Carnegie Community Action Project, Hogan's Alley Society, BC Civil Liberties Association and Pivot Legal Society call for a moratorium on street checks as VPD review of street checks is released by Vancouver Police Board
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 20, 2020
Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish Territories — New provincial Policing Standards fail to address racial biases and the underlying harms of street checks, and the just-released Vancouver Police Department (VPD) policies and VPD-commissioned review perpetuate stigmatizing norms and behaviours that discriminate against vulnerable people instead of protecting them.
Downtown Eastside-based community groups are jointly speaking out against the Province’s Promotion of Unbiased Policing - Police Stops standards, which came into effect on January 15, 2020.
The standards uphold outdated views and de-legitimized practices of random checks, also known as police stops or “carding” — even though their efficacy has never been proven.
Across Canada, police agencies have been under pressure to cease the discredited practice of street stops, also known as “street checks” or “carding.” In Nova Scotia, the practice has been revoked through a provincial moratorium. To date, Nova Scotia is the only province to outright ban the practice, despite similar calls for police accountability across Canada. Cities such Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver have commissioned reviews in response to community pressure, and Montreal and Ottawa have also been under pressure to stop the discredited practice.
Research overwhelmingly demonstrates that street checks, police stops and “carding” are inherently biased against Black, Indigenous and other racialized groups. Despite this evidence, provincial police officers and policy analysts insist that these mechanisms are necessary to “allow them to do their jobs and protect vulnerable people”.
Show me any correlation between street checks and making any difference.
Lama Mugabo, community organizer with Hogan’s Alley Society, says, “The police are so attached to this [concept of street checks] and hold it for dear life. It borders on racial profiling, cuts across class, and destroys trust. Show me any correlation between street checks and making any difference.”
The administrative usefulness of street checks has never been proven. Among the mounting criticism of street checks across Canada, is the Halifax, Nova Scotia Street Checks Report, researched and written for the Nova Scotia NS Human Rights Commission by Dr. Scot Wortley. Dr. Wortley reported: “The majority of the police officials who took part in the consultation process admitted that many street checks are of poor quality and contribute little to public safety. At almost every police meeting and focus group, the phrase ‘garbage in, garbage out’ was used to describe this situation.”
Megan McDermott, Policy Director for the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), says “In the context of an ‘exclusionary zone’ in BC’s North and daily violations of human rights, we’re already operating in an extra-judicial environment of hyper surveillance and over-policing. These measures diminish public trust and security instead of protecting vulnerable people. Nova Scotia has had a moratorium in effect for six months, and “carding” has been banned across Ontario since 2017, and they haven’t fallen apart.” The BCCLA released a press release on Tuesday lambasting the street check review and VPD policy.
The VPD policy, updated in the last month to align with the new Policing Standards, too broadly defines reasonable grounds for arrest, and places the onus on law enforcement officers to determine if a “psychological detention” is taking place. Psychological detention exists when a person feels that they are not free to leave an interaction with police.
The Vancouver Police Board Street Check Review released this week was written by Ruth Montgomery of Pyxis Consulting, a former Edmonton police superintendent. The report contains substantive evidence that street checks and police stops are heavily biased and arbitrary — yet reinforces status quo policing beliefs that street checks just need to be “fixed up” and accompanied by better training.
The Vancouver Courier reports that, in June 2018, a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act required Vancouver police to post data on its website that showed police conducted 97,281 street checks between 2008 and 2017. Of those checks, 15 per cent (14,536) were of Indigenous people and more than four per cent (4,365) of black people. Indigenous people make up just over two per cent of the population in Vancouver, and Black people less than one per cent.
Subjective and poorly-defined rationales for street checks allow for biases against people who are poor, people who use drugs, sex workers and those with mental health. Current Policing Standards and VPD street check policies include exemptions for “wellness” checks, reinforcing the notion that they are benign rather than harmful to vulnerable people.
There is grave potential for the stops to be misused.
Meenakshi Mannoe, Criminalization and Policing Campaigner at Pivot Legal Society, says, “There is grave potential for the stops to be misused. Consider that people are stopped just because they are in the DTES. In heavily surveilled communities, there is very little interaction with the police that feels voluntary. When we bring up street stops, folks tell us they don’t want police, they want help from peers.” Pivot has been calling for a moratorium on street stops since July 2019 and published a recent blog that responds to the provincial standards.
The community groups are calling for:
- an immediate moratorium on police checks, police stops and “carding”(defined as any interaction that results in physical or psychological detention and is not either detainment or arrest)
- action and involvement from public bodies such as the Human Rights Commission, to review this practice from a Human Rights perspective and make recommendations
- an independent review of the practice as it occurs in Vancouver/across the country, by an unbiased third party not affiliated with police or law enforcement
We acknowledge that our work takes place on the unceded traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ/selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
Hogan’s Alley Society
Coordinator and Administrator
Carnegie Community Action Project
Communications & Digital Engagement Manager
Pivot Legal Society
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Wortley Report Findings
Dr. Wortley concluded that the police in Halifax disproportionately conduct street checks in relation to Black individuals — notably young Black men.
Dr. Wortley analyzed 12 years of data collected by the HRP and the RCMP between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2017. He concluded that: “Black people are over-represented in the street checks that take place across the Halifax region — whether those regions have a high Black population or not.” (Full citations are contained in our opinion.)
In fact: “Black civilians were five times more likely to be subject to a street check than their proportion of the population would predict.” Black men, in particular, “are 9.2 times more likely to appear in Halifax street check statistics than their presence in the general population would predict” while young “Black males [15-24 years of age] are twenty times more likely to appear in the street check dataset than their proportion of the general population would suggest.”
According to the police officials consulted for the Wortley Report, street checks have not necessarily proved valuable. As Dr. Wortley reported: “The majority of the police officials who took part in the consultation process admitted that many street checks are of poor quality and contribute little to public safety. At almost every police meeting and focus group, the phrase ‘garbage in, garbage out’ was used to describe this situation.”
Red Women Rising
Recommendation 8. End the policing practice of street checks; reduce the number of bylaw infraction tickets issued by police in the DTES; prohibit police from carrying and using all lethal weapons; develop guidelines to facilitate greater use of police discretion not to lay charges especially for minor poverty-related offences; and end the counter-charging and criminalization of Indigenous women who defend themselves or their children.
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU)
Downtown Eastside residents say they experience overwhelming over-policing, harassment and ongoing, unprovoked checks and stops. Aiyanas Feardorcha Ormond of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) says, “ I don’t think people understand in the rest of the city how much of the police resources are spent over-policing and controlling our neighbourhood. We’ve got police going constantly up and down the block, checking peoples IDs and stopping people in supposedly arbitrary but really targeted checks.”
Report of the Independent Street Checks Review by the Honourable Michael H. TullochRead more
Photo: Sozan Savehilaghi - Pivot Legal Society
BC’s newest provincial policing standards, which came into effect on January 15, 2020, are a disappointment. Despite heartfelt critiques led by legal and community-based organizations, including Pivot Legal Society, Hogan’s Alley Society, and the Carnegie Community Action Project, these standards codify a legally suspect practice, and most importantly, they fail to incorporate the foremost recommendation to prohibit the discriminatory practice of street stops altogether.
Throughout 2019, Pivot and other community and legal organizations participated in a Street Stops Sub-Committee, presumably to inform the Director of Police Services’ Street Checks Committee on the questionable legality and clear social harms of street checks. Pivot worked with this committee in hopes of influencing key policing practices, including street stops, in BC. Under the Police Act, the Director can establish binding standards respecting "the promotion of unbiased policing and law enforcement services delivery".
We recommend that the Director of Police Services call for a moratorium on street checks immediately.
In our opinion, street checks are illegal and discriminatory, so we advocated for an interim moratorium and ultimate elimination of the practice throughout BC – both in communities that are policed by municipal forces as well as the RCMP.
In July 2019, Pivot provided the Director of Police Services with a Memorandum concluding that:
“Street checks, carding, and any other set of policing practices that permits stopping people for information outside of an investigation evade the Constitutional protections guaranteed to individuals during investigative detentions. The lack of protection, coupled with the incredible amount of social harms experienced by Black, Indigenous, racialized, and low-income communities due to these types of practices highlights how street checks erode trust with police. We recommend that the Director of Police Services call for a moratorium on street checks immediately.”
BC has full jurisdiction to prohibit the practice of street checks, a policing practice that disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and racialized people and communities navigating systemic poverty.
Despite overwhelming evidence of the harms of street checks and their lack of substance in law, BC chose not to ban the practice. Notably, neither the Policy nor its Foreword mentions racism – although street stops are connected to anti-Black racism and settler-colonialism, regardless of the jurisdiction. Lama Mugabo, a member of Hogan’s Alley Society, shared his insights:
“Street checks are another form of racial profiling that police use to racially profile Black people whom they perceive to be potential criminals. They should be strictly limited or totally banned. Thus far, we have not seen a correlation between the [use of] street checks and safety. Unlike a driving infraction, the individual is unaware of the information collected. Most often, this information is used against [them] in the court of law.”
Consider that by the Vancouver Police Department’s own data, 15% of street checks conducted between 2008-17 involved Indigenous people. Once that data became public, Chief Bob Chamberlin, then-Vice President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs noted“the statistics demonstrate the lived reality of institutional racism that our people face, despite the public rhetoric and celebrations around reconciliation.”Read more
On July 8, 2019, Pivot Legal submitted a Memorandum to the Director of Police Services’ Street Checks Committee on the unregulated practice of street checks also known as "carding".
Street checks occur when police stop people for information, including identification, outside of a police investigation. In our view, the practice lacks a basis in law and is disproportionately weaponized against racialized and low-income communities. The memo calls for a moratorium on street checks as the only alternative to reforms that risk legitimizing an overwhelmingly harmful and discriminatory practice.
Thank you to our external academic reviewers:
Dr. Michael C.K. Ma
Department of Criminology
Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Dr. Jeff Shantz
Department of Criminology
Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Between 2000 and 2017, police were involved in at least 460 fatal interactions with civilians across Canada. As part of its investigative series Deadly Force, the CBC has assembled the first comprehensive analysis of these interactions and has shared the data with Pivot Legal Society.
Up until this point, no such centralized repository of statistics existed. This vacuum of information is, in and of itself, a problem that engenders a lack of accountability in Canadian policing. Police authorities in Canada have the capacity to collect and release this critical data to the public on an ongoing basis, but they choose not to.
(Photo credit: Peter Kim | Memorial for Tony Du, who was shot and killed by Vancouver police in 2014 | February 2018)
During the 17-year period in question, there was an average of 25 fatal police interactions per year. The general trend has been increasing, peaking at 40 fatalities in 2016. One of the victims who never made it home to his family was Tony Du, shot and killed by the Vancouver Police Department's (VPD) Constable Andrew Peters within minutes of the officer arriving on scene in November 2014. Du was described as a “gentle giant” by an esteemed medical professional, Dr. Soma Ganesan, who testified during the five-day inquest into his death where the painful facts of his encounter with police were laid bare. Du was experiencing a mental health episode at the time of the shooting.
70 per cent of victims suffer from mental health and substance abuse problems.” (CBC)
The CBC’s report reveals that Toronto (52), Montreal (26), Edmonton (23), Vancouver (23), and Calgary (19) recorded the most fatal interactions with police. These are the cities with the largest police forces and populations in Canada. Toronto accounted for 11% of total fatal police interactions between 2000 and 2017.Read more
Project Inclusion: Project participants shared experiences of harassment, displacement, threats, racism, and violence at the hands of police and policing institutions across BC. Police exist to serve and protect; but they are causing harm, particularly for people who are already living vulnerably, and are working in direct conflict with health authorities. [Read more]
Criminalization & Policing Campaigner
Regardless of demographics or regions, both the police, as an institution, and policing, as a set of practices, were top of mind for Project Inclusion participants. Reaction to engagement with police ranged from exhaustion from constant experiences of displacement, to anger as a result of a lifetime of harassment, to absolute fear. Indigenous participants living in deep poverty, particularly those who live in public space or consume alcohol in public, are especially targeted by police.
One participant who was experiencing a very high level of interaction with police in her small RCMP community summed up the sentiment of many marginalized people who spoke with us: “Just about five days ago, they came to our camp and they called [name] a 'worthy target' (181),” she said. “And he was like, ‘How am I a worthy target? I live in a fucking tent.’”
Policing practices are not creating safety for people experiencing homelessness, people who use substances, people scraping by in the grey economy, or the broader communities in which they live. Especially concerning in the context of an unprecedented opioid crisis is that participants across BC described police disrupting harm reduction activities and contributing to higher risk substance use practices.
Seizure and Destruction of Harm Reduction Supplies
We learned that in several communities, harm reduction supplies provided by health authorities and local service providers are being seized or destroyed by police.
Police take all my supplies all the time. I was doing what I thought I had to do and just because I had supplies doesn’t necessarily mean that I had drugs on me all the time, either, because I didn’t. Once in a while I had drugs on me, but that is [neither] here [nor] there. That is irrelevant. — 165*
Police seizure of harm reduction supplies demonstrates a clear disconnect between provincial health policy and policing practices. On the one hand, people who use substances are actively encouraged to access clean harm reduction supplies; and on the other, carrying those supplies is resulting in punitive responses from police.
Police Presence Near Overdose Prevention Sites
In some communities, people who use drugs now have access to Overdose Prevention Sites (OPSs) where they are able to consume illicit substances without fear of arrest in the presence of people trained to provide rapid overdose intervention. The success of the OPS model in saving lives is undeniable. Yet, heavy police presence in the vicinity of these sites can, and does, make people reluctant to use these life-saving services.
WATCH: Project Inclusion videos
In one RCMP community, we had the opportunity to witness the impact of over-policing outside the OPS firsthand. The site in this community is only open a few hours each day. One afternoon, we watched police parked in front of the site slowly search a car that appeared to be someone’s home for over an hour. In that time, we saw several people come around the corner toward the site, see the police, and turn and walk away. We also watched one woman leave the site in a state of extreme distress because she saw the police outside and was fearful that they were there for her.
Police Response to Overdose Events
In cases where a person experiences an overdose, especially outside of an OPS or supervised consumption site, it is imperative that people feel that they can call 911 to get help. The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act (GSDOA), which became law in May 2017, offers some legal protection for people who find themselves at the scene of an overdose when emergency help arrives, including the caller, the person who overdosed, and any other bystanders. While the GSDOA provides immunity against charges of simple possession and breaches of conditions where the underlying offense is simple possession, it does not protect against outstanding warrants or against charges and breaches related to other offenses.
Project Inclusion participants identified three issues related to police attendance at overdoses:
- in many communities, the police are often the first responders at an overdose and are not intervening medically when they arrive on scene;
- at times, police interfere with people trying to administer naloxone or other first aid; and
- police are perceived to be using overdose calls to monitor and investigate drug users, sometimes leading to arrests.
Project Inclusion interviews began two months before the GSDOA became law and concluded five months after it was enacted, so it is too soon to determine its full impact. However, there is evidence to suggest that the GSDOA is either misunderstood by police, or that police are deliberately applying it in a way that undermines its intended public health purpose.Read more
Project Inclusion is a comprehensive study into the ways in which specific laws and policies in policing, health care, and the court system directly undermine the health and safety of people who are homeless and living with substance use issues by trapping them in a cycle of criminalization. Pivot travelled to municipalities across British Columbia to hear directly from those affected and has gathered insight into how local laws and practices create harm by shaping lived experience. In essence, these laws and policies are setting people up to fail.
These recommendations are guided by the collective insight of people we spoke with, and are predicated on the truth that affected communities hold powerful visions for change. They provide a roadmap for policy- and lawmakers to dismantle the systems of harm and build a society grounded in human rights and justice. #ProjectInclusion
"Conditions of release" are widely applied to people involved with the criminal justice system, but police- and court-imposed conditions have a particularly harmful effect on those who are homeless and people who use substances. Conditions are being applied in a way that fails to acknowledge the complexities of homelessness and substance use, and therefore, are trapping people in a cycle of criminalization and actually producing criminality that undermines health and safety.
Read the other chapters of #ProjectInclusion:
- Policing: The Impacts of Police and Policing
- Services: No Access, No Support: Service Gaps and Barriers
- Stigma: Making Stigma Visible – Why a Stigma-Auditing Process Matters for BC
- Read our recommendations for change