British Columbia

Vancouver School Board votes to cancel police liaison program

The Vancouver School Board voted 8-1 on Monday night to end its school liaison officer program and remove uniformed police from the city's schools effective end of June 2021.

Trustees voted Monday night to remove uniformed officers from 17 schools

Vancouver School Board voted to end the school liaison officer program which has existed for more than 40 years. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The Vancouver School Board voted 8-1 on Monday night to end its school liaison officer program and remove uniformed police officers in the city's schools effective at the end of June 2021.

The decision came after months of debate over the value of liaison officers in Vancouver schools versus the effects of a uniformed police presence on the mental and physical well-being of students.

In a statement released following the meeting, the board said it looks forward to "forging a new path for the future."

"There is much work to be done and the board will work to make changes that can better meet the needs of students and families," said board chair Carmen Cho.

"It is important that all our students feel safe, secure and included in our schools," Cho added.

The VSB had begun a review of police in schools last June and ordered an independent third party to examine the issue by speaking to students —  including those who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of colour — for their views on police in schools.

The board said at the time it was being responsive to community concerns after acts of racism and discrimination involving police in North America raised questions about officers' presence in schools.

According to the VSB, more than 1,900 people shared their thoughts and experiences during the engagement process.

Trustee Jennifer Reddy opposed the motion Monday night, saying it falls short of what it claims to do.

"This motion doesn't go far enough to be unequivocally clear that, in fact, school liaison officers, police will be removed from schools. It spends more time delineating what the next steps of working with police in our schools will be, much of which is already covered in our own protocol," said Reddy.

She said the board started to review the SLO program, and trustees had agreed to centre the voices of students, but she pointed out the motion centres the Vancouver Police Department and RCMP in its very next step.

The motion goes on to say that the VSB will continue to work with Vancouver police and RCMP to establish communication protocols to deal with emergencies, lockdowns and violent threats, and determine processes to ask for help with information sessions to deal with gang prevention, restorative justice, "stranger danger" and internet safety.

In a statement, Vancouver Police Department Sgt. Steve Addison said the force is open to an "evolving" relationship that could include roles for plainclothes officers in city schools.

Parents, educators voice concerns

The move to end the program and remove police officers from schools has had widespread support from groups including the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers' Association and the Vancouver Secondary Teachers' Association.

Before the Monday meeting, parents and educators in the Vancouver school system held a news conference via zoom to voice their concerns about the school liaison officer program in a last minute push for its cancellation.

Parker Johnson, who is a parent of a Vancouver student, independent consultant on organizational change and a volunteer with the Hogan's Alley Society spoke out against the program.

He said society is in a moment in time when there is a great concern about how policing shows up in people's lives, both within and outside of schools.

"Our Vancouver police chief has stated that there is no systemic racism problem, and this is despite the premier, the mayor and the city manager stating that there is a systemic racism problem," said Johnson.

He explained the absence of that acknowledgement could result in harmful practices and attitudes going unchecked in schools.

Johnson said, "How can we trust the police force that is not accountable for racist harm that it does [to] Black or Indigenous people? There's no reason for us to assume that that type of harm will not continue and also be present in the schools."

New West school board still to decide

The New Westminster school board had also put its child and youth liaison officer program on hold for months as it conducted a review. Board members passed a motion last week at a committee meeting to bring the program to an end.

The New Westminster school board will decide whether to give its final approval to cancel the program on April 27.

With files from The Canadian Press, Bridgette Watson