British Columbia

Vancouver police confirm thin blue line patch isn't allowed on officers' uniforms

All members of the Vancouver Police Department have been reminded they're not allowed to wear thin blue line patches on their uniforms, the city's police board heard Thursday.

Chief Adam Palmer promises discussions with officers who wear the badge with 'really good intent'

A monochromatic Canadian flag is bisected by a thin blue line.
Vancouver Police Department policy does not allow officers to wear unauthorized patches, including the thin blue line, the city's police board heard Thursday. (Amazon)

All members of the Vancouver Police Department have been reminded they're not allowed to wear thin blue line patches on their uniforms, the city's police board heard Thursday.

The memo went out on Jan. 13 in response to a public complaint about a VPD officer wearing the controversial badge during a land back rally in 2021, Deputy Chief Fiona Wilson told a meeting of the Vancouver Police Board.

She said the department's response was not about the contentious symbolism of the thin blue line, but about a long-standing policy against unauthorized adornments.

"There are very strict guidelines of what our members are allowed to wear affixed to their uniforms," Wilson said. "There was no need for a change in policy or any additional policy. The policy is already in place."

The board voted to endorse the police department's actions, which also included preparing a report on the history and various interpretations of the patch.

The patch depicts a grey-scale Canadian flag with a blue line drawn horizontally through the middle. The image has become a divisive one, and some Canadians have said they view it as a symbol of colonial oppression.

VPD Chief Adam Palmer said there will be discussions with officers who continue to wear the badge on their uniforms, but he believes the media has blown the issue out of proportion.

"There's a small number of officers that wear it," he told reporters after Thursday's meeting. "It has really good intent with the officers that are wearing it."

A group of people framed by Christmas decorations and dressed in coats and festive scarves smile for the camera, including the person in the centre, who is wearing a thin blue line patch on his right shoulder.
Vancouver Coun. Brian Montague, centre, wearing glasses, is seen wearing a thin blue line patch in this cropped version of a photo posted to social media by fellow ABC Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung in December. (Sarah Kirby-Yung/Twitter)

Late last year, former VPD officer and newly elected city councillor Brian Montague was spotted wearing a thin blue line patch while walking through Gastown, sparking outrage among some Vancouverites who said it symbolizes white supremacy.

Mayor Ken Sim confirmed Thursday that he will continue to "100 per cent support" Montague wearing the patch.

Indigenous advisors say patch is a 'dividing line'

A briefing report from VPD Staff Sgt. Duane van Beek, presented at Thursday's meeting, contends the thin blue line is "not a hate symbol," instead stating that police wear the patch to identify themselves and remember officers killed in the line of duty.

"Canadian police officers have proudly embraced the Thin Blue Line flag as a patriotic symbol of their mission in serving and protecting the community, as a symbol of solidarity and esprit de corps in the policing community, and to honour fallen officers," van Beek wrote.

But the report says that during a VPD meeting with an Indigenous advisory committee in October, almost everyone said they viewed the patch as symbolizing a "dividing line" of "us vs. them" where "them" includes Indigenous people, according to van Beek.

"The perception is police are 'circling up,'" he wrote.

He noted that the RCMP and many other police forces across the country, including those in Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa and Saskatoon, have told their members the patches aren't authorized on uniforms. The only force to explicitly approve of the patch is the Metro Vancouver Transit Police.

The report concludes that, for some people, the Canadian version of the badge has become conflated with the U.S. version, which is often worn in opposition to Black Lives Matter.

"Significant social and political events in the U.S. have seen the U.S. version of the Thin Blue Line flag co-opted by counter movements in response to people calling for racial and social justice and police accountability in that country, similar to how the Canadian flag was recently co-opted by the 'Freedom Convoy,'" van Beek wrote.

"In this rapidly developing and passionate context, the proud and well-intentioned display of the Thin Blue Line flag by Canadian police officers has generated concern and controversy."

Also at Thursday's meeting, Sims announced that Palmer's contract as police chief, which was set to expire in June, has been extended until September 2025.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a Vancouver-based journalist for CBC News. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

With files from Meera Bains

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