Amendments to Police Act are far from transformation of policing in British Columbia

Apr 11, 2024 | 42-5, Bills, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Video | 1 comment

After 15 months of deliberations, hearing from more than 400 individuals and organizations, and 1400 survey responses, the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, tabled an all-Party consensus report on April 28, 2024. The report was comprehensive and offered a plan for implementing the recommendations to reform policing in the province over multiple parliaments and potentially multiple governments.

Minister Mike Farnworth (Public Safety & Solicitor General) squandered political consensus decided to ignore the report and the recommendations, and instead began his own opaque police modernization process. Apparently, he started consulting some of the groups the committee heard from, picking and choosing policy areas at his convenience. Bill 17 is the result of two years in which the transformation of policing has languished. It covers a tiny amount of ground, and fails his committee, the survivors and victims, the police and their leaders, and everyone else that contributed to the committee he established under the guise of “reform.”

The special committee’s work is an example of collaborative democracy, the response from the public safety minister is shameful political mismanagement.


I’m the designated speaker on behalf of the Third Party on this bill.

I stand here to speak to Bill 17, the Police Amendment Act. On July 8, 2020, the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General formed a Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act. British Columbians will remember that the work started and then it was interrupted by a snap election that following September. However, when parliament was reconstituted, we got a new special committee with the same mandate: study policing in British Columbia and make recommendations for police reform.

You may remember the super-heated political tensions around policing at the time. With the unknowns of the COVID-19 lockdowns and George Floyd having just been murdered by the Minneapolis police officer, there were growing calls to defund policing across the United States and Canada. In British Columbia, we had our own stories of police brutality, leading some in our communities to call for the defunding of police forces.

Striking the all-party committee, naming it “Reforming the Police Act,” putting reform at the front, was a choice of our Public Safety Minister. He and our Premier at the time gave the public an opportunity to share their experience, opinions, expertise and advice. He led them to believe by the name of the special committee that reform was both possible and potential.

As a member of that committee, we dedicated countless hours studying the issues for 15 months. Our work was extended past the original deadline. It survived a general election and prorogations. It was the most enjoyable and thorough and inspiring work I have done as a legislator in this place since being elected in 2017. It really is an example of how democracy should work: a diverse group of colleagues committed with a shared goal.

I raise my hands to the Chair, the member for Nanaimo–North Cowichan; the Deputy Chair, the member for Peace River North; the members from Surrey-Guildford, Port Moody–Coquitlam, Surrey–White Rock, West Vancouver–Capilano, Victoria–Beacon Hill, Vernon-Monashee and Surrey–Green Timbers; the committee staff: Committee Clerk Karan Riarh; research analyst Katey Stickle; researchers Natalie Beaton, Jenny Byford and Jesse Gordon; administrative assistant Mary Newell; and committees assistant Emma Curtis.

I am proud that the participation of the member for Saanich North and the Islands is recorded alongside these people who did this excellent work.

[4:20 p.m.]

Unfortunately, the Public Safety Minister decided the utility of our work was political, to take the heat off the pressure that was building in our society at the time, to turn the temperature down on the growing public outrage by giving people a place to vent.

It turns out there was no real potential for reform. The Public Safety Minister, it turns out, was not actually engaging in a serious process to reform policing in British Columbia. But that was the name of our report, though: Transforming Policing and Community Safety in British Columbia. We wrote to this Legislative Assembly and said: “It has become clear that transformative change is required to achieve a new vision of policing and community safety rooted in decolonization, anti-racism, community and accountability.”

Our committee took our job seriously. We spent hours together on Zoom through the challenging COVID social disruptions. The benefit of Zoom was that it allowed us to cover a lot of ground, both from a policy analysis perspective and also geographically. Zoom made our committee much more accessible for people across the province. We moved forward together. We paused and reflected together. Then we moved ahead again. We decided to go back and seek more information, and then we decided to move forward together again. We did our job.

And I’m left no choice but to stand here and state that it is the minister and this government who has let this House and the public down on police reform.

The committee writes: “We received a large volume of thoughtful, powerful and emotional input that prompted difficult and meaningful conversations. We recognize the challenging work performed by police officers and the need to provide them with the tools, structure and support to achieve the vision set out in our report. We extend our sincere gratitude to those who took the time to meet with us, to share their knowledge, experience and ideas.”

The minister asked his colleagues to step up, and we did. The minister asked police chiefs and their members, “Step up,” and they did. The minister asked survivors and victims, their families and friends to step up, and they did. The minister asked community leaders, mayors, First Nations chiefs, academics, adjacent stakeholder groups to step up, and they did. The minister asked the public to step up, and they stepped up.

We are just a few weeks away from the two-year anniversary of the date we tabled our 96-page report — April 28, 2022. The result of thousands of hours, an extraordinary effort that the minister requested from hundreds of people, hundreds upon hundreds of people; 411 individuals and organizations contributed. We received 1,432 responses to our survey.

And this bill, Bill 17, is how the Public Safety Minister steps up for British Columbians in return. It really is an offence to that process and to all those people. It’s an affront to a democratic institution, and that’s not an exaggeration. It’s just fact.

In the meantime, since the tabling of that report, an absolute political fiasco has evolved over the Surrey policing transition. And it never would have happened had the Public Safety Minister just followed the plan his special committee had laid out for him. Instead, what was squandered was all the goodwill, the political will, the alignment across all parties in the Legislature and, likely, the confidence of anyone who has followed this issue over the last 24 months.

What we get here, in Bill 17, is a handful of amendments that allow the minister to crawl out of the hole that has been dug with respect to the chairs of the police boards. It’s a version of our recommendation 2(b). He’s relieving himself of the public stress he might face should Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke become the chair of the Surrey police board.

[4:25 p.m.]

It makes modest changes to police oversight. However, it is a far cry from our recommendation No. 9. It makes a few other changes.

The ministry media release has the gall to frame Bill 17 as paving “the way for police reform.” It was clearly written by an all-too-eager issues management–type from in the government communications machine, ensuring the Public Safety Minister is appearing to modernize policing far more aggressively than is actually happening. We are not on a paved road to glory with Bill 17, but barely on a recognizable deer trail.

The media release continues, apparently quoting the minister himself: “By focusing on changes to municipal policing, we are setting the foundation for a modern policing system that is fair, equitable and responsive to all communities.”

I hope this is not actually what the minister said. I hope those are the words of someone who didn’t know there was an all-party special committee and has not read our consensus, all-party report. Because “a modern policing system” will not be achieved by “focusing on… municipal policing.” I don’t even know what that means. It doesn’t make sense.

The committee describes a modern policing system that will take time to develop, maybe a decade, and considers the timeline for the next RCMP contract. It is likely to span multiple parliamentary cycles, perhaps with multiple different governments of diverse political leanings.

We asked the minister, specifically through our recommendations and how we deliberately structured our report, to not squander the opportunity that our political unity presented him to continue a collaborative, all-party consensus approach to police modernization.

This point must not be overlooked by the public. Our committee reports our consensus. We deliberate until we can present to the Legislative Assembly a product that we can all agree on, and that is where we arrived on April 28, 2022. Consensus. Agreement — through a long and arduous process. All of the recommendations in the report are consensus — united political will.

What we recommended to the minister was that he appoint a new all-party special committee charged with supporting the work of reforming the Police Act. We recognized the highly competitive political environment that we work in here in this chamber. We knew that reforming policing needed to maintain the confidence of the public, and that was much easier if the public saw their elected officials delivering a good, collaborative, well-informed process.

We knew the value of public participation, of ongoing engagement. We could feel how it led to a strong report with excellent recommendations. We recognized it was the model that could successfully facilitate the reform of policing culture.

The media release for Bill 17 quotes the minister as saying: “There are ongoing conversations about how to change policing to keep pace with the changing world.”
Where? When? With whom?

In the weeks following the tabling of our report, the minister said he was going to consult on how to implement the report. Yet we gave him the process and learned how it worked successfully in New Zealand. We needed a similar, depoliticized process focused not on the politics of police reform but rather the important policy work that needed a united Legislative Assembly in support of the minister and his ministry team. Instead, the minister chose a secretive process, engaging a select group who were likely telling him what he wanted to hear.

[J. Tegart in the chair.]

The result? The Surrey policing mess. The diminished public confidence that it has earned — the hesitant and tentative approach, clearly lacking commitment — has created a policy and political disaster.
[4:30 p.m.]

Who here in this House thinks that we are on a good track after watching how the Surrey policing transition has been navigated, which should have been a complex and tricky policy landscape but a relatively simple political situation?

The all-party political will was earned by building trust with each other, gathering information collectively and engaging in robust and respectful dialogue, discussion and debate.

In the end, we recommended a new provincial police service. The Surrey police transition could have been the pilot project, a model to be implemented across the province. It is the largest RCMP police detachment in British Columbia, so if we could have done it there, we could have done it everywhere.

Policing leaders in our province, along with many others, recommended we move away from the RCMP. Yet the minister decided he knew better. Rather than working to implement our recommendations, frankly, he worked to undermine them. Two years after we tabled our consensus report, we get Bill 17, a disappointingly small number of amendments that in no way reflect the effort that we put in, despite, in his introductory speech, trying to tie them to several recommendations. We are no further ahead.

While the minister was successful in navigating the political turmoil of summer 2020, and he survived calls from his own political supporters for him to defund the police, he deployed what is the equivalent of a smokescreen — distraction — while retreating to higher ground in that situation. They actually failed us so far on actually bringing in the reforming of the Police Act. We didn’t hear from the experts and the public that British Columbia needs a minister with only enough political will to work around the edges. The name of our report summarizes what we heard. We need police transformation and increased public safety.

Instead of making that a project of all the members of the Legislative Assembly, this minister decided to carry it on his own. He made a decision to carry the work of police transformation on his own. Not smart public policy. Sure, our approach removes some of the power and control the minister has. However, the minister need not carry the entire burden of transforming the police services alone. He could demonstrate a type of leadership we don’t often see in this House. He could have led a collaborative process that shares the responsibility with all members of this Assembly and, as it turns out, future members of this Assembly.

By excusing members of the opposition parties from the process and burying police modernization in the darkness of his ministry bureaucracy, the minister maintains strict control over the process. However, he also assumes full responsibility for its success and its failures. As his critic on this important work, I report that so far he is failing British Columbians on delivering police transformation and police reform. For months, he stood in this chamber and has been forced to respond to why public safety is so compromised, to defend his government’s decision while stranger attacks increase in frequency and ferocity, along with a growing perception, and perhaps the reality, that our communities are no longer safe.

If all the political parties were represented on a committee with the mandate to work with government on reforming policing and improving community safety, those questions could be raised in the form of dialogue, discussion and debate in a less heated political environment than the question period. The responsibility could be appropriately spread across the political landscape. The minister frames Bill 17 as the first steps in police modernization. If that is the case, then, frankly, I am discouraged and disturbed.

[4:35 p.m.]

On February 9, 2024, Amanda Follett Hosgood reported in the Tyee that a working group of Indigenous leaders established to engage First Nations on police reform has been paused. Follett Hosgood was reporting on testimony at a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal inquiry into an RCMP investigation from a decade ago.

At the inquiry, Ardys Baker, the public safety bureaucrat charged with responding to the recommendations of our Reforming the Police Act report, noted that the Indigenous representatives asked to pause the working group and that the working group members “asked for some pretty big commitments from the province.”
What were the Indigenous leaders asking for? Well, clarity on the roles within the group, the mandate of the working group, and “one of the key commitments requested by the B.C. First Nations Justice Council and First Nations Leadership Council is that B.C. follow through on the committee’s recommendation to replace the RCMP with a provincial police force.”

Baker noted that some of the easier policy changes were in the process of being amended, assuming those are represented here in Bill 17. However, the ministry “has concurrently begun the more challenging work of looking at broader legislative reform, something that is expected to take years. It’s hoped the new legislation could be introduced by early 2027.”

Baker continues: “Ideally, the legislation would be implemented not too long after that,” concluding, “The shift is likely to take multiple parliaments.” Baker continues: “We’re doing everything we can to ensure that success, but like everything, it’s dependent on future approvals by cabinet and the political support to do that work. There’s always risk priorities could change.”

I wonder where Baker got that idea. Well, it’s directly lifted from our report. What we have here is the ministry picking and choosing the bits and pieces of our report to defend their actions, while ignoring the parts that ensure success. All of the issues that Baker raised, including the issues of continuity, the issues of political unity, the issues of funding, the issues to ensure that this Legislative Assembly is seized with the job at hand of reforming policing, could have been achieved had the minister taken our recommendation to create an all-party committee to see through the implementation.

Two years later, we have a minister who is struggling to maintain confidence in the actions of this ministry, who has Indigenous leaders pausing their work on modernization in policing because the process is opaque and contradicting the direction of the special committee’s report. This is exactly the hazard of the minister setting up the special committee to insulate him from the political heat of 2020. When people participate, when they give good advice, and the advice turns into recommendations of a committee, the minister is accountable to the process that he set up.

The Indigenous working group is only demanding that the minister operate in good faith on this matter. It appears that Police Act modernization processes led by this public safety minister is in trouble.

Let’s look in more detail at what our special committee recommended. I’ll start with the recommendations 10 and 11. I have already discussed them to some extent, but process matters. The committee made two recommendations directly to this Legislative Assembly.

First, recommendation 10. Immediately appoint an all-party parliamentary committee to undertake a broad review of the Mental Health Act with a view of modernizing the act and ensuring it aligns with the recommendations in the report. Ours was the first all-party committee to recommend a full review of the Mental Health Act. An all-party special committee on health also made the same recommendation a few short months later.

This B.C. NDP government has ignored both of those committee recommendations. Those recommendations didn’t happen because a handful of MLAs are looking to derail a government agenda. Those recommendations happen because dozens of people contributing to our committee hearings told us how outdated the Mental Health Act is and how it is not serving British Columbians and, in some cases, how it is actually a potential threat.

[4:40 p.m.]

Here we are, two years later — thousands of people still being hurt by the Mental Health Act and the B.C. NDP government bewildered why it is not getting different results. It is eye-watering on so many levels.

Recommendation No. 11:
Establish an all-party select standing committee on policing and community safety to:
a) Oversee the implementation of changes recommended in this report.
b) Conduct regular reviews of the new Community Safety and Policing Act.
c) Examine standards, policies and programs related to the provision of policing and public safety in B.C. and report annually on this work.
d) Work with key partners to address colonial structures and systemic racism in policing.
e) Receive and review annual updates from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General regarding emergent issues in policing and community safety and the effectiveness of police services in B.C.”

I have already covered this, at length, in this response. However, I just want to reinforce what I have already offered, noting the minister leaning on his own wisdom and, instead, opting for his policing and public safety modernization initiative. Briefly described on a single webpage, this modernization initiative is summed up in three phases. Here it is.

Phase 1, essentially Bill 17: “Targeted changes to address some outstanding issues related to municipal police governance and oversight as an initial step towards broader legislative modernization.”
Phase 2: “Broad engagement with Indigenous partners, local government leaders, policing partners and leaders, police oversight agencies, community-based advocacy organizations and government partners on policy that will form the foundation of new policing and police oversight legislation.”

Phase 3: “If the policy is approved by government, legislation will be co-developed with Indigenous peoples and local government leaders, along with plans for implementation.”

What was the point of our reforming the Police Act special committee? What was the point of 15 months’ work if the minister is going to outline his modernization initiative on a single web page three phases that basically describe a restart of the work that we did? Rhetorically, these three phases hit all the high points. However, in delivery, they miss the key point.

As we wrote in our report: “This report begins with a list of the committee’s recommendations; these recommendations are interconnected and organized to show how they build upon each other, without indicating priority.”

We continue:
“Police have been tasked with responding to issues for which they are not the appropriate service provider. This is due, in part, to a lack of alternatives and insufficient health, mental health and social supports. Our report emphasizes the need for coordination and collaboration across police officers, health and mental health professionals and community organizations to ensure the most appropriate first response for the individual concerned, followed by appropriate support.”

We continue: “Members emphasize the need to adopt a collaborative and open process that ensures engagement with municipalities, Indigenous communities, police and other partners.”

The internal, opaque, three-phase process, that recently had the Indigenous working group walk away from it, in no way reflects what we learned or the approach we advised the Public Safety Minister to take.
To the meat of the recommendations that provide a clear vision — the pathway to reformed police and community safety systems. Balance the minister’s description of his three-phase process with what we offered.

Recommendation No. 1: “Implement a new Community Safety and Policing Act to govern the provision of policing and public safety services based on values of decolonization, anti-racism, community, and accountability. This includes:
(a) Ensuring Indigenous peoples and nations, and municipal governments, are engaged in the drafting of the legislation.”

[4:45 p.m.]

The language here is specific, and we discussed it at length. Community safety was put ahead of policing because the focus of the public was about increasing confidence in police through a community safety approach. Note: collaboration with various governing bodies at the front end of our narrative.

Recommendation No. 2.
Transition to a new B.C. provincial police service that is governed by the new Community Safety and Policing Act. This includes (a) establishing a governance model, such as municipal or regional police boards or committees, that is representative the community and provides opportunities for local input on policing and public safety priorities, (b) ensuring municipal council representation on municipal police boards or committees while not allowing the mayor to serve as board chair, (c) amalgamating police services on a regional basis where there are opportunities to address fragmentation to ensure equitable access to policing and public safety, and improve efficiency and effectiveness, (d) ensuring two police of jurisdiction to facilitate the process of transitioning from one service to another.

The part of this recommendation that gets all the attention is the new provincial police service. We technically already have our own police service in the act. It’s just contracted services to the RCMP. We heard repeatedly that the RCMP was struggling to meet their contractual obligations in their agreement with the province.

A host of issues were raised. First of all, it is unclear whether the federal government will even continue with the RCMP’s community policing program. In other words, we are waiting for them to make a decision that will impact our policing. Rather than take the Special Committee’s recommendation to Ottawa and demand an answer as soon as possible, our Public Safety Minister has sat back and waited for Ottawa on their timeline.

As the remaining recommendation outlines, we have significant policing and public safety needs in our province that are simply not being met by the RCMP. Their chain of command runs past our borders to the nation’s capital. Their training and accountability programs are out of our control. Their inability to recruit is leaving our police detachments understaffed.

Seriously, we have to wonder what the Public Safety Minister is waiting for. The unwillingness to take hold of the report we gave him and truly deliver public safety reform in our province has created problems in Surrey, and it’s creating problems for the Public Safety Minister in other parts of our province as well.

If he said, over the next decade, we’re transitioning away from the RCMP, and he struck an all-party implementation committee of the Legislature, he turns the current Surrey policing situation into a moot point. Instead of having a fiasco on his hands, the minister could have confidently said to the Surrey mayoral candidates, during the last municipal election, “You’re going to have to find another issue to fight about.”

Instead, we’re all left questioning the leadership. He missed a prime opportunity to take control of the narrative. Now we have a mayor running this government around the room and MLAs from Surrey desperately hoping the minister will find the ability to address the situation. It has devolved into an embarrassing mess. Now I am glad that the minister, as pointed out in the opening speech, has taken the advice of the Special Committee to change the language from “police force” to “police service.”

This was a part of our report that we talked about quite a bit. It actually is important. It’s not just Orwellian doublespeak. People say: “Well, that was the most minor change that you could make.” It actually is about setting tone and culture. With respect to the police governance, community representation is key, allowing local council representatives but not politicizing the board by removing the mayor as chair.

By creating regional policing services, it reduces the number of police services and fragmentation. We hope to enhance cohesion, cooperation and coordination across geographic regions, not just for policing but for a myriad of other public services. It is not that policing organizations are deliberately not cooperating with each other. They do cooperate. However, when we create these artificial lines on a map, there is an inclination for the administrators of those services to focus exclusively on their territory.

[4:50 p.m.]

Removing the ability for criminals to take advantage of the potential gaps in communication and information-sharing is necessary.

Finally, addressing the need to have two police services of jurisdiction may seem more like a granular recommendation than the rest. However, we learned from the Surrey policing transition that, under the current policy, there can only be one police of jurisdiction. This has the potential to create unnecessary roadblocks and competition.

It’s inexplicable to me that the Public Safety Minister did not make this change months ago. When I look to Bill 17 and see this change still absent…. It’s an indication of how interested the minister is in establishing a new provincial police service.

Recommendation No. 3. Ensure all Indigenous communities have direct input in their police service structure and governance, including self-administered services which could provide policing to neighbouring non-Indigenous communities.

Currently Indigenous communities have the option of accepting the provincial police service, the RCMP, or creating and funding their own tribal police service. They cannot apply the policing funds transferred to them from the federal government to contract another police service. For example, if my home community, in Tsartlip, wanted to contract police services from the Central Saanich police service, they could not use the federal transfers to pay for it.

In this era of reconciliation and self-determination, Indigenous leaders should be able to partner with the service that they feel best delivers for their community. We heard instances of strong relationships between the RCMP and First Nations communities. However, we also heard of situations where there is no relationship, where the RCMP barely show up when they’re called upon. The problem is the inconsistency in the service delivered by the RCMP.

There is a perception that Indigenous peoples were leading the defund the police movement. Perhaps an assumption that is a result of the RCMP’s role in removing children on behalf of the state and sending them to residential schools. A perception that First Nations leaders and communities didn’t like or want policing.

While there is a challenged relationship between First Nations people and the RCMP, we heard consistently from Indigenous leaders that they wanted policing and public safety services in their community. Most importantly, they wanted a strong relationship with those who were delivering those services. We heard they’d like options. Maybe even establishing their own police service.

We also realized how paternalistic our system currently is. The last line of this recommendation is an acknowledgment that we currently view Indigenous communities as policed communities and do not consider it as a possibility that the Indigenous community could actually provide the policing services to a broader region.

For example, we heard how well respected the Stl’atl’imx tribal police is in their community. Why couldn’t they be contracted by Lillooet, for example, to provide policing services for the broader community?

We heard how the RCMP policy of moving police officers every few years, a design that does not allow strong relationships to develop, has been detrimental to building confidence and trust. I’ve seen the negative impact in my own community when a trusted officer is inexplicably moved. It breaks that trust and limits the ability of the RCMP to effectively police and Indigenous leaders with no support in dealing with the challenging public safety concerns they face.

Recommendation No. 4. Create and appropriately fund a continuum of response to mental health, addictions and other complex social issues, with a focus on prevention and community-led responses and ensuring an appropriate first response. This includes (a) increasing coordination and integration across police, health, mental health and social services and (b) integrating mental health within 911 calls.

There’s not enough time and space in this speech to describe the scale and magnitude of this particular recommendation. When you call 911, you’re given three options: police, fire, ambulance. If it’s not a fire or health care, then it falls on the police.

[4:55 p.m.]

More and more, police are relied on by our fragmented social services to deliver a front-line mental health response. They’re not trained for this work. They’re not supported by the government to do this work. We’ve seen the impact of this both on people suffering from a mental health issue and the police that are responding to the calls.

We have a patchwork of specialized units where police respond alongside a psychiatric nurse. We also have peer-assisted crisis teams that respond with police in the background in support. But we do not have a mature, province-wide program that ensures all our first responders have the support they need to address the evolving needs in our community.

The Public Safety Minister has sat on this recommendation for two years. Meanwhile, every day, 24 and 7, our police services have been dealing with a mental health and addictions crisis that they are not trained or well equipped for. Shame on this government for not making this a priority. We wonder why we get the results that we do.

If the Public Safety and Health and Mental Health and Addictions Ministers are all going to fail to deliver a coordinated social service team that is appropriately trained to deal with mental health and addictions, then at least provide resources at the hospital to change the current process.

We have heard that after someone is sectioned under the Mental Health Act, the police officer will bring the person to the hospital and have to sit and wait until they can hand the individual off to a doctor. That can take hours, taking police resources off our streets. It has been recommended that there be a special constable at the hospitals that can take the responsibility for the person so police can go back to doing their job. No action.

As front-line police officers revive people who have been poisoned by the toxic street drugs, as they face people in an absolute mental health crisis on a daily basis, as they bring them to hospital only for those people to be discharged back onto the street almost immediately, we heard how it takes a psychological toll. Yet, the public safety minister has done nothing about that. No coordination with his colleagues. No improvement in the 911 service to better support the officers answering the call.

This minister has spent two years fighting with the mayor of Surrey rather than leading the transformation that is well-understood that is needed. If there was one area that we could have reformed, that we had broad public support, it’s this one. What a waste of time and effort and resources. But I wouldn’t be so concerned if that’s all that was wasted. The minister’s lack of action is taking a toll on the mental health and well-being of our front-line officers.

There’s no way that being confronted by the futility that they face every single day will not undermine that confidence and trust of the officers in this House, that frustration for the lack of action on good recommendations that will improve a police officer’s workplace that have gone ignored for the past two years will not undermine the confidence that they have in their government. Lord knows that the confidence I once had in this process to deliver the desperate changes that we need to our front-line mental health response evaporated months ago when the government decided to ignore these very clear recommendations.

Recommendation No. 5: ensure equitable access to quality policing and public safety services across B.C. The minister references this as being the core of a couple of the amendments that we see here in Bill 17 that we’re talking about today. However, I fear that the minister has actually taken some liberties with this recommendation, especially by pulling a single piece of the recommendation out.

As I noted earlier, the recommendations that we made were delivered to the minister as a package. It was a playbook for police reform. Picking subsections out of these recommendations and saying that we’ve accomplished something missed the spirit of the report, as the report says itself.

[5:00 p.m.]

“Ensure equitable access to high-quality police and public safety services across B.C.

This includes (a) ensuring all policing is responsive to and informed by the community; (b) implementing and enforcing police standards, policies and expectations for service with respect to responding to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, conducting wellness checks, responding to sexual assault, and conducting trauma-informed interviews; (c) adopting a dynamic and flexible approach to policing that provides for different categories of policing and public safety personnel who have clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and functions, such as responding to non-violent incidents and other situations that may not require uniformed police; (d) expand the use of culturally appropriate restorative justice programs throughout B.C., including increased funding for these programs and education for police officers.
This recommendation is really an extension of the second recommendation that we move away from the RCMP.

None of the values that are expressed here can be accomplished as long as the provincial government contracts a majority of the policing services from the RCMP. For the most part, we get what they offer us. These diverse and integrated community policing values are far from the service that we get from a federal force. Like I said earlier, they can barely deliver the contractual obligations, never mind a dynamic flexible approach to policing. That is the spirit of this recommendation.

Recommendation No. 6: create a fair and equitable shared funding model for policing. This includes (a) consideration of local needs, health and social supports and the geography of a service delivery area; and (b) exploring options to phase in or incrementally increase the municipal share of policing costs. This recommendation is in recognition that the current funding formula creates budgetary challenges for growing communities.

I am not sure if the Public Safety Minister has spoken with his colleague the Housing Minister, but there are plans for community growth across the province. And as communities cross specific population thresholds, the cost of their policing increases. If population growth is the focus of this government, which we’ve heard that it is, the current outdated funding model actually has a limiting effect on that. Seriously, we need to have these ministers talking to one another.

Policing is expensive. It’s a major portion of every community’s overall budget. The fact that we are getting a deal from the RCMP is only because we have not sat down and actually done a full accounting of the cost we are paying in cash and the costs we are paying through increased crime and socioeconomic decay that has led to the faltering housing, health and justice systems. Our recommendations to deliver an integrated community policing model that deploys the correct resources to address the issue that has been identified has a significant potential to save money, but more importantly, save lives and increase public confidence in public safety.

Recommendation No. 7: enhance and standardize initial and ongoing police education and training to reflect key values and competencies in order to shift police culture. This includes (a) ensuring police and public safety services are representative of the diversity in the communities served, including diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, via recruitment; (b) implementing screening and performance evaluation for existing officers and new recruits that reflect desired values and principles, including humility, honesty, empathy and lack of bias and prejudice to ensure that these individuals are best suited for their current position or advancement and are a good fit for the community; (c) conducting regular, mandatory psychological assessments for all police officers in B.C.; (d) enhancing and standardizing training required for police recruits and implementing mandatory and meaningful ongoing education with respect to anti-racism, cultural competency and trauma-informed practices; (e) requiring police officers to complete training and education that is based on the historical, cultural, and socioeconomic context of the communities in which they will be serving and is developed and delivered in consultation with those communities; and (f) developing benchmarks to measure the efficacy of police training and education with respect to a shift in police culture and conduct.

[5:05 p.m.]

Again, as the committee’s recommendations are laid out, modernization of policing services is a fully integrated project. Whatever the Public Safety Minister is calling police modernization is not police modernization of policing services is a fully integrated project.

Whatever the Public Safety Minister is calling police modernization is not police modernization. It’s the status quo, tinkering around the edges of a system already in place because nobody has the political will to stand up and actually do the work that’s needed to modernize our policing systems.

What we articulate in this recommendation should be a source of excitement for everyone who is concerned about public safety. There is a dangerous social trend, and it’s at the heart of the defund-policing movement. It is the result of some very public, some very disturbing incidences of police brutality and an apparent lack of justice for those who were brutalized at the hands of police. It is the result of systemic racism and prejudice that has been woven into the fabric of police organizations by the people in this chamber. Our political ancestors are responsible for the historic aspects of this, and we are responsible for not doing something about it.

While I have been particularly hard on the Public Safety Minister, our special committee tabled our report to this Legislative Assembly. Ultimately, the failure of holding the Public Safety Minister accountable for this lack of meaningful and collaborative action on this file lays at our collective feet. That’s why I have said what I have said publicly. That’s why I stand here with no qualms in calling him, calling our Premier, calling all of us to seize ourselves of our responsibility.

Police are not bad people. There might be bad people in policing, but police are not bad people. As it currently stands, RCMP training is federally controlled. Their pedagogical approach, police culture that is taught: controlled by Ottawa. Even if we wanted to create a different policing culture, it’s not possible unless Ottawa agrees for British Columbia to inform the police training process. Why would they do that? It goes against what a national police force actually is. It’s probably why we landed on agreement for a new provincial police service.

Our report and our recommendation are about taking control of the culture of policing and public safety in British Columbia and developing a world-class recruiting and training program, requiring for people who we give the most power to in our society the education, the support they need to succeed and make the best decision that they can every time they’re called upon to make a decision.

We’re really far away from that right now in this province. We’re not modernizing policing culture in the province. We’re fiddling. We’re not supporting our front-line officers with world-class psychological support for the absolutely traumatic incidences they respond to on a daily basis. No way. We are processing those officers, because our detachments are already understaffed. We’re turning them back out onto the street without the support they need and forcing them to confront the next traumatic scenario exhausted, fractured, and perhaps broken.

When I started this process, I had an opinion of police. The red serge to me was a symbol of imperial and colonial oppression, and so on. My opinion changed entirely through this process.

[5:10 p.m.]

What I learned is that while there are or may be some bad people in policing, it is government, it’s this Legislative Assembly, who are not making it a priority to have police recruiting protocols that attract the best-suited people to policing, that give them the top-notch training, that provide regular psychological assessments and support, that require police to gain an early understanding of the community and the unique cultures of the communities that they’re policing before they begin policing those communities.

Eight: “Require police services to collect and publicly report disaggregated race-based and other democratic data and conduct comprehensive reviews of and amend policies and procedures to address systemic racism in policing.” This recommendation is simple. Good data informs good policy. Good information is the key to effective police investigations. And believe it or not, it is also the key to evidence-based legislation. Shocking that the Public Safety Minister wouldn’t apply these basic principles of police investigations to police modernization.

Recommendation No. 9:

“Establish a single, independent, civilian-led oversight agency responsible for overseeing conduct, complaints, investigations and disciplinary matters for all police and public safety personnel with powers or authority under the new Community Safety and Policing Act.

“This includes (a) prioritizing the creation of a stand-alone legislation for police oversight; (b) ensuring the oversight agency is reflective of the diverse population and cultures of B.C.; (c) providing navigation and triaging services to assist complainants through the complaints process; (d) implementing a multi-stream approach to processing and offering multiple resolution pathways such as direct conversations, mediation or restorative justice; (e) revising the definition of misconduct to include demeaning and discriminatory conduct, language, jokes, statements, gestures and related behaviours; (f) establish a duty to cooperate with investigations and a duty to report misconduct for all police and public safety personnel with protections for reporting.”

We are making amendments in Bill 17 to police oversight. The fact that aspects of this recommendation have been ignored in Bill 17 is a travesty. These are basic things that we can all agree on. Of course we don’t want police to be using demeaning and discriminatory…. Why not add it?

We debated, we discussed, we dialogued. We agreed that this was something, as an all-party committee, that should be added to it. The fact that it’s not part of this legislation is really frustrating.

I want to repeat here: police aren’t bad people. There could be bad people in policing, but police aren’t bad people. The public perception that entrenched “all cops are bad” lays at our feet here, as most of this House has sat silent while the pictures, videos and stories are shared of the actions of the RCMP unit known as the community-industry response group, the C-IRG.

Hearing in court of members of that unit picking on the disabilities of neurodiverse people, calling Indigenous people ogres and orcs, and senior officers of that unit allegedly sexually assaulting someone who is being arrested, and allowing the Public Safety Minister to not respond to questions that I ask in question period about these issues, leaves the public with no choice but to believe that there are no repercussions for bad behaviour.

When the public hears about the police battering people in custody, driving Indigenous people out onto the Prairies and dumping them on the side of the road in the middle of winter. When the public hears about police arresting Indigenous elders and their grandchildren, handcuffing them in public because of a suspected fraudulent status card. When missing and murdered Indigenous women cases are described as not suspicious before the police even start the investigation.

[5:15 p.m.]

When the RCMP complaints process is essentially the RCMP investigating themselves, and complaints about officers not properly identifying themselves during an arrest take years to resolve, and the correspondences are the most frustrating exchanges a citizen can have with a bureaucracy disinterested in fairness and justice…. When all of that and so much more — Myles Gray — is met with no response from government…. Gee, I wonder why there are citizens in our communities who grow concerned.

When the top cop in the province is seen as a chief apologist for all of that…. When the public fails to recognize that those incidents are but grains of sand in the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of calls attended by police in our province…. Those incidences that we hear about, that I mentioned, are but grains of sand in the context of all the calls that police attend in our province, but yet, they’re the ones that we hear about. We have a police leadership and accountability in here.

Bill 17 creates a perception that the Public Safety Minister is improving police accountability. Allowing the Police Complaint Commissioner to start an investigation early and to conduct systemic reviews is great. But the delusional authors of the media release announcing Bill 17 write: “The province has committed to developing and implementing police reform that is responsive to the diverse needs of all communities and fosters increased public trust in policing, particularly for Indigenous and racialized communities.”

That’s a joke — not funny. How have our government communications become so committed to what amounts to political spin? It’s ridiculous. The media release fails to acknowledge the members of the Indigenous working group that paused their participation in the police modernization project.

The police modernization project process does not foster “public trust in policing.” The public doesn’t even have a sense of what the police modernization process is. What stage is it at? Where is it occurring? How does the public participate? When will it be completed? We’ve got a vague number — 2027. No definition. Pure opacity.

The Public Safety Minister’s police modernization process is so far from the professional, thoughtful, thorough work of his special committee. In comparison, the Public Safety Minister’s police modernization is the Shriners’ car, swerving erratically around the parade route.

British Columbians would be surprised to learn that there are people in our province that have an unlimited designation. They’re people who have sworn the same oath as a municipal police and the RCMP members swear. They can carry assault rifles. They look like police. They act like police. But they’re subject to none of the police accountability that municipal police and RCMP officers are subject to. These are people who work in the B.C. Conservation Service and also the Legislature’s own protective services.

Do not misconstrue what I’m saying here. I am not suggesting these folks have done anything wrong. But if they do, there are none of the apparatuses in place to ensure the public get a fair hearing. We learned about this situation in the special committee consultations. The Public Safety Minister knows about this issue. He has known about it for two years and done nothing to resolve it.

I will be particularly hyperbolic in making my point here. Currently, the Minister of the Environment has a heavily armed private army: the B.C. Conservation Service.

[5:20 p.m.]

They lack constabulary independence, meaning, if they’re investigating an environmental disaster that the Minister of Environment is uncomfortable with — think, maybe, perhaps, Mount Polley, as an example; the massive Tailings Pond disaster that polluted a huge amount of central British Columbia — then the minister has the power to stop or interrupt the investigation. Under our current democratic government, it might not be much of an issue. Under an autocratic regime, having a privately controlled army by government with no independent oversight and no constabulary independence is a huge problem.

The special committee heard how the union — the BCGEU in this case — does not want its members to be subject to any extra oversight other than the disciplinary process with respect to human resource issues. Well, frankly, this is absurd and should not be allowed to persist. It should not have been allowed to persist for the two years that we’ve known about it or that it came in front of our committee. We have people legally walking around our communities with assault rifles and with massive magazines full of ammunition and only a union process and the public service agency as oversight and accountability. How has this been allowed to continue, honestly?

Maybe this B.C. NDP government doesn’t want environmental investigators to be able to actually uncover the truth of the environmental damage the government is allowing to go unchecked. Maybe it’s just incompetence or an oversight. But the situation is not safe for anyone. It’s not safe for the public, because if there is an incident, there is no independent oversight. It’s not safe for the members of these services, because they’re at the whim of a government and their political reputation. It’s not fair for other provincial constables who have sworn the same oath of office and who have the same unrestricted powers but have to face the scrutiny of police complaints and oversight, no matter how lax or ineffective they might be considered.

Honestly, is anybody going to care about this situation that has been allowed to persist for the past two years? It’s been brought to the attention of government. Nothing.

You might have sensed from this speech that I have a waning confidence in the work of police reform undertaken by this public safety minister and by this government. I’m frustrated that the committee’s time was wasted, that the public’s time was wasted, at all the participation — thousands of hours collectively wasted.

I am angry that our special committee was used to, frankly, insulate the government from the growing calls of defunding police during a politically intense time. Just because there are no loud calls now for police reform or defunding the police doesn’t mean the contributions that the public made to our special committee are any less true than they were when they made them. All the things that are outlined in our 11 recommendations plus the sub-recommendations remain as true today as they were when they were raised.

We learned in the process that, in fact, the calls to defund the police are an emotional response to the public’s lack of confidence in the leadership of the top cop, whoever it might be — in this case, our current public safety minister. But there have been other public safety ministers, and there probably will be other public safety ministers in the future. It’s really a nonsensical demand.

[5:25 p.m.]

The evidence of what happened when the former B.C. Liberal government defunded mental health services and programs in this province…. We’ve seen what happened, turning mental illness onto the street and into the realm of police and paramedics. We know defunding the police will have, could have, will likely have terrible consequences.

We know defunding the police will have, could have, will likely have terrible consequences. I think what we learned in the process is that we need to re-task, not defund. We need to make sure the appropriately trained, best-equipped social service worker is deployed to address the situation that’s unfolding. That includes making sure 911 services are involved and we have a community-informed policing culture that provides the response that’s needed: compassionate, empathetic, with humility and honesty at the core.

I’m not going to repeat what I’ve already shared in long form here but in conclusion, I’ll say that as we approach the second anniversary of tabling our report, as we approach the provincial general election, as the…. You know, I never actually…. I’ll just say this. I never thought that I was going to be a critic of Public Safety. I never thought when I got elected that policing was going to be an area of policy that (a) would be interesting to me and that (b) would be put on me as a member of the Legislature. I never considered it. It wasn’t something that I was involved in.

It turns out I actually ended up being quite passionate about it. I don’t have police in my family. I don’t come from a policing family. Like I said earlier in this speech, my family actually has a long history of just kind of tense relationships with policing. But I ended up being the critic of the Public Safety Minister, so I have a job to critique the work that’s being done by the Public Safety Minister and by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

That’s my job, to speak honestly about what I’m seeing, to speak honestly about the work and the intent behind the work that we have done. When we were called upon to step up, as I said earlier, we did, and we did good work.

It’s unfortunate, but I have to…. As we head into an election and people are looking at how government is doing on certain files, this one is failing. This gets a failing grade. It’s not a partisan thing. Not at all. It’s an assessment of what’s happening in police reform, the work that we did, the expectations of the public who participated in the process.

I’ve been active on this file. I’ve taken this job seriously. The analysis here is of the public policy response and the response of the leadership that I have seen within this file and on this ministry. Frankly, what I have seen is a minister that has sacrificed the consensus that his special committee gathered, the political will and alignment, and squandered it.

I look to the police officers and their families and I say with confident certainty they’ve been let down. I look to the public and say with confident certainty they’ve been let down. I look to First Nations leaders and the leaders of other marginalized communities and say with confident certainty: you’ve been let down. I look to other first responders — 911 agents, fire and paramedic services, front-line health care workers, our nurses and doctors — and I say with confident certainty they are being let down.

Elections give us an opportunity to evaluate the success or failures of a government, whether they’re able to deliver good public policy — sound, informed, evidence-based public policy. Political parties and their members focus primarily on delivering good public politics. From the failure to deliver police reform and the embarrassment that we’ve seen with the Surrey policing transition, this government has failed on both policy and politics.

[5:30 p.m.]

I’ll finish with this. I have focused a lot of this speech with direct criticism of the minister and the ministry, and I take no pleasure in that. People might think: “Oh, it’s politics.” It’s not. I like the minister. I enjoyed working with him as the Government House Leader. However, on this file, I’m left with no choice but to speak honestly about what I’ve seen and what I’ve experienced in the work that I’ve done.
When the minister decided to forego the creation of an all-party police transformation committee, when he decided to fully shoulder the modernization of policing and not build on the consensus that we had established…. This could have been a decade-long project that was diffused across all the political parties of all the political stripes in this province.

[S. Chandra Herbert in the chair.]

But the Public Safety Minister chose to move it from a project that necessarily needed to be of the entire Legislative Assembly to one that he was going to go at alone. So he receives the grade. He receives the attention on the Surrey policing transition, receives the attention for not following through on the Reforming the Police Act committee recommendations.

Here we are today, two years closer to a looming deadline at the end of the current RCMP policing contract, and we have no greater clarity on the future of policing in British Columbia than at the first meeting of the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act.


1 Comment

  1. Lee York

    You certainly can’t articulate the problem any better than that. Well done, Adam. More importantly, I sincerely hope this critique provokes a 2nd chance to reinvigorate the policing reforms recommended by the multi-party committee


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