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Police shouldn't investigate their own street-check policy: rights advocates

Last Updated Jul 18, 2018 at 4:40 pm EDT

VANCOUVER – Indigenous and civil rights groups complain that the Vancouver Police Department should not be responsible for investigating itself over the issue of significant racial disparity in the department’s use of street checks.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs had asked the province’s police complaints commissioner to review the issue, but were told earlier this month that the department would conduct an internal investigation and report to the police board in September.

In a letter to the board, the groups say that while it is customary for the police department to investigate policy complaints, they believe a self-investigation in this situation is “problematic” for its lack of independence or appearance of a lack of independence.

Comments by Chief Const. Adam Palmer to media in the wake of the complaint, in which he says street checks are neither random nor arbitrary and are not based on ethnicity, create an impression that the police department formed a conclusion before conducting an investigation, the groups say.

“Our concern with the statements of Chief Constable Palmer is that the investigation into the complaint be free from a reasonable apprehension of bias. Based on the VPD’s public response from the outset, a reasonable-minded observer of this issue would have firm grounds to be concerned that the VPD’s investigation of the Complaint are affected by an appearance of bias,” their letter says.

Instead, they call for an independent study of the practice and for police to work with Indigenous groups to draft policies that protect the personal information of people subjected to the checks.

During street checks, also called carding, police stop a person, obtain their identification and record personal information, even though no particular offence has occurred.

Police data obtained by the groups through freedom of information requests show Indigenous women accounted for 21 per cent of all checks on women in 2016, despite only making up two per cent of Vancouver’s female population.

It also shows 15 per cent of street checks conducted between 2008 and 2017 were of Indigenous people, who make up just two per cent of the population. Four per cent of those carded were black, despite the population in Vancouver making up less than one per cent.

Chief Const. Adam Palmer was not immediately available for comment.

Palmer has previously said the police department does not control where crime falls along racial and gender lines and it is unrealistic to expect population and crime rates to be aligned.