British Columbia

Vancouver city councillor, police union president respond to calls to defund VPD

A Vancouver city councillor says he has received almost 2,000 emails in the last few days asking for a major defunding of the Vancouver Police Department.

Twenty-one per cent of the city's operating budget goes to funding the force

Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry says he has been fielding hundreds of emails and follow-up calls from people asking the city to cut the police budget. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A Vancouver city councillor says he has received almost 2,000 emails in the last few days asking for a major defunding of the Vancouver Police Department.

It is the same sentiment fuelling anti-Black racism protests across the globe, including in Vancouver where "Defund the VPD" signs pepper protest crowds.

But Coun. Pete Fry says it's not that simple.

"We can't just shut down the police force overnight," said Fry Monday on The Early Edition, adding he thinks Vancouver has a very good police department with well-educated officers.

Fry says the city is obligated under the B.C. Police Act to maintain a satisfactory police force, and, failing that, the province would step in, install a police force and bill the city.

Dozens of people hold up signs reading 'Defund the VPD' and 'All Black Lives Matter', among other signs, at a giant rally.
A protest sign at an anti-Black racism rally in downtown Vancouver calls for the defunding of the Vancouver Police Department. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

However, Fry says he would like to see more city resources directed to homelessness and mental health and addiction issues, so people struggling with those challenges are not "essentially being policed" and police will not be called on to do as much front-line mental health work.

"We need to start making those new investments now so we can gradually move away from the kind of police model that we see today and allow the police to focus on catching real bad guys," said Fry.

Not enough funding says police union

The city invested $340.4 million in the VPD budget for 2020, more than one-fifth of the city's entire operating budget.

During the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, council approved a motion asking the VPD to take a one per cent budget cut to help with pandemic costs. Vancouver police Chief Adam Palmer slammed the request.

Ralph Kaisers, the president of Vancouver Police Union, said the VPD needs every dollar it gets.

"When our budget is put together, it is what we need, bar none, to get the job done," said Ralph Kaisers, the president of the VPU.

VPD officers kneel with a demonstrator during a rally against racism and police brutality in Vancouver on May 31. (Marc-Antoine Belanger/CBC)

Kaisers, also speaking on The Early Edition, said the VPD has been underfunded and understaffed for the last 10 years and is only now at recommended staffing levels for 2009.

He said when there are cuts to police departments, usually the first thing to go is training, something he says is critical to the job and could actually use more funding.

"We do get a lot of training in all of those aspects of social sciences because our job has now taken on a lot of those things that have been downstreamed from government over many years," said Kaisers.

Kaisers said VPD officers have four days of mandatory training a year and all new officers in B.C. receive anti-racism diversity and unbiased police training at the Justice Institute. 

Helen Tommy, left, Vivian Rose Samby, and Laurie Meanwell at an anti-Black racism rally in Vancouver on June 5. Indigenous women are adding their voices to the call to end systemic racism within police forces that disproportionately affects Black people, people of colour and Indigenous peoples in Canada. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

He said moving money from policing to social services is a conversation he is willing to have, but one that has to be based in facts, not anecdotes or emails to a city councillor.

 "Where's the evidence?" said Kaisers. "We should be looking at true evidence and not anecdotally."

In February, data collected for an independent report on the Vancouver Police Department showed four per cent of people asked for identification during street checks were Black, despite the population in the city making up less than one per cent of the total.

It also showed 15 per cent of all street checks involved Indigenous people, even though they only make up two per cent of the population

However, the report was inconclusive about whether VPD street checks amounted to racial profiling.

Indigenous women are also speaking out about discrimination and violence they have experienced.

"They are very afraid of the police," said Cree lawyer Amber Prince, who represents a number of Vancouver Indigenous women who say they have been abused and discriminated against by police.

To hear the complete interview with Pete Fry on The Early Edition, tap here and to hear Ralph Kaisers' interview tap here.

With files from The Early Edition and Angela Sterritt