What is the Minister of Public Safety’s role in accountability of our provincial police service?

Nov 3, 2021 | 42-2, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Question Period, Video | 3 comments

I have heard from hundreds of British Columbians over the past few months deep concern about a perception that the RCMP, our provincial police service, is not accountable to the provincial government.

We have witnessed an increase in police violence, the videos have been shared widely on social media. British Columbians want confidence in their government and their police service and that comes through transparency and accountability.

When asked about this Hon. Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, has stated that he does not direct the police. While it is true he does not direct their tactical or operational decisions, in the RCMP service contract he does set the objectives, goals and priorities for the provincial police contract.

In Question Period, I provided Minister Farnworth the opportunity explain the role he plays, and to let British Columbians know that he has been clear with the provincial police service that he expects them to uphold the civil liberties of British Columbians and the freedom of the press.

Check out this response.

[Transcript]

A. Olsen:

I’ve received hundreds of emails over the past summer about our provincial police service and accountability. The emails are largely in response to acts of police aggression that we’ve seen in British Columbia. I think that all the members of this House have seen the visuals of these instances on social media this summer. They are horrifying.

I’ve heard from many British Columbians a deep concern that, in some cases, our provincial police service is acting unlawfully. Many people I’ve spoken to are demanding accountability from our provincial government.

There’s a great deal of confusion about what the role of the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General’s responsibility is with respect to our provincial police services, in part because the minister himself has said he does not direct the police. But the police have to be accountable to someone in British Columbia.

My question is to the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. What are the minister’s responsibilities with respect to the provincial police service in British Columbia?

Hon. M. Farnworth:

I appreciate the question from the member. As the member will know, the Solicitor General is responsible for, for example, overseeing the Police Act in this province. What he should also know is that politicians — and in particular, the Minister of Solicitor General — do not direct police in terms of how they operationalize the issues that they are dealing with.

There are complaint processes in place. If people want to or are concerned about police actions, they can follow those. Those complaint processes are there in legislation, and in fact, in a number of cases, they are being acted on.

I can also tell the member, because he will obviously refer to the court case…. That, again, is also under review, under appeal at this particular point in time, and that will continue. But there are numerous mechanisms, whether it’s the police commissioner or the independent investigations officer, that deal with actions of police. If he wants a briefing, I’m more than happy to have my ministry give him a briefing on that.

Mr. Speaker:

Member for Saanich North and the Islands, supplemental.

A. Olsen:

I didn’t talk about the court case or the court action.

We have been seeing increasing RCMP aggression across the province in recent years. We’ve seen numbers of incidences increasing incidences, in all parts of the province, frankly, over a number of resource development issues. The reality is that as part of the provincial police services contract, the minister has a responsibility, within the objectives, to set objectives, priorities and goals of the provincial police service.

My question is to the minister. Has the minister made clear within those objectives, priorities and goals that are in his direct responsibility under the provincial police services agreement that the provincial police service must respect the freedom of the press and the civil liberties of British Columbians?

[2:30 p.m.]
Hon. M. Farnworth:

We fully expect the police to respect civil liberties, and they have a very difficult job. As we know, there are processes in place, procedures in place, protocols in place, and if individuals are concerned about actions of the police, they can take those protocols.

We have seen significant demonstrations and protests. Police deal with very difficult situations. We have seen where the police have had to deal with, in the case of one protest area, having to assist in removing more than five tonnes of garbage, much of it including human waste left behind by protesters. That has been part of the challenge that they have had to face.

We have seen situations where police have been confronted by individuals who have brought a urine-soaked bag full of candies to the police — a ten-year-old girl, accompanied by parents, who went up to police at a protest and gave them a urine-soaked bag.

As I said, the police have a very challenging and difficult job to do. They do it to the best of their ability. If there are issues, there are processes and protocols in place that people can follow, and they do.

3 Comments

  1. Geoff

    Dodged all around it as a well skilled Politian will always do. No surprise here.

    Reply
  2. Murray Reiss

    What would it take to get a provincial Minister to answer a question with honesty & integrity and to accept responsibility that is clearly his? Thank you for bringing this up and I can only wish you well as you persist in pressing him for answers. Which I hope you do.

    Reply
  3. Mary Leslie

    Thank you, Adam for what you are trying to do with this issue. Clearly the government is hiding their responsibility behind the complaints mechanism, but it is flawed. I would ask you to follow this up with a question about the review process for that review, including how public can comment and time lines for this to be finalized.
    From front line reports at Fairy Creek last weekend, there are reports of less police violence, but things are far from perfect. I encountered police there on several occasions and things were calmer and more respectful, but front line protesters are having challenges, including excessive numbers arriving.

    Reply

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