British Columbia

More than 70 organizations sign open letter calling for ban on police street checks in B.C.

Vancouver city council was scheduled to vote July 7 on a motion to end the controversial practice, but it has since been postponed to July 21.

Vancouver city council will vote on July 21 on a motion to end the practice

A letter co-signed by dozens of B.C. organizations maintains police street checks are harmful and discriminatory for Indigenous, Black and low-income communities. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Dozens of B.C. organizations have signed an open letter calling on the Vancouver Police Board and the provincial government to put an end to police street checks.

The letter was co-written by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Black Lives Matter Vancouver, the Hogan's Alley Society, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and WISH Drop-In Centre Society and was made public one day before Vancouver city council is scheduled to vote on a motion to stop the controversial practice.

The motion itself was introduced to council by Mayor Kennedy Stewart who told CBC's The Early Edition in June that the time has come to end street checks, which are defined as stopping a person outside of an investigation to obtain and record their information.

Council was supposed to vote on the motion on July 7, but has postponed it to a council meeting on July 21. 

Many see the practice as a form of police harassment and racial profiling, as well as evidence of systematic racism within police forces.

According to Stewart, Vancouver Police Department data shows that between 2007 and 2018, Black and Indigenous people were "significantly over-represented" in the almost 100,000 street checks conducted by the force.

The letter reiterates this point.

"We are writing you to put actions to your words and take immediate action to address systemic discrimination in policing by ending all street checks in Vancouver and BC. Street checks are harmful and discriminatory for Indigenous, Black, and low-income communities," reads the letter.

Street checks and sex workers

Mebrat Beyene, executive director of the WISH Drop-In Centre Society, says the checks also discriminate against sex workers and can force vulnerable women into high-risk situations.

The society provides resources and support primarily for sex workers on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and says police interactions with sex workers in the area are "challenging, difficult and, sometimes, even just downright dangerous."

She says society staff have heard many stories from women who say they have been repeatedly followed, stopped and questioned by police, sometimes while interacting with a date which can put the sex worker's safety in jeopardy.

"Repeated checks literally push the trade further underground into darker alleys," said Beyene Tuesday on The Early Edition. "It makes it that much more difficult for sex workers to vet clients."

She said banning police checks would be a start at improving safety for everyone in the city.

"I think that is one clear piece that will allow us to talk about responsible ways to engage with the community," said Beyene.

Current guidelines

The Vancouver Police Department approved a new formal policy for police street checks and stops to comply with new provincial standards that went into effect at the beginning of the year.

Under the formalized policy, officers cannot make random stops and need a justifiable reason to request identifying information. Officers must also make sure the person is aware of their rights during the check.

The formalized policy addresses areas of concern including bias and a person's rights during a street check.

"The results of those guidelines has seen a reduction of about 90 per cent in the number of street checks taking place,"  B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth told reporters Tuesday.

Farnworth said the guidelines were developed to ensure biased policing does not happen, but the City of Vancouver does have the power to take further action through the police board if desired.

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With files from The Early Edition

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