Over 70 Organizations Call for a Ban on Police Street Checks

We Need a Ban on Police Street Checks!

Indigenous people continue to experience institutionalized discrimination in the justice system and a disproportionately high level of interaction with police, which is furthered by the practice of street checks. In an era of reconciliation, this is simply unacceptable.”

– Chief Don Tom, Vice President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs

We are urgently calling on the Vancouver Police Board and the Province of BC to immediately ban police street checks.

The BC Civil Liberties Association, Black Lives Matter-Vancouver, Hogan’s Alley Society, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and WISH Drop-In Society are releasing an open letter, co-signed by 68 organizations, including Amnesty International, as well as a petition for an immediate municipal and provincial ban on police street checks.

Sign the petition to the Province of BC, Vancouver Police Board, and Vancouver City Council calling for an immediate ban on street checks:

If you are in Vancouver, sign up to speak at City Council on Tuesday, July 7 to end street checks or send an online comment to City Council.

A street check is a discretionary and arbitrary police practice where police stop a person in public, question them outside the context of an arrest or detention or police investigation, and often record their personal information in a database.

Street checks are a racist police practice. In Vancouver, for example, Indigenous and Black people are significantly over-represented in the numbers of street checks conducted by the Vancouver Police Department. Between 2008 and 2017, Indigenous people accounted for over 15 percent of street checks despite being 2 percent of the population, and Black people accounted for 4 percent of street checks despite making up 1 percent of the population. In 2016, Indigenous women, who comprise 2% of Vancouver’s women population, accounted for 21 percent of women who were street checked.

The issue of police street checks is fundamentally connected to anti-Black racism and police violence.” – Lama Mugabo, Director of Hogan’s Alley Society

Street checks are a harmful practice across BC. While there has been much emphasis on street checks in Vancouver, the same pattern emerges in municipal police departments across the province. Data from Abbotsford, Central Saanich, Nelson, New Westminster, Oak Bay, Port Moody, Saanich, and West Vancouver police departments reveal a decade of racial targeting of Black, Indigenous and racialized Latino/a/x, Arab, and South Asian people, with Indigenous women particularly over-represented in all departments’ data on street checks. In West Vancouver in 2018, Indigenous women represented 17.6 percent of women who were street checked, despite making up 0.6 percent of the population there.

Street checks regularly take the form of controversial wellness checks. Police wellness checks disproportionately affect homeless people, sex workers, people who use drugs, and people in mental health distress. Such checks, carried out by officers in full uniform and carrying a gun, are an inappropriate means of providing care for people living in poverty and/or vulnerable due to gendered, colonial, and racial violence. Police wellness checks often have a tragically fatal impact; a CBC investigation reveals that since the year 2000, around 70 percent of police-involved fatalities in Canada have been of people in mental health or substance use crisis, or both.

Street checks are an illegal police practice. There is no applicable statute actually authorizing street checks in BC. No police officers in BC have explicit statutory authority or power to conduct street checks. There are also no common law policing powers justifying street checks. Both the Vancouver Police Board and the provincial Director of Police Services have the jurisdiction to end the police practice of street checks in Vancouver and BC, respectively.

Amidst local and global protests against police killings of Black and Indigenous people, political leaders making statements about systemic racism are not enough. We need action now. The harmful, racist and illegal policing practice of street checks must end in Vancouver and across BC.

Source: The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. This statement is also available here.