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Local First Nations make case for seats on Vancouver Police Board

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With several vacancies on the Vancouver Police Board, the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh Nations are pushing to have their members appointed to the civilian body, which provides oversight and governance to the Vancouver Police Department.

While each of the local First Nations has expressed interest in having their own seat on the board, some have also said they would be open to the idea of having one seat rotate between the nations.

"I would be supportive of having one representative appointed on the three nations' behalf,” said Squamish elected-councillor Wilson Williams. “But I'd also be supportive of an individual rep representing us as well."

Typically, the board is made up of seven people, plus the mayor who acts as chair.

“We are open to having these conversations with the Vancouver Police Department and the Vancouver Police Board to move forward in a good way for the people of Vancouver, and the səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). Now is the time for us to have a seat at the table,” Tsleil-Waututh councillor Charlene Aleck said in a statement.

Faye Whightman, the board’s former vice-chair, resigned suddenly at the end of January over concerns about the way the board was being managed by Mayor Ken Sim.

"There was more political interference then what I had seen previously and from what I understood through the Police Act and the BC Police Manual that there should be,” said Whightman who was appointed to the board in 2020.

Whightman expressed support for the idea of permanent First Nations representation on the board, but said she feels allotting three of the seven seats would not provide the right balance.

“When you look at the disproportionate number of First Nations that are involved with policing and with the justice system, it’s very important to have lived experience on the board,” Whightman said. “That being said, having three people on the board when there are only seven, aside from the mayor, that’s a disproportionate number of board members than that are First Nations.”

Her resignation leaves the board with three vacancies but according to B.C.'s public safety minister, only one local First Nation is likely to have a member appointed in the near future.

"It is something that we have recognized, that we want to have Indigenous representation,” Mike Farnworth said. “Musqueam is the nation that has a policing agreement with the City of Vancouver and so that's what we are working on with filling that space at the present time."

The minister made no promises to the Squamish and the Tsleil Waututh.

The Squamish Nation pointed to Senakw, a community of 6,000 homes under construction at the south end of the Burrard Bridge.

It is located on Squamish reserve land but the nation has a services agreement with the City of Vancouver that also includes policing.

“There will be a lot of our members living there. So, we will be vibrant and we’ll need to be an integral part of decision making,” said Williams. "I think through a new lens, this will help address some of these challenges we continue to face."

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