British Columbia

VSB approves motion to review role of police in schools, but opposes suspending school liaison officer program

The Vancouver School Board has approved a motion to review the role of Vancouver Police Department and RCMP in the city's schools.

Board to ask for creation of racist incident database, inclusion of Canadian Black history in B.C. curriculum

Three Vancouver School Board trustees are asking for a review into the role of school liaison officers, with recommendations — including possibly eliminating police officers in schools — for the board to consider. (Nicolas Amaya/CBC)

The Vancouver School Board has approved a motion to review the role of the Vancouver Police Department and RCMP in the city's schools — but after a lengthy discussion Monday night, VSB trustees voted not to suspend the School Liaison Officer program.

The review will be undertaken in consultation with First Nations community members, students, parents and Black community groups, including Black Lives Matter.

The VSB also approved motions to request the Ministry of Education review and incorporate Canadian Black history into the learning objectives of the B.C. school curriculum, and to create a database tracking racist incidents in B.C. schools.

A separate motion, that would deliver mandatory anti-racism training to all educators, was referred to a personnel committee in the fall. The proposed motion would see the training focus on anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, and anti-Asian racism.

Trustee's comments criticized

The comments of one trustee during the discussion is sparking anger online and criticism from a fellow trustee.

Fraser Ballantyne, a former school administrator, defended the in-school liaison officer program and gave examples of how the officers improved safety that singled out the Filipino and Vietnamese communities.

"I'm picking a machete out of a locker. I mean, a Vietnamese brought this in and through the interpreter said that they use this machete to cut their meat for the dinner, which obviously, through the interpreter, she corrected me and said, 'no sir, this is not what we do,' " Ballantyne said.

Ballantyne also said white students needed to be consulted about any suspension of the program.

"The Caucasian kids are actually the visible minority so when we get a sense from the population of our secondary schools and our elementary schools, I think it's really important to hear what they have to say about it and their feelings of the relationships that have been developed over the years," he said.

"I think a number of trustees will be very surprised by the value of what their connectedness is to this program."

Another trustee, Jennifer Reddy, was critical of his comments and said she wants to hear from the students.

"If anything, we've heard ... racialized and non-racialized kids taking a stand against racism in schools. They've come to present to us about their fears about having hate and race incidents escalate in their schools," Reddy said.

She said hundreds have urged the VSB to remove police officers, saying their presence invokes a feeling of fear, not safety.

CBC News asked Ballantyne about his comments but he did not return a phone call.

Student speaks out

One Black student recently told CBC News that having a police presence at school intimidates her and she doesn't understand their purpose.

"If you want to get rid of gangs and drugs, having a 30-year-old dude in a bulletproof vest isn't going to stop that," said Haleluya Hailu, a Grade 11 student at Burnaby North Secondary.

"I'd rather see students making connections with counsellors, teachers and educators who are there first hand dealing with these students more actively and every day."

'Culture of policing'

Munisha Tumato, a Vancouver parent of two boys, said she supports a review of the program.

She said she has heard positive things about it, but believes it's time to ask who it helps and whose safety it ensures at school.

"I just think these are really, really important questions to ask, as to whether our students actually need to be policed in their schools or whether some of the issues they're dealing in schools can be dealt with in other ways," she said. 

"This is about a culture of policing that needs to be examined, assessed, and we need to see evidence of some sort of change happening in that system."

A spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department declined to comment directly on the motion, saying it would be "inappropriate," but said the force believes school liaison officers (SLOs) play "a huge role in both elementary and high schools."

"Much of what our SLOs do daily is engage with the students and make the schools a safe and inclusive place for them to learn," Const. Tania Visintin wrote in an email to CBC on Monday. 

"While we certainly do investigations, our focus is on public safety and student/staff engagement. School admin are typically in contact with the SLO and will reach out if they have concerns with something happening in the school."