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'Nothing concrete': Advocates disappointed with B.C. police reform report

One day after an all-party committee tasked with examining systemic discrimination and other police issues in British Columbia recommended sweeping changies, critics are slamming the plan.

The Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act spent 15 months looking into a wide variety of concerns ranging from accountability within law enforcement to the handling of mental health calls, and developed 11 recommendations for overhauling the province’s approach to public safety.

Several community groups held a virtual press conference on Friday morning to explain why they believe the report doesn’t do enough for most vulnerable groups in B.C.

“The recommendations themselves do not actually include the kind of specific, concrete commitment to prioritizing community responses and community safety over what’s currently in the (Police Act),” said Anna Cooper, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society.

Cooper currently represents a number of residents and workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside speaking out against B.C.’s police complaints process, which they allege is unnecessarily lengthy and designed to insulate officers from being held accountable.

Of the 11 recommendations in the report, perhaps the biggest one is replacing the B.C. RCMP with a new provincial police force, to fix what the committee refers to as broken communication.

“Different services (are) not communicating as effectively and efficiently as they should be,” explained Adam Olsen, a member of the special committee and Green MLA for Saanich North and the Islands. “In fact, we have experiences in this province where that fragmentation has actually cost lives.”

Garth Mullins, a 30-year advocate for drug users in Vancouver welcomes the recommendation to replace the RCMP, but is not convinced a change in uniform will do much to improve interactions with frontline officers.

“If we don’t replace them with something that understands the systemic harms from policing right now – the deaths, the murders, the police killings – then we’re not going to see anything different,” said Mullins, speaking on behalf of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU)

Meanwhile, the National Police Federation, which represents roughly 20,000 Mounties, says its independent research shows British Columbians are largely satisfied with the RCMP.

“74 to 76 per cent of British Columbians are satisfied and at the same time they tell us, similar to what this report recommends to the government, they want greater investments into policing and into social support programs,” said union president Brian Sauvé.

The B.C. First Nations Justice Council (BCFNJC) and First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) are both applauding the report, calling it a long overdue step toward a fairer justice system.

Doug White, chair of the BCFNJC told CTV News he hopes the recommendations could lead to a system in which “Indigenous people can experience more upholding of their rights rather than breaching of their rights; where their dignity can be protected and supported by systems of public safety, rather than eroded.”

Pivot Legal Society, which has called for defunding police and putting more money into community organizations, pointed to a number of high-profile incidents that have taken place since the all-party committee began looking into reforms back in 2020, including the death of Jared Lowndes, a 38-year-old Indigenous man who was fatally shot by Campbell River RCMP.

“It’s disappointing to know that more than 400 people and organizations contributed (to the report), over a thousand people filled out surveys, and what we have right now is some very nice language and positive affirmations of what’s possible, but nothing concrete,” said Meenakshi Mannoe, spokesperson for Pivot.

The BCFNJC and FNLC say they will be in talks with the B.C. government and are hopeful all of the recommendations outlined in the report will be adopted. The special committee says that could take up to 10 years.

With files from CTV’s Andrew Weichel and Bhinder Sajan Top Stories

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