Budget Estimates: Public Safety & Solicitor General

Jul 31, 2020 | Blog, Governance | 1 comment

This coming fall the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act will be convening to look at the decades old British Columbia Police Act. This is important work and I am thankful to be able to participate on this special committee.

In this session of budget estimates I ask Minister Mike Farnworth about a few policing issues including municipal/RCMP services, accountability, safety and security, training, and the decriminalization of people who use illicit drugs. We didn’t have a lot of time for a detailed discussion, however I will be fully immersed soon enough!


[Transcript]

Thursday July 30, 2020 2:20pm

A. Olsen:

Thank you for this opportunity to my colleagues and the official opposition. I appreciate the opportunity. I have a few questions to ask the minister. I’m just going to start. Again, thank you to the minister for all of the previous answers.

Just going to start with the question around our municipal and RCMP police forces in the province. We’ve got a mixture of both: local police forces and RCMP police detachments. We know that municipal police are governed by local police boards. The chain of command, however, for the RCMP goes to Ottawa. Or maybe regionally, but definitely the chain of command goes all the way to the top in Ottawa.

Just a question about the policing done by the RCMP: how much does that cost us? And how much does the province contribute to that in both the amount of money that we spend and the percentage that we cover of that contract?

[2:20 p.m.]

Hon. M. Farnworth:

Thanks to the member for the question. The provincial share of what we pay for the provincial, not municipal, but for the provincial RCMP is $422,094,583.

A. Olsen:

Thank you, Minister. Do we cover 100 percent of the cost of that contract, or does the federal government cover some of that? What is the percentage?

Hon. M. Farnworth:

The simplest answer on this is it is a 70-30 split, and we’re paying 70 percent. That is our contribution. That’s our 70 percent. That is the full cost.

A. Olsen:

Thank you, Minister. Thank you for that clarification. Just with respect to the contract that we have with the RCMP and in highlighting the chain of command or in highlighting the accountability measures that people have who have a municipal force. In Central Saanich, where we’ve got a municipal force, you can walk into municipal hall and schedule a meeting with the local police board chair and have that conversation, or with the local police chief.

Just wondering if the minister maybe could provide a little bit of insight into what kind of accountability measures are in place for British Columbia. We’re contributing a considerable amount of money to that, with the chain of command leaving our province and going to another jurisdiction. Just wondering if the minister can highlight the accountability measures that we have to ensure that we’re receiving the level of service that we are paying for and that we expect in our province.

Hon. M. Farnworth:

I thank the member for the question.

I will give the member two examples of accountability. One, through the commanding officer at E division and myself as minister. I outline, each year, a letter around priorities and expectations, so I have accountability from the commanding officer through me as minister. That’s one avenue.

[2:25 p.m.]

At the local level, at the individual detachment level, while RCMP are different than the local municipal detachment where you have a municipal police board…. In the case of most communities or, I would say, all communities that have an RCMP detachment, that accountability goes through the local council. I know from my time, for example, when I served as a city councillor in Port Coquitlam that there was a policing committee. The commanding officer in that local detachment would meet on a regular basis with the mayor and council.

That is that local ground level, I think, of how accountability, both locally, and then, provincewide, manifests itself.

A. Olsen:

Just in terms of balancing the priorities of the province and the national priorities of the RCMP…. The RCMP has a much broader mandate than community policing. It’s got some national priorities as well.

I’m just wondering, with respect to staffing measures and ensuring that the detachments are staffed up, how has the RCMP been performing, in terms of keeping detachments staffed and the full compliment of officers that we should be expecting based on the amount that we’re contributing to the contract, being able to deliver on that and balancing their national priorities with the, in some cases, very isolated communities they are policing here in British Columbia?

Hon. M. Farnworth:

Thank you to the member for the question. I can tell you that my police services branch remains in constant dialogue with E division, which is responsible for policing here in British Columbia, to ensure that that key priority of ensuring that communities are staffed is maintained. We have had good cooperation from them on that front.

It’s one of the reasons why, as we had in earlier discussion this morning with the opposition critic, that when we received additional resources, they went to those priority areas of northern communities, northern Vancouver Island and smaller detachments.

A. Olsen:

Thank you to the minister for that answer that I didn’t quite hear the whole…. I’ll go back to Hansard and read through.

I guess I just ask those questions…. Certainly, some of these concerns…. I’ve raised them with the minister in the past and wanted to ask these questions on the record, as well, just to, I think, honour some of the concerns that have been raised in my community. So I appreciate the response.

Shifting gears a little bit, with respect to the nature of some of the calls in the province. I recognize that it’s a very large and diverse province. But it’s been estimated that between 50 percent to 80 percent of the calls that police respond to in our province are non-criminal in nature — noting, of course, that some of those calls may turn into criminal in nature. They include incidents such as alarms, disturbances, domestic disputes, traffic accidents, sick or injured persons, overdoses and mental health crisis calls.

[2:30 p.m.]

Can the minister please provide an update on some of the statistics relevant to the number of non-criminal calls, maybe just at a high level, the percentage and the most recent numbers that you’ve got? Just highlight, on average, how much of an annual police budget could be expensed on police responding to non-criminal calls.

Hon. M. Farnworth:

To the member, that’s not information that we have. But what I can do is commit to see what statistics we do have or would be able to access to see if that would help the member with that question.

A. Olsen:

Understandable. Thank you for that. I look forward to continuing to engage the minister on that.

Just with respect to the type of training, and maybe in the context of the first question that I asked…. In the context of the number of hours that a police officer may receive conflict intervention and de-escalation training as they’re going through, prior to becoming a police officer, then, are there requirements for police officers to update and refresh that training over a period of time?

I’m going to add a little bit to this, as well, because I think, in the context of the recent discussions that have been happening here and elsewhere, just around cultural safety training and…. I guess maybe the minister can just provide some context about the level of training that our police officers have as they start to work in police forces across the province.

Hon. M. Farnworth:

To the member, yes. To answer that question, there are provincewide standards that apply to all police in the province, whether municipal or RCMP. Those standards ensure that every officer must undertake critical incident and de-escalation training. That consists of four hours of online plus one day in-person training. It is required. Along with that, then, officers are required to have a refresher course every three years.

[2:35 p.m.]

A. Olsen:

With that, is there any requirement for there to be cultural safety training? I think the obvious place that the minister might suspect I land here is with Indigenous cultural safety training. But we have got a very diverse province, and we’ve got very unique cultures here in the province –– a diversity of Indigenous cultures, but we’ve also got a vast array of other cultural heritage in the province. And I’m just wondering if there’s any requirement for that cultural sensitivity training of our police officers.

Hon. M. Farnworth:

To answer the question, hon. Member, yes, there most certainly is cultural sensitivity training, and we have provincewide standards for that as well.

A. Olsen:

There are recent events in the United States…. I’m going to be careful not to conflate what’s happening in the United States with what’s happening here, although there have been some lines drawn, I think, and certainly some sentiment within the British Columbia public about police militarization. The most dramatic images of that were with the policing that was involved in the Wet’suwet’en territory, the very, very heavy police presence there, the use of fully automatic rifles, helicopters. You know, it was pretty dramatic. Is the minister concerned about the militarization of police? Is this happening in British Columbia? Is there any concern from the minister –– maybe, I guess, in some context to the questions that were asked by my colleagues in the official opposition –– about the treatment of Indigenous peoples as seen in the Wet’suwet’en territory?

Hon. M. Farnworth:

I thank the member for the question. I’m glad that the member prefaced his question by saying that we have to be careful with the United States, because I do think that one of the challenges we face right now is that what you see south of the border is automatically conflated here in Canada, and the reality is this. We ask the police to do a very difficult job in circumstances that they often do not know the full nature of, and we invest heavily in training. The focus and the first line is de-escalation. It is prevention. And at the same time, we have to balance that with ensuring that they have the capabilities and the resources to do what we ask them to do. It is often dangerous, and every situation is different.

[2:40 p.m.]

We have seen situations and circumstances. What happens when the police are under-resourced — in New Brunswick, for example? So we want to make sure is that we have police who are trained to the highest possible standards and that we have the accountability mechanisms in place so that police are accountable for their actions, and at the same time, the public has confidence in the standards that police are required to adhere to.

That’s one of the reasons why, for example, we have taken unbiased policing as seriously as we have and put in place standards that came into being earlier this year. I want to make sure that we are doing everything possible to ensure that we’ve got well-trained police, accountability but that they also have the resources that they need to do what is often a very difficult job.

A. Olsen:

Thank you to the minister for that answer. I’ve been trying to navigate that in these questions and honour the fact that I’ve got way more questions than time. The accountability piece and, then, the tools — making sure that the police are equipped with both the training that’s necessary to be able to make the right decisions and, as well, the weapons and the armour that they need to be able to protect themselves. That is the area that I’m trying to navigate here.

I’m just going to switch gears one last time. I recognize my time is evaporating in front of me, but just wanting to talk about the decriminalization that we started to raise in question period. It’s not lost on anybody here that June 2020 was the deadliest month in B.C., in our history, for illicit drug poisonings. Seven hundred and twenty-eight people died, largely due to increased drug toxicity, as the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions has raised quite appropriately.

Our provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, says that there’s widespread global recognition about the failed war on drugs and the resulting criminalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs. Dr. Henry released a report in 2019 called Stopping the Harm. Again, these are questions that I did raise in question period earlier, but I would just like to canvass these questions with you, Minister, from a Public Safety and Solicitor General perspective?

Does the minister agree that the criminalization of drug users fails to address the health crisis that has been highlighted by the provincial health officer and other ministers in government? Does the minister agree that…? Yeah, I’ll leave it at that.

Hon. M. Farnworth:

I thank the member for the question. As the member knows, it has been the position of the government that this is a public health issue; that the chiefs of police have been to the Prime Minister outlining their desire to see decriminalization for small amounts, for possession. The government has written to the Prime Minister saying that we support that direction. I have spoken with Minister Blair outlining our government’s position, and we will continue to pursue that.

[2:45 p.m.]

A. Olsen:

Does the minister agree with the recommendations in the public health officer’s report that in addition to the actions that could be taken by the prime minister and the federal government…?

Certainly, those are not to be diminished, but also, the provincial government has in its tool box tools, as well, to effect maybe not a perfect outcome, but a similar outcome that might assist now, rather than simply waiting for the federal government to make the changes they have under their jurisdiction and authority.

Hon. M. Farnworth:

I thank the member for the question. What I’ve said is that we have viewed this as a federal matter that needs change at the federal level, and we have supported that. Having said that, I’ve also made it clear, through my expectation letter, that the focus needs to be, as much as possible, on reducing stigma. The focus is on the high-level interdiction of narcotics, and our government’s focus has been on harm reduction.

It’s also why we have put in place and supported the pilot projects in Vancouver, Vernon and Abbotsford, which is to move people away from and out of that criminal justice system and get them into the treatment and the supports that we need.

The reality is, on the ground in places like Vancouver, for example, and other communities, that that’s exactly what the police are doing. Their focus is not on the low-level, small user.

A. Olsen:

Thank you to the minister for the answers to my questions today. I’m just going to make a brief comment here, and then I’ll cede the floor back to my colleague from Prince George–Mackenzie.

I probably should have started my comments with this, Minister, but I’ll end them with it. I want to just raise my hands to you and to your staff for the work that has been done over the past five months — tireless, or probably very tiring, work that has been done over the last number of months from your ministry.

It’s been largely recognized that in British Columbia, the guidance that we’ve had from our provincial health officer has been good guidance. It’s also been acted on in a very good way from your ministry in this public health emergency, but also in the emergency that we’ve been facing as a province. I just want to raise my hands up to you and lift you up and thank you for the incredible work of your ministry. Thank you for answering. These are not easy questions. This is not an easy ministry to be the minister of.

[2:50 p.m.]

I thank you for your forthright answers, and I’m going to cede the floor to my colleague from Prince George–Mackenzie. HÍSW̱ḴE. Thank you.


Image by Vlad Vasnetsov from Pixabay


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1 Comment

  1. shelagh levey

    What a civilized, respectful exchange. I wish the Federal Government could operate in this way.

    Reply

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