The committee met at 10:05 a.m.
[D. Routley in the chair.]
D. Routley (Chair): Good morning, everyone. My name is Doug Routley. I'm the MLA for Nanaimo–North Cowichan and the Chair of the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, an all-party committee of the Legislative Assembly.
I would like to acknowledge that I'm joining today's meeting from the traditional territories of the Malahat First Nation. I would like to welcome all those who are listening and participating to this meeting.
I would also remind that our committee is undertaking a broad consultation with respect to policing and related systemic issues in B.C. We are taking a phased approach to this work and are meeting with a number of organizations and individuals to discuss the ideas and experiences they put forward in written submissions earlier this year. We're also hoping to learn more about British Columbians' perspectives on policing, including hearing from those working on the front lines of several fields, including policing, public safety, health care and social services.
Interested individuals can fill out a survey to share their views with the committee. Further details are available on our website at www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/rpa. The deadline to complete the survey is 5 p.m. on Friday, September 3.
In terms of the format for today's meeting, we have presenters grouped into panels based on theme. Each presenter will have five minutes to speak, followed by time for questions from committee members. We kindly ask that presenters be respectful of the time limit. There is a timer to assist, which presenters can see when they're on the gallery view on Zoom.
All audio from our meetings is broadcast live on our website, and a complete transcript will be also provided and posted.
I will now ask members of the committee to introduce themselves. I'll begin with my friend MLA Kirkpatrick.
K. Kirkpatrick: I'm Karin Kirkpatrick. Welcome. We're so glad to have you here. I'm the MLA for West Vancouver–Capilano.
I live and work on the traditional territories of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.
R. Glumac: Hi. I'm Rick Glumac, MLA for Port Moody–Coquitlam.
I am on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples.
H. Sandhu: Good morning, everyone. I am Harwinder Sandhu, MLA for Vernon-Monashee.
Today I am joining you from the unceded and traditional territory of the Okanagan Indian Nations.
G. Begg: Hi, everyone. I'm Gary Begg, the MLA for Surrey-Guildford.
I am proud to be coming to you today from the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people, which include the Kwantlen, the Semiahmoo and the Katzie First Nations.
G. Lore: Good morning, everyone. Really nice to have you here. Grace Lore. I'm the MLA for Victoria–Beacon Hill.
I am calling in from the territory of the Lək̓ʷəŋin̓əŋ-speaking peoples of the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations.
I'm looking forward to hearing from you.
T. Halford: It's MLA Halford here for Surrey–White Rock. I apologize. We're having connection issues at our office today, so I've been advised not to use video.
I'm coming to you from the traditional territories of Semiahmoo.
D. Routley (Chair): Also joining us, assisting the committee today — in fact, the backbone of any committee — are the researchers and Hansard staff.
From the Parliamentary Committees Office, we have Karan Riarh and Mai Nguyen. From Hansard Services, we have Amanda Heffelfinger helping us. We thank them very much for their assistance.
Now I'll introduce Kevin Love from the Community Legal Assistance Society, for their presentation. Hand it over to you, Kevin.
Presentations on Police Act
COMMUNITY LEGAL ASSISTANCE SOCIETY
K. Love: Thank you very much for having me here today. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to present on this very important topic.
CLAS is a non-profit law office that seeks to provide legal services to meet the critical needs and to advance and reform the law on behalf of marginalized communities and communities whose human rights need protecting. CLAS' offices are located on the traditional territory of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish First Nations.
I'll be using my five minutes to highlight some key points coming out of the brief that we had submitted ahead of the presentation today. Although reform to the Police Act is a broad topic, CLAS' submissions will focus primarily on police interactions under the Mental Health Act. This is because we do have a program that provides legal advice and representation to folks who are detained either civilly, under B.C.'s Mental Health Act, or under the Criminal Code, pursuant to the mental disorder provisions of the Criminal Code.
The majority of the submissions will focus on the issue of civil Mental Health Act police interactions, which we feel is a very important topic. There are four key points right off the top which we would like to highlight.
The first is that voluntary services and interventions are preferable to involuntary interventions whenever possible. The second is that when involuntary interventions are necessary, they be as minimally restrictive and intrusive as possible. The third key point is that mental health interventions should be carried out by appropriate mental health and community resources. The police should not be the first responders to mental health emergencies. The final point right off the top which I'd like to highlight is that when people are subjected to involuntary measures under the Mental Health Act, their rights should not be thrown away. These are often highly intrusive, very serious state interventions on people's liberties. People deserve to have their rights protected and respected throughout the process.
We know that involuntary admissions under the Mental Health Act have been steadily increasing. In fact, we're to the point where involuntary admissions are now exceeding voluntary admissions, which we don't think is a good thing, but that's where we are.
Not all but a great number of these involuntary admissions do involve police contact. The feedback we're getting from our clients and for those who experience these interventions is that the whole process can be quite traumatic, can be quite terrifying, can be entirely scary. Often the police are not the appropriate resource to be carrying out these interventions.
In our view, the first response should be coming from a health care resource, a community-based resource, and only escalating to police intervention when it is absolutely necessary. This flows into the second point which we wish to highlight, which is that any involuntary measures should be as minimally intrusive as possible, especially under the Mental Health Act.
The Mental Health Act is about mental health. It's not a criminal statute. The purpose is to deliver the care that people need rather than bringing what people feel is a disproportionate law enforcement response.
Again, if we have people who are better equipped to carry out these interventions — they are a health care issue; they should not be a policing issue; it should be at least, at first instance, a health care issue — the needs of the people on the other end of these interventions are going to be better protected.
The last point, just to elaborate. There are situations where involuntary measures are necessary. It shouldn't be the first response but unfortunately will be necessary in some circumstances. In those circumstances, we need to protect people's rights.
We need to change the Mental Health Act to ensure that when people are involuntarily apprehended — when people are involuntarily taken to hospital — they're informed of their rights, they're informed of why this is happening, and they have a meaningful opportunity to speak with a lawyer or otherwise obtain legal advice. This is why we feel it is critical that there be a legal advice service to provide prompt, timely and competent legal advice to people who have been brought into involuntary detention and are trying to go through what is a very scary, very traumatic and very difficult time.
That is an overview of the position set out in our submissions. I'd be happy to take any questions from the panel after my co-presenters have had an opportunity.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you very much for your presentation by writing and here today.
Next is Shawn Bayes,chief executive officer of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver.
Go ahead, Shawn.
ELIZABETH FRY SOCIETY OF
S. Bayes: Thank you. I'm joining you from the traditional lands and unceded territory of the Kwantlen and Qayqayt people.
I would like to just outline briefly what the Elizabeth Fry Society is, which is a charitable organization that supports many of society's most vulnerable: women and children at risk or involved in the justice system. Our work is predominantly within prisons, exiting prisons, as well as programs for children with parents who are incarcerated or in conflict with the law, and low-barrier services for women at risk of being in conflict with the law. Those we serve are predominantly Indigenous, Black or racialized, which is, of course, the face of the majority of poverty in our province.
As a young woman, my yardstick for travelling was whether or not I could enter a country and have confidence in the police and the legal system. I think that's a definition, probably, many of us use when travelling. Sadly, it's not, I think, the place where confidence is continuing to be in our own country. I say that both for the people I serve and in my experiences my own self as, really, a middle-class woman. I think that that's really, for me, a place of great concern — when you feel that the police do not hold the confidence of the citizenry — because that is the basis of civil society.
Police are no longer seen as safeguarding legal rights or those charged, nor upholding the values of civil society and public safety. Those values are really critical. The police have a really legitimate role. That position, I think, of being held in a trusted position in our society, where police officers themselves feel very proud to do the work that they do, is eroding. I say that from our experience of working with officers and even participating in a citizens' academy with the Vancouver police department.
We believe there's a need for greater accountability, transparency and a change in the understanding police have of their work — in other words, training. We believe that that is based upon what we see as the hyper-surveillance of groups of people — for instance, those living in the north, particularly those Indigenous, who are criminalized at far higher rates than people who live in urban settings, despite large distances, fly-in courts and even limited access to police.
We believe that in order for there to be greater, increased confidence in police, there must be third-party oversight. It must be seen to be public. It must report to the Legislature annually. Citizens themselves need to see themselves reflected in police boards. Those police boards must hold true oversight and authority for police departments.
We believe that the administration of justice should be defined in the Police Act and that there needs to be a clarity as to how that occurs and clear measures of transparency, inclusive, by the police department, of reporting of racialized data on things such as releases on promise to appear, police undertaking and being held over for bail hearings.
We believe that these structural changes can assist both in the confidence which citizens have but also the participation of anyone in a democratic society to be involved with and support those measures that maintain it.
Lastly, we believe that the issue of police overtime needs to be addressed. Overtime is seen by many officers as part of their salary, and it's reinforcing fatigue. In fatigue, our own personal barriers around decision-making are lowered. Biases and assumptions that we have — that are built in, that we may not be conscious of or may rise when we're fatigued — can affect decisions about how to de-escalate a situation and respond.
We ourselves are also concerned about the Mental Health Act. We would say that from our perspective, because police officers are trained, when faced with a threat, to respond with deadly force — and an incremental response is not part of their training — they should not be people who are going to address mental health complaints. They may accompany mental health professionals, but they should not be accompanied by mental health professionals. We see the difference in that to be a change in how decisions are being made and who's leading those decisions. We think that changes the approach and the skill set.
As I've said, our position is one of increased accountability. Transparency and training will increase the confidence of those who are served by our police and the ability in which to be engaged as citizens in ensuring a responsible action.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you. And committee, we've been joined by a member, MLA Olsen.
Adam, you'd like to introduce yourself?
A. Olsen: Yeah, my apologies for being late. I almost got to where I needed to be at the right time.
I'm the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands. I'm happy to be working from home, so you're probably wondering: how did he get to be so late, working from home? But anyway, it's a confusing morning. So apologies for being late, and thank you for your presentations thus far.
D. Routley (Chair): Thanks, Adam.
Our next presenter is Mark Miller. He's the CEO of the John Howard Society, Pacific Region.
Go ahead, Mark.
JOHN HOWARD SOCIETY,
M. Miller: Good morning. I'd like to begin today by acknowledging that I am currently on the traditional and unceded territory of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish First Nations. I'd like to thank the committee for their work in the area of reforming the Police Act and express my gratitude for the opportunity to speak to you today.
For more than 90 years, our organization has worked with marginalized communities around the province of British Columbia. As a social and criminal justice service provider, every day we see and hear stories of the criminalization of poverty, homelessness, mental health, addictions, developmental disabilities and other complex social issues. We see the presence and impact of systemic racism, both in the daily experiences of the people we serve and in the overrepresentation of racialized groups in our criminal justice system and our health and social service ministries.
We further see the impact of ongoing and historical trauma related to significant negative and oftentimes violent and dehumanizing interaction between our most vulnerable community and members of law enforcement. When we received the committee's request for submissions, we saw the importance in providing people with lived experience the opportunity to share their own views, perspectives and recommendations and for decision-making to include their perspectives. So rather than speaking on their behalf, we worked to provide an accessible platform to those within our community with lived experience interacting with the police and helping others with this experience to share their experience for themselves.
Our video submission featured the enriched perspectives of Jason and David, two of our peer mentors who provide mentorship, advocacy and support to people with opioid use disorders transitioning from provincial correctional facilities to the community. As peers, they have personal experience navigating through this often challenging journey, as they, too, have struggled with addictions and have extensive experience with police and the justice system. They bring their shared understanding of lived experience to their roles as peer mentors.
In our video submission, David and Jason both shared their personal and witnessed experience with police and their take on the role of police in responding to complex social issues. They speak to their own interactions with police, the stigma or barriers they have faced and their suggestions for how community organizations — and individuals with extensive training and lived experience, particularly — can support the role of police responding to complex social issues.
We believe that social service organizations have a key role to play in responding to complex social issues including mental health and wellness, addictions and harm reduction and can support police departments around the province to better meet the needs of our communities.
Through our experience and expertise, we see the tremendous need for change in our systems, and we recognize the positive impact that alternative approaches can have in supporting people with complex needs.
Our organization supports initiatives to continuously improve processes and practices across our sector. We have recently supported the motion at Vancouver city council to decriminalize poverty and support community-led safety initiatives. We work closely with many government ministries, health authorities, First Nations and individuals with lived experience and other community organizations to address these complex issues.
While our agency is not making recommendations to amend specific areas of the Police Act, there are several reoccurring themes in our communities that we see and that we would support and encourage the committee to continue to emphasize when making its recommendations.
One would be the creation of a complaint process that is accessible and usable by those with mental health and developmental disability challenges and has appropriate supports in place to navigate the complaint process; that programs and support are made available for individuals impacted by trauma related to significant and repeated violent interactions with law enforcement; and that ways to address systemic racism in the police service are found and implemented as soon as possible, with an emphasis on addressing the historic consequences Indigenous People have faced as a result of our system of justice.
We would recommend that the use-of-force protocols for police officers be reviewed and adapted to address the evolving complexities of our communities; that a review of training requirements for police officers be undertaken with an emphasis on service and support, as opposed to enforcement. We would also encourage a specific review of requirements for officers working between the hours of 4:30 p.m. and 8 a.m., during a time when there are far less health and social services available to those requiring support. Our communities rely on police officers to handle all manner of crisis, without the training and background required to do so.
Finally, we encourage initiatives to create change to the culture within police departments around our province. We are asking police to play a challenging role in our communities, and we must find ways to discuss and begin to address trauma-related issues facing our police officers, such as officer mental health, substance abuse, family violence and suicide.
That's all I have today. Thank you again to the committee for the opportunity to speak.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you very much.
Next we have Tamara Levy, director of the UBC Innocence Project.
UBC INNOCENCE PROJECT
T. Levy: Good morning. Hi there. I'm also coming to you from the unceded and traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
My focus is slightly different but with the common theme of police accountability and transparency. My comments today relate to access to police records for those seeking to prove that they have been wrongly convicted.
I start with Virginia, which recently came to my attention when the governor signed into law a bill that makes records of closed criminal investigations publicly accessible. This was a meaningful step towards greater police transparency and identifying miscarriages of justice.
Previously, criminal investigative files were unavailable because police had the discretion over whether to release the file to the public or counsel. Because the police didn't always release those files to innocence organizations, it was difficult for counsel to access their client's old conviction case files, as well as the case files of officers who were known to have contributed to other wrongful convictions. This is currently the situation we have in Canada.
For example, in Virginia, a former detective who was found to have used coercive interrogation tactics to elicit false confessions is now serving a federal sentence for corruption and extortion that he committed over many years. Yet, despite that pattern of misconduct, innocence organizations' requests to review his past case files had been rejected by the local police department. His misconduct may have contributed to the incarceration of many more innocent people. But without access to his old police files, there will be little chance of uncovering these injustices.
Virginia's law will allow individuals and organizations to access records of inactive police investigations to help overturn wrongful convictions and potentially identify actual perpetrators through Freedom of Information Act requests.
In Canada, police or Crown failure to disclose evidence has contributed to 30 percent of our documented wrongful convictions. A continued lack of transparency with police investigative and misconduct files will (1) contribute to the perpetuation of more wrongful convictions because important information in the file will remain undiscovered and (2) encourage future police misconduct, because police will know that any misconduct will be hidden from public scrutiny. These two circumstances will only further reduce public confidence in policing.
I'd like to illustrate the problem by sharing what has occurred in one of our cases. In 1976, Mr. Lewis was convicted of first-degree murder. He had no criminal record, no history of violence, no motive to commit the crime and adamantly maintained his innocence. His conviction rested entirely on the evidence of one highly unsavoury witness. He unsuccessfully applied to the Minister of Justice for a conviction review. He spent ten years in prison and the rest of his life on parole without incident.
In 2017, a police officer was investigating the unsavoury witness from Mr. Lewis's file in an unrelated case, and as part of that investigation, he came across Mr. Lewis's file. Upon reviewing the contents, he suggested to Mr. Lewis that he apply to get the file from the municipal police department that conducted the investigation.
For the last four years, Mr. Lewis — on his own behalf and then with the help of our organization — has been attempting to obtain an unredacted copy of that file to try to review the information that likely supports his now almost-50-year-old innocence claim. Multiple requests directed to the police service were met with instructions to use provincial privacy legislation.
Requests through privacy legislation resulted in delay of over two years and finally in the production of a heavily-redacted file. The reasons cited for the redactions included privacy act sections relating to government confidentiality and third-party privacy. In light of the passage of time — close to 50 years — and the interests of justice, it's our view that reliance on those sections was unreasonable.
Despite having incomplete information from the police file, we submitted an application to the Minister of Justice for conviction review. From the material that has been reviewed in that process, it appears that there is more information that was not disclosed to Mr. Lewis during the trial and appellate process, nor was it released to Mr. Lewis or to our project in our multi-year efforts to assist him in pursuing his innocence claim.
Once this material is reviewed, it will likely support Mr. Lewis's innocence claim, and he will eventually be exonerated. Sadly, Mr. Lewis passed away earlier this month. The unwillingness of the police to release that important information in his file in a timely and fair fashion meant that Mr. Lewis would not live to experience his exoneration after 50 years of pursuing his innocence.
Stories like these are what have driven our project's efforts to find a fair and reasonable process through which those who claim to have been wrongly convicted can access the police investigative files in their cases. As essential players in the criminal justice system, the police have a responsibility to assist in righting miscarriages of justice when they have occurred. Increased access to information through file transparency in certain cases is a first step in this direction.
Thank you. Those are my submissions for today. I look forward to questions.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you very much.
Our final presenter in this panel is Humera Jabir from West Coast LEAF, Legal Education and Action Fund.
WEST COAST LEAF
H. Jabir: Good morning. My name is Humera, and I use she/her pronouns. I am a staff lawyer at West Coast LEAF and a settler living on the homelands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations.
I'd like to thank you for inviting West Coast LEAF to speak here today. West Coast LEAF is a B.C.-based legal advocacy organization founded in 1985. We use legal strategies to create an equal and just society for all women and people who experience gender-based discrimination.
We have made ten recommendations in our written submissions. However, today my remarks are structured around four main points:
(1) Police Act reform must ensure Indigenous rights and autonomy.
(2) This reform should demonstrate a deep appreciation of how gender shapes experiences of policing.
(3) It must be aimed at achieving substantive equality.
(4) It must be grounded in a fundamental shift in how we understand community safety and need.
As a priority, and to make the commitment to truth and reconciliation meaningful, we ask this committee to listen to the calls of Indigenous nations, communities and peoples for autonomy over policing in accordance with self-determination and the province's obligations under UNDRIP.
The committee's recommendations must also be responsive to the diverse experiences, needs and interests of women, two-spirit people, intersex people, gender non-conforming people, trans people of all genders and people with non-binary gender identities. There is overwhelming evidence of gender-based intersectional discrimination in policing, and we have outlined that context in our written submissions.
Practices such as street checks, which disproportionally impact Black and Indigenous women, need to come to an end. Additionally, we ask the committee to implement the calls to justice of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls which are specifically directed at policing and law reform.
Reform to policing and police accountability must ultimately advance a shared societal commitment to achieving substantive equality. We have tried to make recommendations related to substantive equality specifically. We recommend that the Police Act be revised to include a statement of principles that is inclusive of the right to self-determination for Indigenous Peoples and the obligation of police to safeguard human rights. While such a statement is by no means a cure-all, we see value in enshrining the right to equality and non-discrimination within the text of the Police Act and to frame the purpose and limitations of policing.
In addition, we recommend that police departments be audited routinely against equality indicators as a condition of funding and show that discrimination is being tackled at a system level. An approach to reform that is aimed at rooting out the few bad apples or training away racism, sexism, transphobia or other forms of bias is ineffective when, as other presenters have mentioned, it is deeply entrenched cultural norms in policing, such as a reliance on stereotypes, disconnect from community, a warrior mentality and codes of silence, that must be broken down if policing is to be reformed for the future.
We also would like to see fundamental changes to the structure of police accountability. The current processes are not accessible, inclusive or trusted. In our written submissions, we have shared over a dozen recommendations for how police accountability can be overhauled to advance substantive equality, such as bringing an end to the model of police investigating police, establishing a new allegation for misconduct for discrimination or bias and revising the definition of serious harm in the act to include sexual- and gender-based violence.
The majority of persons working in police oversight in Canada are white men who are former police officers. While anti-bias training of employees is a necessity, this training cannot make up for lived experiences. We are asking this committee to consider structural changes, such as a process for monitoring of police accountability by diverse communities and monitors with expertise in gender-based violence. We also would like to see a process for civil society interventions in police accountability.
We further urge this committee to adopt a coordinated approach to rebuilding the community and social sector, with the recognition that police reform is only one part of the picture. And we share that view with many organizations — that police ought to be detasked where possible and that funding that would otherwise go to policing should be put towards reinvesting in services that support communities on their own terms.
So to conclude, I would like to emphasize that it's really, I think, important to note that women's and feminist organizations have appeared before this committee in force. We urge you to listen closely to the many feminist voices and the people and communities with lived experiences of policing. The status quo cannot be maintained, and nor will tinkering on the edges of the Police Act be meaningful reform. We are asking this committee to make structural changes to policing and police accountability. Thank you.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you very much. I should note that the committee makes recommendations for changes and isn't able, actually, to implement change. But these recommendations are important, and we appreciate that advice.
With that, I'll open the floor to questions from committee members.
A. Olsen: I don't have any actual direct questions coming out. I think that it is a tribute to the quality of the presentation just in terms of the clarity with which you've delivered your recommendations in both written form and, as well, today in your presentations.
I was listening in when Mr. Love was providing his presentation, and I just think that it's important to acknowledge the comment that was made that the Mental Health Act is not a criminal statute. I think it just kind of flowed through.
It was an important foundational comment, from my perspective, in that I think it was built on by every one of the following presenters, just with respect to how we approach addressing mental health. I think Mr. Miller talked about the criminalization of poverty and developmental disabilities or different abilities and addiction. I just really appreciate that kind of foundational statement.
Then just to Humera's final point, I heard it loud and clear. I see it, and I recognize it. It is something that is going to have to be pointed out here — the number of powerful voices of women coming forward, feminists coming forward. I just want to acknowledge that I've heard that and that it will be a commitment I make — to make sure that, from my voice, those recommendations are reflected in the recommendations that we make.
Thank you for that final statement. It's very important.
R. Glumac: We've heard many presenters over the last few months, and definitely some common themes are coming through. One of the things that I find helpful and interesting is looking at other jurisdictions and where they're having success and doing things differently or in a more modernized way, perhaps.
Some examples. In New Zealand, their dispatch system allows someone who's calling in to connect directly to a mental health professional. We've heard about the CAHOOTS model in Oregon and the Memphis model of policing.
My question to any of the presenters today would be: do you have any recommendations on other models that you see as being positive and worthy of consideration when we're looking at our own system? Or do you have any comments on the ones that I've mentioned?
M. Miller: I'll just quickly comment, and someone else can jump in. Certainly, I'm familiar with the CAHOOTS model. It is something that I think is working very well and has worked very well in that particular community for an extended period of time. I think the LEAD program, as well, in the U.S. is something that is seeing some positive — where law enforcement is diverting people to services, as opposed to custody.
I know there are lots of initiatives, but that's clearly, I think, something in our communities that we need to do more of and better at. We've looked, as well, at the Australia model, with MACNI, multiple and complex needs initiative, where they actually have legislation that addresses multiple and complex needs. And then a support process is in place to access funding from multiple ministries, recognizing that many of the individuals that require support require support from multiple locations.
Sometimes navigating the intersection between those services is very challenging, so we would encourage…. Any of those is very relevant.
G. Lore: Really grateful for your written submissions and your presentations here today. In particular, I think there are some really interesting and concrete ideas here. I think the comments around overtime and the impact of fatigue on all our ability to do our best work, the ideas around special training for officers in that window where those other services that folks often need are not available — these are all really interesting ideas, and I really appreciate them coming from…. Of course they come from community and the front line, with that expertise that you all have.
Humera, my question is for you. You mentioned really extensive and concrete suggestions around what are largely legislative changes to facilitate increased accountability. I'm particularly interested in some of the things in your submission around extending and revising the allegations for police misconduct, but also around what is considered "serious harm." I'm just wondering if you wanted to say a few more words about those recommendations and why you see them as important.
H. Jabir: Certainly. I think there's lots of room within the legislation for the allegations of misconduct and what is being focused on to be changed to reflect substantive equality. That includes ensuring that discrimination and bias is being targeted in terms of what is a type of complaint that can be brought forward and assessed under the legislation.
With respect to serious harm, we're really echoing others in this recommendation as well. This has been brought forward by EVA B.C., by the BCCLA and by Justice for Girls as well, in terms of the definition of "serious harm" in the legislation being extended to include sexual harm and gender-based violence or gender-based harm by police officers. I think that that goes towards the independent investigations office's mandate at this time. So there are number of sort of concrete….
I also want to echo what Mark was saying in terms of support persons and support through the complaint process, because that is a huge component for substantive equality of individuals of diverse backgrounds with diverse needs and interests being able to access police accountability. So we have set those out within our written submissions.
I think I'd also like to highlight the participation and trying to find ways of ensuring participation from diverse communities, within police accountability. The recommendation that we have made is for the participation of civilian monitors from those communities.
From a women's and feminist perspective, I would say that there's a long-standing sense of the ways in which patriarchy and misogyny can end up excluding the experiences of women and gender-diverse peoples within political and government processes. I hope that's something that the committee can really look at: how can that lived experience of monitoring and participation in police accountability be brought back in?
K. Kirkpatrick: Thank you all very much. Very well stated and communicated. I know you have a very short period of time in which to share this information with us. Very common themes to what we've been hearing.
I do have a question for Tamara. It's very concerning — the protection of personal information and access to personal information about myself. I would have thought that there would be more access to that, and I thought reviews by the Privacy Commissioner from redacted information would lean toward the protection of the person as opposed to the organization. So it was very interesting to learn about it.
Just out of curiosity, in terms of Mr. Lewis, would the Innocence Project still look at pursuing a posthumous exoneration for him? Is that still ongoing?
T. Levy: It is ongoing. His case is with the criminal conviction review group with the Department of Justice now. They expedited the process in an effort to try to do something before he passed away, but we just didn't make it in time. The lawyers for the CCRG in Ottawa, the criminal conviction review group, have the delegated powers of commissioners, and they can access documents that we're not able to. But it's a bit of a catch-22, because to apply to the minister, you have to go with new and significant evidence, and as I said, in most wrongful-conviction cases, the new and significant evidence is in the file.
We're now in a position where, because we've had such problems with freedom of information and getting people's files — which they would have already had at the time they were convicted, or at least part of the file — it really limits us in what we can do going forward.
We're hoping that in this new consultation process and with a new board to review wrongful convictions, some of those disclosure issues will be identified. Even the Department of Justice has problems getting the information from the police in a timely fashion, so it's not just us.
K. Kirkpatrick: Thanks for the work that the Innocence Project does — much appreciated.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you, Members. I do not see any more questions.
I'd like to thank our presenters, all of you, for your contribution — a very important and broad task that we have in examining all that's in our terms of reference. We appreciate the views of every person who comes before our committee. We really thank you for your submission and your presentation today. I hope you go away feeling as though you've contributed to our province, because you have. Thank you.
Okay, Members. We have a bit of time here for deliberation.
K. Riarh (Clerk to the Committee): Sorry, Doug. Did you want to take a recess?
D. Routley (Chair): Yes. I think we'll take recess now.
The committee recessed from 10:51 a.m. to 11:07 a.m.
[D. Routley in the chair.]
D. Routley (Chair): Welcome back to this meeting of the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act. Just a reminder to our next panel that each presenter will have five minutes to speak, followed by about 20 minutes for questions and discussion with the entire panel. First, I'd like to welcome Randy Puder from B.C. Centre on Substance Use for their presentation.
B.C. CENTRE ON SUBSTANCE USE
R. Puder: Good morning, Chair and committee members. My name is Randy Puder, and I'm honoured to be here today to present the submission from the B.C. Centre for Substance Use, family member and caregiver representative committee. I'd like to note that this presentation is on the views of the family representative committee, and not the B.C. Centre for Substance Use itself.
First, I would like to acknowledge that I respectfully am joining you today from the traditional, unceded and continually occupied territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Today, I represent an advisory committee of family members with loved ones who've been impacted by substance use harms.
I wish to acknowledge that the ongoing criminalization of, institutionalization of and discrimination against people who use drugs disproportionately harms Indigenous Peoples. Being committed to the process of reconciliation includes recognizing the significant and ongoing reform that is urgently required in B.C.'s policing policies and practices.
Very quickly, the B.C. Centre for Substance Use is a provincially networked organization with a mandate to develop, help implement and evaluate evidence-based approaches to substance use and addiction. In collaboration with people in families with living and lived experience, the B.C. Centre for Substance Use seeks to improve the integration of best practices in care across the continuum. The family member and caregiver representative committee serves to support BCCSU's mandate.
Previously we've made presentations, Chair, both in writing, and three of our members made video presentations. I want to summarize just the diverse experiences of police interacting with people who use drugs, and the family member and representative committee respectfully wishes to share these recommendations for your consideration.
My personal lived experience has provided me unique insights into various aspects of policing, substance use, mental illness and overall drug policy, as these are some areas where problematic issues continue with policing in British Columbia –– notably, inappropriate uses of force, often against marginalized members of our communities, as witnessed by the public with increasing frequency. I was a caregiver for over 25 years to my late mother, who suffered from bipolar disorder most of her life. I have decades of lived experience with substance use and addiction in my own family. For many, many years, I have advocated for improvements in policing responses to those in our community who suffer from mental illness.
Pertinent to this presentation today, my late brother Gil served 18 years at the Vancouver police department until his untimely death in 1999. He was a use-of-force expert who taught young recruits at the B.C. Police Academy. He was outspoken about the need for police to constantly train to apply the minimum amount of force needed to effect an arrest.
He was also a critic of how all Canadian police departments were complicit in the harms associated with the war on drugs. The war on drugs is basically a war on people, often the most marginalized people in our society.
The focus of the B.C. Police Act review now should be changing the status quo of the B.C. Police Act, not setting the stage for more harm to substance users and those suffering from mental illness. Not only should the B.C. Police Act be overhauled; the culture in policing must change.
These are suggestions that we want to include in our submission recommendations that we've previously submitted in writing, but I just wanted to summarize some of the key points.
We would like to have immediate adoption of body cameras in all police departments operating in B.C., including the RCMP; vast improvements in training for new police recruits that focuses on understanding substance use and mental illness; deeper background and character checks for police recruits; and the addition of whistleblower legislation for serving police officers in British Columbia. These are some areas that we believe will lead to substantial improvements in how police agencies conduct themselves within our communities.
Finally, we suggest that this committee's review of the B.C. Police Act should focus on removing the use-of-force models that have crept into Canadian policing standards from the United States. As agencies have adopted these models across Canada over the last several decades, including British Columbia, the result has been undue influence upon our other policies.
We believe these types of improvements will lead to better policing and better trust between police and their communities, which in turn will lead to more effective policing for the police themselves.
Thank you very much. I look forward to any questions, Chair.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you.
Next up is Justin Goodrich of Covenant House Vancouver.
COVENANT HOUSE VANCOUVER
J. Goodrich: Good morning, members of the committee. Thank you for affording me this opportunity on behalf of Covenant House Vancouver to address you this morning via the following prepared statement.
I'm speaking to you today from the traditional lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples, and I acknowledge their lands and commit to conducting myself in a manner that honours them.
Covenant House Vancouver would like to begin by acknowledging the important role police officers play in our community and to thank them for their service. Moreover, we wish to use this opportunity to express our deepest condolences to the family members, friends and colleagues of Const. Shelby Patton of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police/Gendarmerie s du Canada and Const. Jeffrey Northrup of the Toronto Police Service, both of whom lost their lives in the line of duty over the past few months.
To honour their memory and the memory of all police officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice, let me be clear. Our statements today are meant to provide thoughtful suggestions on ways in which the British Columbia Police Act could be reformed to provide net positive outcomes for everyone.
Our first recommendation speaks to the idea of creating a new framework, one rooted in established best practices, that delineates calls for services that would be better addressed by mental health and addictions practitioners instead of police officers. In doing so, we can alleviate police officers of the added burden of addressing matters of a non–law enforcement nature while offering greater front-line supports to those in need vis-à-vis trained health and wellness practitioners. By introducing new methodologies such as delineating what types of non-emergency calls do or do not warrant a police presence, we submit that there will be a net positive impact for all relevant parties, both police officers and the citizenry that they serve.
Our second recommendation is admittedly more operational and is meant to complement the aforementioned framework. We believe that the province will be well served by creating a database and communications network linking law enforcement, health authorities and local community service providers. Introducing this new data and communications network would allow for immediate connectivity between these entities to foster a multidisciplinary approach to address matters of public health and safety in real time.
Our final recommendation, the recommendation that we are most passionate about, is rooted in education. As part of their training at the Justice Institute as well as through ongoing professional development opportunities, police officers should be given greater knowledge pertaining to trauma-informed practices. For those of you who may not be familiar with trauma-informed practices, they are a framework grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impacts of trauma. They emphasize physical, psychological and emotional safety for everyone and create opportunities for survivors of trauma to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.
The sad reality is that many of the individuals who intersect the law enforcement community suffer from trauma. Indeed, trauma is often one of the root causes of mental health and addictions issues. Furthermore, there are communities, such as the Indigenous community, BIPOC community and LGBTQQ community, to name only a few, that have experienced historical traumas that continue to have very real present-day impacts — again, more reason why trauma-informed education is crucial to change the current interactions between law enforcement officials and sizeable cross-sections of our community.
In closing, I want to thank the committee for affording Covenant House Vancouver the opportunity to participate in today's discussion, and I'll do my very best to answer any questions you may have for me.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you very much.
Our next presenter is Didi Dufresne, advocacy manager and legal advocate at First United Church Community Ministry Society.
Go ahead, Didi.
CHURCH COMMUNITY MINISTRY SOCIETY
D. Dufresne: Good morning. Thank you for inviting us from the First United Church Community Ministry Society to present our submissions to you today. My name is Didi Dufresne. My pronouns are they, she and he.
I am appearing from Vancouver, the unceded and occupied territory of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish People.
Just in brief overview, First United is an outreach ministry of the United Church of Canada and serves as an emergency shelter and service centre in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. We have a 130-year history in this neighbourhood, and we strive to offer low-barrier, harm reduction–oriented services to people in the Downtown Eastside. In addition to our emergency services, our programs and services include community meals; tax filing; community ministry; access to emergency clothing, hygiene and harm reduction supplies; and legal advocacy.
I will speak largely as a representative from the legal advocacy program. In terms of our recommendations for the reform for the Police Act, I largely want to focus on our third recommendation, which is to shift from policing and criminalization to one of community safety and decriminalization.
Here, it's important to note that many members of our community who experience the largest amount of adverse effects of police interaction and decriminalization are significantly marginalized: Indigenous people, people of colour, queer people, trans people, people living in homelessness and people that have disabilities, largely mental health and drug addiction issues. These are the majority of our clients that we see every day, and we can see how there is such a negative impact of policing in terms of their remaining housed, with people being unhoused and how that affects them.
We would ask that the committee think about setting priorities under the Police Act to include restorative justice and other approaches so that the police involvement is limited in terms of social issues. There are too many cases of wellness checks that result in Indigenous and Black people being killed by the police. Our advocacy program has also seen cases where police wellness checks have resulted in tenants then being evicted because of these checks.
We would call on shifting from a police model to more of a community service model. We would also call it an overhaul of police accountability. There is a lot of room for both the police complaint process and the independent office of police complaints to move away from one, which largely focuses on having former members of police then policing the police, so to speak. We'd call on a complete ban of people involved in the policing system to represent on these independent committees.
We also ask for a moratorium on police use of force and surveillance technologies and, as well, aligning the Police Act with the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and largely, here, to really focus on the need for free, prior and informed consent and self-determination and not subject any Indigenous Nation to the police authorities without this.
We'd also call on a ban of street checks, which disproportionately affect the most marginalized in our community, to severe detriment.
We're open to any questions.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you.
Our final presenter in this panel is Derek Weiss. He's the director of the Union Gospel Mission.
Go ahead, Derek.
UNION GOSPEL MISSION
D. Weiss: Good morning. I'm grateful to be here. I'm grateful to each of you for your critical work on this special committee. Thank you. I join you from the unceded territory of the Kwantlen and Katzie people.
The Union Gospel Mission is a not-for-profit that supports people struggling with homelessness, poverty and addiction. We have several locations across the Lower Mainland offering a wide variety of services over a broad continuum of care. Our submission was based almost entirely on what we heard from people with lived experience of homelessness, poverty and addiction, as well as our front-line staff, both what we've heard in the past and what people are saying over the last few months, as we particularly ask them related to this special committee and in our submission.
From what we learned, there's an urgent need to change the way policing is done, particularly how policing institutions treat vulnerable groups and the BIPOC community, the racialized community. As you've heard from other groups, I'm sure, we believe that there is systemic racism and discrimination existing within police forces in the areas where UGM serves. We believe police forces need more education and training, particularly related to racism, sexism and mental health. In particular, police forces need education and training on the history and present relationships between police and Indigenous People.
We need stronger mental health supports, alongside or instead of police. Police officers need to be trained in social work intervention methods. Police forces need to build trust, accountability and protection for our sex trade workers. Police forces need to increase diversity and representation of BIPOC and vulnerable groups.
This committee and police forces need to listen to, honour and give authority to officers who have the respect of the community, and I'm sure you're doing some of that. This came up several times with people we talked to. Linda Malcolm's name came up many times. There are police officers who do this well, and you need to give them some authority where possible.
I'd like, also, to correct something. Our submission asked you to reconsider. We used the term "reconsider street checks." As we looked through that and caught that, we don't want you reconsider street checks. We want you to stop them. We want a ban on street checks. They disproportionately affect marginalized communities.
That's a summary of our written submission — what I just said. For me, it was hard to drop into the experiences that I was hearing about and that I have heard about for the over ten years I've worked in various marginalized neighbourhoods. In part, I'm a white man, so my relationship with police has not been terrible.
I'd like to do something a little different. I don't necessarily presume this is going to work for everybody, but I'd just like us to do something a little bit different and drop out of our heads for a minute. I'd just ask you to go back in your memory. I'll do a trigger warning as well. If you've been mistreated by police, please consider not doing this exercise.
I'd like each of us on this committee to remember the last time we were stopped by a police officer. What was that like? Maybe it was a traffic stop. Maybe it wasn't. How did it feel? I know that when it happened to me, my heart raced a little bit. My palms got a little sweaty. How did it feel in your body? What was that like for you?
As I considered that, I realized that there was some fear of authority. Then I thought back to when I was living, actually, in a foreign country where police had the reputation of not treating foreigners well. I was actually not treated terribly well by police. My experiences there with police were harrowing.
From that place of just a touch, just a tiny bit of empathy for what marginalized groups where we serve are facing when they're stopped by police…. I really felt a connection to the importance of this work. That's why I wanted to invite you, as you hear all the facts and all the arguments, to also have that experiential heart connection as best you can. Those feelings and memories may help you when you have to make hard decisions about how to take meaningful action and make meaningful recommendations that might be really hard as a special committee.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you very much.
Thank you, everyone, presenters.
I think that brings us to questions from members. I'll open the floor to questions. Members can put up their hands.
D. Davies (Deputy Chair): Thank you very much, all of you. Very informative presentations.
A quick question to Randy, and my condolences to your brother. I was just wondering about your brother, who was working with de-escalation and use of force. Prior to that, when he was still doing that, did he have any discussions with you about how he felt the direction of policing and use of force were going? Can you share any insight, if he shared any of those conversations with you?
R. Puder: Thank you for the question. Yes, Gil did a lot through his career, actually. He was very close to me. I like to make another claim that I was one of the first people pepper sprayed in British Columbia. He brought that into the police academy and tested it on me.
He wasn't satisfied with use-of-force models prior to his becoming a police officer in 1982. He worked very, very, very hard in training to learn use of force, the philosophy of use of force, the application of use of force and eventually teaching use of force.
I believe it's called…. I'm not an expert in use of force. The force options continuum available to police officers are everything from their uniform and their voice to deadly force. Within that continuum, Gil worked very hard, and he wanted police departments to add more steps as force was escalated on the street in their interactions. I may be corrected by various experts around B.C. and such, but that logically makes sense to gradually, if needed, escalate force options instead of jump steps.
Americanized policing use-of-force models, very generally — and this is understood and articulated by many, many police chiefs in the United States — very quickly and rapidly escalate force options models, or the police officers are not trained adequately to apply the force.
That's what Gil worked on his entire career. Very early in his career, he was forced to shoot and kill a bank robber, and that really solidified his understanding of, of course, deadly force, but how force options needed to change in policing.
One of the main components, and the last thing I'll mention, that he felt were force options was for police officers to be experienced in their communities that they're policing, to understand mental illness and how it manifests itself on the street — Gil had a good understanding of that; our mother was bipolar — and to use voice and presence.
He advocated for police officers to be in very good physical shape, to keep their uniforms clean and pressed, and just have that presence. Not an authoritarian presence, but part of the community. He played on sports teams. He coached kids' teams. He was very much integrated in community, not an overseer of community.
Gil shared a lot of things. The drug war is an abject failure. It continues, and marginalized people are suffering because of it.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you.
Members, do I see any more questions? I see Karin.
K. Kirkpatrick: Thank you, everybody. Very good information. I just have one question, actually, for Derek. You had mentioned a police officer specifically by name. I believe his name was Linden, and you said he does a good job in the community. He's kind of an example.
Can you tell us what you mean by that? How is he different, and how could we emulate that kind of work in the community?
D. Weiss: Thank you. It was Linda. Linda Malcolm came up many times as we talked to women. This is what we had heard from the community.
Linda stood up for sex trade workers. She got to know them and spoke to them. She earned their trust and, from what some told me, was a friend to them.
I think that just speaks volumes, that women who are otherwise afraid to talk to any officer, or are afraid when an officer comes down the street to the point that they will go to dangerous places to work to just be away from police, would tell me that they would be happy to approach and speak to Linda.
K. Kirkpatrick: Thank you very much. It really sounds to me like having more gender diversity within policing would be very helpful so that there can be more trust in some marginalized communities when they've got people supporting them that they feel more connected to.
D. Weiss: That was one of our recommendations as well, to have that diversity. Yes.
D. Routley (Chair): I don't see any more hands up.
I want to thank the presenters very much for their contribution. We have a big and broad task in front of us, and every view that comes before our committee is important to us. We deeply appreciate your participation.
Thank you, Members. I guess now would be a time for us to have a motion to move the meeting in camera. From Karin. Seconded by Harwinder.
The committee continued in camera from 11:34 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
[D. Routley in the chair.]
D. Routley (Chair): I would like to have a motion to adjourn. Harwinder, seconded by Garry.
The committee adjourned at 12:30 p.m.
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