Vancouver Sun

Critics call out police investigat­ing own complaints

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Indigenous and civil rights groups complain that the Vancouver Police Department should not be responsibl­e for investigat­ing itself over the 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 Vancouver 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 such an investigat­ion in this situation is “problemati­c” for its lack of independen­ce or appearance of a lack of independen­ce.

Comments by Chief Constable Adam Palmer to media after 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 has 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 (is) affected by an appearance of bias,” their letter says.

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 offence has occurred.

Police figures 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.

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.

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