Our policing services have grown increasingly authoritarian, militaristic & out of reach of oversight. The Vancouver Police Department Chief bragged about answering to nobody, saying “I don’t report to any politician. I don’t report to the City, the province, or the federal government.”
The VDP restricted media from covering the sweeps of the Downtown Eastside. Traffic cameras were turned off & media were barred from entering. In recent years, RCMP restricted reporters at Fairy Creek & on Wet’suwet’en territory. Journalists were unlawfully arrested by the RCMP.
So who are they accountable to? Police are meant to protect & serve the local communities they represent. Instead, we’ve enabled a gross inflation of power, increasing restrictions on free press and police forces that boast about reporting to nobody.
Last year, a Special Committee tasked the provincial government with reforming the Police Act & delivering better accountability for our police forces. Today in Question Period, I asked Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth to report on the progress he’s made.
In his response, Minister Farnworth denied that we have an accountability problem in policing. He says we have rules in place & and he expects police to follow them. He promised that new legislation will be introduced in the fall. We expect the BC NDP to deliver.
Three weeks ago, the Vancouver police department restricted media from covering the sweeps of the Downtown Eastside. Traffic cameras were turned off. The media were barred from entering the area. The police chief cited privacy and safety concerns. It’s part of a pattern of concerning police behaviour that seems to be increasing.
Last year media was restricted from covering the ongoing demonstrations on Wet’suwet’en territory, and journalists were unlawfully arrested. It also occurred at the demonstrations at Fairy Creek. Media restrictions placed by the RCMP were found to “interfere” with the important liberties of members of the media by Justice Thompson of the B.C. Supreme Court.
A free press is necessary for a healthy democracy. But despite warnings from our highest court, police forces continue to restrict media and hope to get away with it. My question is to the Solicitor General: what has he done to support the freedom of the press in incidents involving the police?
Hon. M. Farnworth:
I appreciate the question from the member. What I can tell him is that, as he well knows, there are processes and procedures in place to guide, and that are often ruled on when complaints are brought. There is a complaint process. Individuals can bring those complaints forward, and they will be acted on. In some cases, they’re determined in a court of law, and a court and a judge make a ruling. And my expectation is that the police abide by those rulings.
I note some of the things that the member noted, particularly in Vancouver…. It was out for about ten minutes. It was not anything malicious. It was just an outage. But we have rules in place. I expect police to follow them and when they don’t, there are complaint processes that are in place, statute-driven, that are able to deal with them.
The public is seeing police forces growing increasingly authoritarian and out of the reach of independent oversight. The RCMP are not directly accountable to the communities they serve. They’re accountable to Ottawa. The B.C. conservation service is a quasi police force. They’re embedded within the provincial government, but don’t have any policing oversight body. The chief constable of the Vancouver Police Department bragged about how they don’t answer to anybody. To quote the chief: “I don’t report to any politician. I don’t report to the city of Vancouver, I don’t report to the province of B.C. or the federal government.” So who are they accountable to?
Police are meant to protect and serve the communities they represent. Instead, we’ve enabled the inflation of power, and the police forces boast about not having to report to anybody.
My question is again to the Solicitor General. A special committee of this House was tasked by him with reforming the Police Act, and delivering better accountability for police forces was one of our recommendations. What progress has he made to this recommendation?
Hon. M. Farnworth:
I appreciate the question. First off, the police are accountable. They’re accountable to the public, they’re accountable to their communities, they’re accountable to the province, they’re accountable to the federal government. There are mechanisms in place to ensure that. They have a very difficult job, as the member well knows, and I think all of us in this chamber know.
But what I can also tell the member is that the work of the all-party committee…. My ministry has been working very hard on those recommendations. There will be a phased approach in terms of dealing with the recommendations in that committee. The first phase will be dealing with governance and oversight issues. Some of them identified in the all-party report, others identified by work that’s gone on within my ministry. And it is my expectation and my plan, as minister, to have legislation dealing with those particular issues ready for the fall session this year, when we come back in October.