VANCOUVER – Metis grandmother Elaine Durocher, who has lived on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for 11 years, says it’s time for an investigation into the disproportionate rate that Indigenous people are “carded” by Vancouver police.
The last time Durocher was stopped and asked for identification from police she was walking along Hastings Street with her granddaughter when she saw officers “harassing” someone and asked what was going on.
“My granddaughter’s little hand squinched into my hand, so I knew she was frightened,” Durocher said.
She is part of a group of civil rights, Indigenous and black leaders calling for British Columbia’s police complaints commissioner to investigate a significant racial disparity in the Vancouver police department’s use of carding.
During the checks, police stop a person, obtain their ID and record personal information.
“Poverty is not a crime, homelessness is not a crime, being a person of colour is not a crime,” Durocher said. “It’s my right as a human being to be left alone to walk these streets. It’s my right to not have police tapping me on the shoulder because of the colour of my skin.”
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed a complaint Thursday based on a release of data under a Freedom of Information request that shows 15 per cent of all carding conducted between 2008 and 2017 was of Indigenous people, yet they make up just two per cent of the population.
The data also say four per cent of those carded were black, despite the population in Vancouver making up less than one per cent.
“It is difficult for us to imagine any conclusion other than that street checks are being conducted in a discriminatory manner here in the city of Vancouver. We are asking for an immediate independent investigation to determine what is going on and how this can be fixed,” said Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
Vancouver’s Chief Const. Adam Palmer defended the use of street checks in a statement, saying they are neither random nor arbitrary.
A street check occurs when an officer encounters someone believed to be involved in criminal activity or a suspicious circumstance and is not based on ethnicity, he said. When officers see potential criminal activity or a threat to public safety, they are bound by law under the Police Act to address it.
“The VPD does not control where crime falls along racial and gender lines. It is unrealistic to expect population and crime rates to be aligned,” he said.
He pointed to crime rates along gender lines as an example, saying that even though there’s about a 50-50 gender split between men and women in the population, about 80 per cent of crimes are committed by men.
“There is a strong association between street checks and criminal charges. The numbers show that the percentage of street checks by ethnicity is comparable to percentages of ethnicity for charges and recommended charges,” he said.
In 2016, the department said Aboriginal individuals comprised 14.3 per cent of street checks and were the subject of 17.2 per cent of charges or recommended charges.
The same year, it said black individuals were the subject of 3.7 per cent of street checks and of 4.2 per cent of charges or recommended charges.
Palmer said the department will review the complaint and provide a fulsome response with additional analysis in the coming weeks.
Chief Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the B.C. Union of Indian Chiefs, said the disproportionate rate that Indigenous people are checked is “staggering.”
“This is not targeting any individual Vancouver police officers, but calling on the organization itself to develop necessary tools so the guidance can be from the highest perspective rather than the interaction point upon the street. The time for justice is now, the time for systemic change at every level of the justice system for people of (colour) is here and now for Canada,” Chamberlin said.
Andrea Spindler, acting deputy police complaint commissioner, said Thursday that the complaint filed with her office will be forwarded to the Vancouver police department’s chief constable and police board.
It is up to the board to determine “promptly” what action, if any, it will take and notify the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner within 20 business days.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and B.C. Civil Liberties Association can request the complaints commissioner review the case if they are unsatisfied with the action the police board takes, she said.
Some police departments and governments are changing their policies on street checks, following complaints from minorities of being unfairly targeted.
Ontario banned police checks last year with a new regulation that prohibits police from arbitrarily collecting identifying information based on a person’s race or presence in a high-crime area.
In April, Nova Scotia’s opposition New Democrats introduced a bill that would impose an immediate moratorium on police street checks.
Last week, the Saskatchewan Police Commission said it is bringing in a policy that says officers should not randomly stop individuals and it reminded people that they are under no obligation to talk to police if they are stopped.