Submission from the Vancouver Branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom regarding systemic racism in police departments and the redirection of funds from the Vancouver Police Department on July 2, 2020

To the Mayor, Councillors and Manager:

In the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic, the world watched for nearly 9 minutes the horrific murder of an unarmed African American man by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. (May 25,2020).  The global response under the banner of Black Lives Matter was swift.  There have been huge protests and loud calls for an end to systemic racism in society, in particular, in the criminal justice system.  This has opened up a  public conversation on police brutality, the relationship of the police to marginalized communities and the need to defund parts of police budgets and re-allocate these funds to under-served communities, through social programmes.

It is within this context that the Vancouver Branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom calls on the City Council of Vancouver in consultation with the City Manager and the Vancouver Police Board to redirect financial resources from the Vancouver Police Department.  This redirection of financial resources should go towards comprehensive alternatives that support the social needs of Black, Indigenous, People of Colour and other marginalized communities.  There must be transparency in how these funds are spent.

We recommend:

1.  An overhaul of police response to individuals experiencing mental health crises.  The Police Department must work in tandem with crisis intervention teams to quickly assess whether the individual is armed or violent.  The crisis intervention team should take the lead and the police would be the back-up. This initiative would help to avoid lethal outcomes as we have seen recently in “wellness checkups”. 

2.  Initiatives for more and better youth services.

3.  A review of the role of police in schools – police should be called in when a crisis situation becomes untenable (apparently, the Vancouver School Board is considering dropping its contract with the Police Department).  This money could be redirected elsewhere, for example, youth programmes.

4.  The demilitarization of the Police Force, as members tend to use their militarized training, weapons, vehicles and power to abuse their authority.

5.  A meaningful Poverty Reduction Strategy

6.  A meaningful Affordable Housing Strategy

7.  A meaningful Drug Addiction Prevention Strategy

8.  A recognition of the existence of systemic racism and unconscious bias     within the police force which disproportionally impact Black and Indigenous people.  This is manifested in the stopping of members of these groups  without a valid reason, carding, unnecessary and intimidating surveillance, use of excessive force, including the raping of women, assaulting and killing detainees and the over-incarceration of Indigenous and Black men, women and young people.  Systemic racism was a key factor causing police inaction towards the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, even when informed that there was a serial killer operating in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) community.  This racism needs to be publicly recognized  and addressed.

It is not only in the  DTES  that we find the the relationship between the police and marginalized communities problematic.  This is pervasive throughout Canada.  Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaw citizen, lawyer and professor of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University in her Canadian Dimension, 3/6/20 article points to a CBC extensive investigation into fatal encounters with police in Canada from 2000-2017.  It found that while Black people are less than 3% of the population they were 9% of those killed by police.  Indigenous peoples are less than 4% of the population but more than 15%  of those killed by police.

9.  There must be police accountability for situations such as these as would be the case for other public servants.

10.  Police officers should wear body cameras and be responsible for these cameras being in good working condition.  Policies must be developed to ensure that serious disciplinary action be taken for poor maintenance or unauthorized disabling of cameras.

11.  After the implementation of these initiatives, there must be an accountability component in order to measure their outcomes.

Our recommendations are based on well documented concerns through the many commissions and reports exposing systemic racism within the police force.  The Vancouver Branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom calls on the City of Vancouver to make a commitment to eradicate the systemic racism that exists in policing which has had and continues to have a severe impact on Black people, Indigenous people and People of Colour.

Respectfully submitted,

Vancouver Branch,

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom