The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs have launched a formal complaint against the Vancouver Police (VPD) for what they say are “discriminatory police stops.”
The complaint was filed with Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner on Thursday morning, and calls for an “immediate investigation” of the significant racial disparity revealed in Vancouver Police Department’s practice of “street checks” or police stops, often referred to as carding.
“Street checks are the practice of stopping a person outside of an investigation, questioning them, and obtaining their identifying information, and often recording their personal information,” the BCCLA said in a statement.
The complaint is based “on a release of data under a Freedom of Information request posted on the VPD’s website… that reveals that Indigenous and Black people are significantly over-represented in the numbers of street checks conducted by the VPD over the past decade.”
The BCCLA said the data on the number of street checks conducted between 2008 and 2017 reveals a total of 97,281.
The BCCLA complaint also charges that approximately 15% of all street checks (14,536) were of Indigenous people, “despite this population making up approximately 2% of the population of Vancouver over that time period.”
In that same time period, it says approximately 4% (4,365) of all street checks were of Black people, despite this population making up less than 1% of the population of Vancouver over that time period.
It notes that last year, Indigenous people accounted for over 16% of all street checks, despite making up only 2% of the population of Vancouver. In the same time period, Black people accounted for 5% of all checks (315), despite making up only 1% of the population of Vancouver.
“Based on the VPD’s own data, it is indisputable that Indigenous and black people are shockingly over-represented in police stops in Vancouver,” said BCCLA Executive Director, Josh Patterson. “Indigenous people are stopped at a rate more than six times their share of the population, and black people four times more.”
It is difficult he added, “to imagine any conclusion other than that street checks are being conducted in a discriminatory manner.”
Vancouver Police respond
In response to the complaint, Vancouver Police (VPD) Chief Adam Palmer denied the department’s street checks are based on ethnicity.
“If our officers see potential criminal activity or a threat to public safety, they are bound by law, including the Police Act, to address it,” he said. “The police have a legal obligation to preserve peace, prevent crime, and keep citizens safe.”
A person’s race, he added, “does not factor into an officer’s decision to take action to prevent a crime.”
Palmer also stressed that street checks are not random or arbitrary.
“A street check occurs when a police officer encounters someone believed to be involved in criminal activity or a suspicious circumstance, and documents the interaction,” he said. “The VPD does not control where crime falls along racial and gender lines.”
It is unrealistic, he added, to expect population and crime ratios to be aligned.
“For example, women make up about half of the population and men make up the other half. However, more than 80% of crime is committed by men,” noted Palmer. “It’s important to note that the majority of our street checks involve Caucasians: in 2016, Caucasian people made up 46% of the population and 57% of total street checks.”
Still, said Palmer, “it is important that police are accountable to the public.”
As such, he said, the VPD will review the policy complaint submitted today to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and provide a full response with additional data, analysis, and context, in the coming weeks.