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Inquiry launched into use of force by B.C. police: commissioner

B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender speaks in Vancouver, on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck) B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender speaks in Vancouver, on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

British Columbia's human rights commissioner has launched an inquiry into the use of force by police against racialized people and those with mental health issues in the province.

The inquiry will build on the findings of a 2021 report, which revealed a "disturbing pattern of discrimination" by police in B.C., the commissioner's office said in a news release Tuesday.

The commissioner says the inquiry is in response to growing concerns that police disproportionately use force against non-white communities and people experiencing mental health issues.

"While available information suggests that force is used more frequently and with greater severity against these groups, there is currently no comprehensive data quantifying the impacts in B.C.," the office said.

The inquiry will gather the data and make recommendations to the province to address those concerns.

"There is a direct connection between equity and community safety. Systemic discrimination erodes the foundation of trust between communities and law enforcement, jeopardizing the safety of all residents," commissioner Kasari Govender said in the release.

"This inquiry aims to better understand who is at the receiving end of use of force by police, whether any disproportionate impact revealed amounts to systemic discrimination and what can be done to address any equity issues that emerge. As I have said before, 'we cannot act on what we do not know.'"

The commissioner's 2021 report examined data from five policing jurisdictions in B.C., and described how Black, Indigenous and other racialized groups are overrepresented in arrests and chargeable incident statistics.

The data – collected from police departments in Vancouver, Surrey, Nelson, Duncan and Prince George – also found that Black, Indigenous and Arab/West Asian people are significantly overrepresented in police encounters with people experiencing mental health issues.

"We know from our earlier work, and from listening to racialized people from across B.C., that potential disparities in policing activities demand monitoring and action," Govender said. "The role of the commissioner’s office is to shine a light on inequities and address them directly to ensure justice for all. That is what this inquiry seeks to do."

The B.C. Human Rights Commissioner is an independent officer of the B.C. legislature. Govender started her five-year term in the role on Sept. 3, 2019. Top Stories

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