British Columbia

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart calls for province to review policing across B.C.

In the wake of protests in Vancouver calling for systemic changes to the Vancouver Police Department, Mayor Kennedy Stewart is calling for a comprehensive review of all policing in the province. 

'If we are to make major structural changes to policing, it is the province that must act,' mayor said

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart pictured on May 28, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In the wake of protests in Vancouver calling for systemic changes to the Vancouver Police Department, Mayor Kennedy Stewart is calling for a comprehensive review of all policing in the province. 

"If we are to make major structural changes to policing, it is the province that must act," said Stewart in his speech.

"I believe [the province] will take up this call to ensure this review includes an investigation of systemic racism and disproportional violence experienced by Black and Indigenous community members." 

The provincial government did not immediately respond for comment.

In his speech, Stewart praised VPD Chief Adam Palmer, but also said "our city is built on stolen land" and that "all public and private institutions reinforce the dominant culture, including historic patterns of colonialism and racism."

"The City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department have taken some strong first steps to address these deep flaws, but much more needs to be done."

Late Thursday, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said he would be calling on the legislature to create a committee to examine the Police Act when it reconvenes later this month.

"Everyone deserves to be treated fairly by the police  — and our government acknowledges that for many Black, Indigenous and other people of colour, that hasn't always been the case," he said. 

"Ensuring the police are held accountable to the highest standards for fair and unbiased conduct is crucial to maintaining public trust."

Mayor says hands are tied on budget

Stewart made his remarks a week after the Vancouver Police Board rejected city council's request for a one per cent cut to its $340 million budget this year.

Watch | Stewart says those running B.C. don't adequately mirror the demographics of those living here:

Mayor Kennedy Stewart says systemic discrimination and racism persist in all our institutions as he acknowledged his white privilege. 0:53

That rejection was originally made last month in light of city-wide financial pressures stemming from COVID-19. But discussion of the VPD's budget has taken on a new dynamic after the killing last month of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by a local police officer in Minneapolis, Minn.

Stewart is both chair of city council and the police board — which aside from him, is made up of unelected citizens appointed by the province. 

"The province's Police Act requires us to more or less rubber-stamp police budgets outside minimal discretionary spending," said Stewart, who made no mention if council would ask for cuts during the normal yearly budget process.  

"So while many U.S. cities, including Minneapolis, can massively restructure their police, neither organizations which I chair can legally do this — even if they wanted to."

The mayor declined to directly answer a question on whether he thought the budget should be lowered. 

"Whether I agree or disagree with the budget, it's my ability to make change that's important."

VPD said it would participate

Stewart's comments were generally applauded by Vancouver councillors across the political spectrum.

"The mayor is right that the provincial Police Act limits what the city is actually able to do," said Coun. Christine Boyle, who last week said the city should look at reducing the VPD's budget and moving those funds to community and health-focused approaches.

Boyle also said she would continue to "listen to voices in the community calling for change and thinking about how else we, as a local government, can respond."

Coun. Pete Fry, the only person of colour on council, said moving funds from policing (a municipal jurisdiction) to mental health service (traditionally a provincial responsibility) was "a really challenging balancing act". 

But he applauded Stewart for opening his speech by discussing his white privilege. 

"I really appreciate that he led with that, because I think that's at the root of a lot of the consternation that's driving a lot of these calls to defund the VPD," he said. 

When asked to respond to Stewart's speech, VPD Chief Adam Palmer said, "If the Province of B.C. chooses to initiate a review of policing in B.C., the VPD will participate fully," but declined further comment. 

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