declined by 91% compared to the previous year.
“If this trend continues throughout the year, it will equate to less than one street check per frontline officer in a calendar year. In comparison, for every street check conducted, there are 500 calls for service for police.”
Mayor Kennedy Stewart has also put forward a motion to end street checks in the city. In a statement released in June, Stewart said that because he’s also chair of the police board, he won’t have the ability to vote or move motions related to the board, which is why it will go through council first.