British Columbia

Data shows Indigenous, Black people have more police interactions. Advocates say it reflects systemic racism

Recently obtained data shows Indigenous and Black people have more interactions with police in B.C., which advocates say underscores the prevalence of systemic racism in the police force.

Indigenous and Black people significantly overrepresented in data from 2016 to 2021

A person with a cardboard 'Defund the police' sign stands at the back of a procession during rainy weather.
A new set of data, obtained through a freedom-of-information request, underscores the existence of systemic racism within B.C.'s police, according to advocates. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Recently obtained data shows Indigenous and Black people have more interactions with police in B.C., which advocates say underscores the prevalence of systemic racism in the police force.

The data, obtained through a freedom-of-information request filed by Victoria resident and blogger Stephen Harrison, covers the "general occurrence" reports filed by B.C.'s municipal police departments from 2016 to 2021, excluding the newly-formed Surrey Police Service.

A general occurrence report is filed by police during calls for service, and includes information on the type of call, observations during the initial investigation, and other records. They are often used to track crime trends, according to experts.

Harrison's request pertained to the ethnicity of people documented in these general occurrence reports, copies of which CBC News has received.


The data shows that, over the six-year-period, Black and Indigenous people had disproportionately high numbers of police calls made against them, in addition to having more charges recommended against them.

As cities across B.C. begin deliberating their budgets for the upcoming year, advocates say the data shows the impact of policing on particular marginalized communities, and how funding should be re-allocated to community-driven causes.

"As a racialized person that spends a lot of time connecting with folks who have had experiences with the police, mostly negative experiences, this information is not a surprise to me," said Tonye Aganaba, a criminalization and policing campaigner at Pivot Legal Society.

"To see it codified, see it in concrete terms, just lets me know that our experience is not invalid."

Indigenous people overrepresented in data

The data covers thousands of police interactions across B.C., including traffic calls, dealings with youth under 18, and street checks.

The ethnicity of people involved were obtained through self-disclosure or the police officer's assessment of their ethnic origin as they filed the report, according to an email from Vancouver police accompanying the freedom-of-information request.


The data shows that in B.C.'s biggest city, Indigenous people were six times likelier than a white person to have police called on them.

Disparities in policing outcomes for Indigenous people have been highlighted before.


A 2021 report from the B.C. Human Rights Commission found that from 2011 to 2020, while Indigenous men represented 1.1 per cent of Vancouver's population, they were involved in 19 per cent of the department's arrests.


Harrison says the latest data shows police "disproportionately" profiled Black, Indigenous and people of colour.

"It's just a piece of what we already know to be true about policing, which is that it's built on, and upholds, systemic racism," he told CBC News.

The data also shows that over 76,000 reports relating to "emotionally disturbed persons" were filed by the police departments in question from 2016 to 2021.

Kash Heed, former chief of police in West Vancouver and B.C. solicitor general, said cities should look to "detach" police from lower-priority mental health calls.

"We have to change that default. It has to go to people that are trained in this area," he said in an interview.

Kash Heed speaks in front of a B.C. flag. He is an South Asian man with combed-back hair and a clean-shaven face.
Former Solicitor General Kash Heed speaks during a news conference in 2009. He says police chiefs need to stop denying the existence of systemic racism within their forces. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

VPD promises focus on equity

CBC News reached out to the VPD and the B.C. Police Association for this story, but did not hear back by deadline.

A review of B.C.'s Police Act, conducted last year, recommended that police across B.C. publicly report disaggregated race-based data going forward, as well as revise all policies and procedures "to ensure service delivery that is culturally appropriate and reflects no bias or racism."


Heed says the leadership of police forces need to accept that systemic racism is prevalent, referring to VPD Chief Const. Adam Palmer who has previously denied the existence of systemic racism in the VPD.

"A dramatic shift has to come from when our policymakers ... demand and ensure that we have cultural changes within policing," he said. "Just not symbolic organizational changes that could be through a policy or procedure."

The former solicitor general says the inquiries and reviews thus far in B.C. have not produced any binding recommendations for policymakers, which is why the cultural shift has not yet occurred.

For its part, the VPD has previously said it is conducting an equity, diversion and inclusion review in the latest report to the Vancouver Police Board.

Aganaba says they are skeptical that any positive changes will come from the internal culture reviews.

"Their behavior is, in fact, escalating in certain areas," they said. "I'm not in the camp of believing that the police are improving in their behaviours."


Akshay Kulkarni


Akshay Kulkarni is a journalist who has worked at CBC British Columbia since 2021. Based in Vancouver, he has covered breaking news, and written features about the pandemic and toxic drug crisis. He is most interested in data-driven stories. You can email him at