A provincial review of the Police Act will include input from the Kootenays.
Erica Scott of the West Kootenay People for Racial Justice (WKPRJ) was invited to present to a committee currently examining how the act can be modernized.
The committee was created last year amid Black Lives Matter protests in Canada that demanded change to the justice system. Twenty per cent of complaints against B.C.’s municipal and RCMP departments in 2019-20 came from Black, Indigenous and Middle Eastern peoples, despite those groups only accounting for eight per cent of the provincial population.
Aspects of mental health, harm reduction and systemic racism in policing are among the topics being reviewed by the committee.
“There hasn’t been this kind of process to change the Police Act in 25 years, and it probably won’t happen again for a long time,” said Scott.
“So we just felt it was important to put our two cents in and make suggestions.”
WKPRJ was the only one of five groups presenting to the committee on July 27 that wasn’t a provincial or national organization. Scott said some WKPRJ members have previously made complaints against police and described the process as dysfunctional.
“If we had any more barriers to access that, if we’re houseless or we’re not having English as a first language, how it was basically impossible to go through that process,” she said. “It would be very, very difficult. There’s really no support when you go through that process.”
The WKPRJ recommendations to the committee included:
• Centring the perspectives and priorities of racialized communities.
Scott said consultation needs to be focused on people impacted by improper policing. She pointed to a recent Nelson Police Board meeting where a community survey was suggested.
“You’re not going to get the results that you need by asking if there’s a problem with racism to a community that’s 90 per cent white,” she said.
• Demilitarizing the police and banning the use of lethal force.
“If you ban the use of lethal force then that would only happen in the very direst of self-defence circumstances, rather than how it happens now which seems very extreme,” said Scott.
• Decriminalizing sex work, poverty, public intoxication, drugs and immigration status.
The distinction here, Scott added, is that immigrants, the poor and some drugs may not be illegal but are still targeted by police.
• Banning street checks.
• Decriminalizing land defence by Indigenous peoples asserting their rights and title over their lands and waters.
• Centring United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the basis for all reforms.
• Requiring an extensive vetting process for officers, as well as more training with a major focus on antiracism, cultural sensitivity, gender and other unconscious biases, mental health care and non-violent de-escalation techniques.
• Regulating the use and ensuring transparency of surveillance technology.
• Redesigning the 911 calling system to avoid the inappropriate deployment of police.
The presentation also said any changes should also incorporate recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
No questions were asked after the presentation, but Scott said she felt positive about the meeting.
“I thought that we were heard and we were very glad to be invited.”
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