LUBC Submissions to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act

The Law Union of British Columbia (the “LUBC”) believes in the deconstruction of the police. To that end, we call upon the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act (the “Special Committee”) to take such steps that are necessary to reduce and eventually eliminate the role that the police play in attending to complex social issues, particularly where there is no risk to the health or safety of any individual.

Specifically, the LUBC fully endorses the Submissions of Pivot Legal Society, which call for the Special Committee to reform the Police Act in the following ways:

  1. Ensure access to police accountability;
  2. Invest in access to justice;
  3. Address the broad harms of criminalization;
  4. Eradicate prohibitionist policing; and,
  5. Enable communities to defund the police.

April 30, 2021

 

Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act

c/o Parliamentary Committees Office

Room 224, Parliament Buildings

Victoria, BC V8V 1X4

 

Dear Special Committee,

 

RE:      Submissions on Reforming the Police Act


The Law Union of British Columbia (the “LUBC”) believes in the deconstruction of the police. To that end, we call upon the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act (the “Special Committee”) to take such steps that are necessary to reduce and eventually eliminate the role that the police play in attending to complex social issues, particularly where there is no risk to the health or safety of any individual.

Specifically, the LUBC fully endorses the Submissions of Pivot Legal Society, which call for the Special Committee to reform the Police Act in the following ways:

  1. Ensure access to police accountability;
  2. Invest in access to justice;
  3. Address the broad harms of criminalization;
  4. Eradicate prohibitionist policing; and,
  5. Enable communities to defund the police.

As lawyers and individuals who regularly engage with the legal system, the Steering Committee and membership of the LUBC regularly bear witness to the myriad ways in which police harm people and communities. These harms disproportionately target people and communities of colour, people living in poverty, unhoused people, people living with disabilities, people who use drugs, and anyone who otherwise exists outside of the majority framework.

We highlight here empirical research that demonstrates the lack of accountability for police when they cause such harm to people. This level of violence and lack of accountability suggest two conclusions:

  1. Police accountability mechanisms should be significantly strengthened; and,
  2. Wherever possible, actors other than police should respond to situations, in order to reduce the likelihood that police will injure or kill.

A Lack of Accountability for Police Violence

Of particular concern is the heightened rate at which police kill civilians. Across Canada, the rate of civilian fatalities in police encounters has almost doubled in the past two decades.[1] Despite the lack of adequate and thorough data collection practices on the part of law enforcement agencies in Canada, two investigations led by CBC and CTV News point to the same finding – most Canadians killed in police encounters since 2000 either had mental health issues, were substance users, or both. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of emergency mental health interactions increased by between 40% and 400%, between St. Paul’s Hospital, the VGH, the VPD, and BC Housing.[2] In 2020 alone, there were at least 40 police-involved fatalities in Canada, according to an open source compilation of news articles.[3]

CBC News’ investigation, “Deadly Force”, revealed that British Columbia has the highest rate of police-involved civilian deaths in Canada. CBC News’ data set lacks key pieces of information: at the time of its writing, there was no policy regarding race-based data collection in a single law enforcement department. For example, approximately 22% of the murdered civilians had an unconfirmed race or ethnicity and approximately 50% had unconfirmed mental health and substance use histories.[4]

Further, the 2016 Vancouver Police Mental Health Strategy report[5] situates the police as  integral to addressing “service gaps” in managing mental health and substance use emergencies. This report fails to consider the ways in which police contact itself poses risks to the psychological health and safety of individuals who already experience mental health disparities related to racialization, poverty, substance use, and stigma.

Evading accountability by way of denying the root issues appears to be commonplace among Canadian police agencies. RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki,[6] Alberta RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki,[7] and Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer –[8] who is also the President of the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs – all issued statements which denied the existence of systemic racism within their respective organizations at various points. These statements, alongside the fact that the few data sets which have been collected point to the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous persons when it comes to illegal ‘street checks’,[9] help illustrate the adamant reluctance which police agencies in Canada continue to show in respect of urgent reform priorities.

Recommendations and Conclusion

Key reform efforts with respect to policing in British Columbia must include legislative amendments and policy changes within law enforcement bodies, health care provision organizations, municipal government, and even education. In brief, mental health and substance use both impact a wide range of societal functions; reform efforts must be sufficiently nuanced so as to avoid transferring the mismanagement from police, for example, to another ill-equipped service provider.

The Special Committee should recommend instituting legislation which removes mental health crisis attendance entirely from the scope of police duties and places it with trained mental health professionals, including removing police from section 28 of the Mental Health Act altogether.

The Special Committee should also recommend addition of measures to safeguard the health and emotional wellbeing of individuals being apprehended. This should include legislating trauma-informed methods of apprehension, mandating the presence of therapy animals, creating mandatory procedures for the apprehended person to invite a loved one to be present for the duration of their encounter with the apprehending party, and other measures which are proven, by way of empirical, user-centered studies, to increase the sense of autonomy, emotional wellbeing, and care. Principles of ‘therapeutic and relational security’[10] would undergird many of these new laws and policies and establishing rotating, voluntary civilian oversight bodies led by marginalized communities with lived experience at all levels of government may help mitigate the issue of corrupt or financially-motivated oversight.

The LUBC urges the Special Committee to consider the lived experiences of those who experience police violence on a daily basis. It should be the goal of the Special Committee to recommend all such changes as are possible to remove the police from as many areas of society as possible. We need to shift to a society of caring, not policing.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Steering Committee of the Law Union of British Columbia:

David Khang

Eden Cheung

Joey Doyle

Michelle Silongan

Nazanin Panah

Quinn Candler

Paige Zambonelli

Roslyn Chambers

Vanessa Webster

Sasha Davis

 

Description of the Law Union of British Columbia

The Law Union of BC is a progressive organization of lawyers, law students, legal workers, activists and community members who seek to use the law as a tool for social change.

We recognize that any engagement with the law is inherently political, and that to stay neutral in the face of oppression is to side with the oppressors.

We also recognize that communities experiencing oppression are experts in their own lives.

We embrace an intersectional approach to opposing all forms of oppression, including but not limited to racism, gender- and sexuality-based oppression, classism, ableism, and colonialism.

We stand in solidarity with groups including Indigenous peoples, migrants with and without legal status, prisoners, drug users, sex workers, and the homeless and underhoused.

We recognize members without regard to gender, sexual preference, age, colour, race, religion, political belief or affiliation, education level, condition of restraint within any institution, or any other category.

https://www.bclawunion.org/


[1] Kelly Geraldine Malone, “Most police watchdog investigators are white and former officers, Canadian Press tally finds | CBC News”, (19 June 2020), online: CBC <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/police-investigators-white-former-officers-majority-1.5620358>.

[2] Vancouver Police Department, “Working Collaboratively to Support Those in Crisis”, (2016), online: Risk Manag Police Serv <https://www.canadianinstitute.com/risk-management-for-police-services-923l16-was/presentations/0516-working-collaboratively-to-support-those-in-crisis/> at 23.

[3] “List of killings by law enforcement officers in Canada” in Wikipedia (2020) Page Version ID: 993551684.

[4] Marcoux Jacques & 2018, “Deadly Force: How CBC analyzed details of hundreds of fatal encounters between Canadians, police | CBC News”, (5 April 2018), online: CBC <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/iteam/deadly-force-cbc-analysis-1.4603696>.

[5] Vancouver Police Department, Vancouver Police Mental Health Strategy (2016, July 8), online: VPD <https://vancouver.ca/police/assets/pdf/reports-policies/mental-health-strategy.pdf>.

[6] John Paul Tasker, “Systemic racism exists in the RCMP, Commissioner Brenda Lucki says | CBC News”, (12 June 2020), online: CBC <https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/brenda-lucki-systemic-racism-rcmp-1.5610355>.

[7] Rachel Gilmore, “Asked about systemic racism in RCMP, Lucki discusses different heights of officers”, (24 June 2020), online: CTVNews <https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/asked-about-systemic-racism-in-rcmp-lucki-discusses-different-heights-of-officers-1.4998165>.

[8] “Exclusive: Internal police board emails raise questions about review of VPD street checks”, online: vancouversun <https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/exclusive-internal-police-board-emails-raise-questions-about-review-of-vpd-street-checks>.

[9] “Dan Fumano: Mayor and VPD Chief at odds over systemic racism in policing”, online: vancouversun <https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/dan-fumano-mayor-and-vpd-chief-at-odds-over-systemic-racism-in-policing>.

[10] “Therapeutic and Relational Security”, online: <http://www.bcmhsus.ca/our-research/care-innovations/therapeutic-relational-security>.

 

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  • Joey Doyle
    published this page in News 2021-04-30 08:14:46 -0700