In December, the BC government appointed a Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act. The committee’s mandate was to examine, inquire into, and make recommendations to the government on reforms related to the modernization of policing in our province. (A committee was initially appointed in July, but the 2020 provincial election necessitated a delay.)
This committee’s mandate includes a focus on the role of police with respect to complex social issues including mental health and addictions, the scope of systemic racism within BC’s police agencies, and what is needed to ensure the Police Act is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007).
As part of its inquiry, the committee has invited community advocacy organizations, service providers, Indigenous communities, and subject matter experts to provide their input on public safety and policing. The Federation made its submission and presented to the committee this week.
The Federation remains very engaged on behalf of you, our members, and we present to almost every special and select standing committee that relates to the issues and priorities of this sector and our membership. But unlike some other presentations, this process involved member agencies, our board of directors, sector partners, and the Federation staff team. From surveying our membership and discussing strategy and priorities to identifying presenters and writing the drafts, this was very much a team effort and I’m very proud of all the work that went into this excellent submission.
Back in November, we prepared for the appointment of the second committee by sending a survey out to Federation members seeking feedback and guidance for our submission. The information we received gave us a clear picture of the different roles that the police play in relation to the work you do in community. You explained what is working well (collaboration, relationship-building) and what needs to be changed (police responses to social issues, more education and training for officers).
Like many of the issues that our sector deals with, the complexity of modernizing the Police Act is striking. Our working group of staff and board members discussed how, in many cases, police are brought in to deal with what are essentially breakdowns or gaps in the social care system but without the proper tools or skills. The need for systemic change was the central theme of our submission—fundamentally changing our approach to policing and the role police play in society and in our communities.
“We need to do things differently; that fact should be eminently clear. And it is our opinion that we can’t reform our way out of a system built for violence. Quite simply, there are police doing things that police should no longer be doing. Yes, we have recommendations to make the Police Act more just and modern, but we also have some bigger and more important ideas about fundamentally changing the role of police in society. And without these kinds of changes, amendments and updates to the Act won’t do anything to address the injustices that are taking place on our streets and in our communities.”
– Federation submission to the Special Committee on Police Act Reform
All of our recommendations were informed by responses from the survey, feedback from our membership, and insight from our Board of Directors, sector partners, and working group. Overall, they fell into four central themes.
- Reconciliation and Anti-Racism
- Police in Community
- Systemic Change
You can read our full submission to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act here. I would like to thank all the members that contributed their experiences and ideas during our preparations and I would like to thank Tim Veresh from our Board of Directors for representing The Federation during this week’s presentations to the committee.
We are at a unique moment in history and this committee has an incredible opportunity in its hands. A year of social unrest has renewed a desire to reimagine how we can organize, fund, and keep safe our communities and each other. And in many ways, this government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that it is very possible to do important things in new and different ways—to make urgent and significant changes when and where they are needed.
I am very much looking forward to reading this committee’s report and to working with our government colleagues to achieve the kind of lasting, positive change that this province needs.
As always, if you would like to discuss this piece of work or any Federation initiative, don’t hesitate to contact me or anyone on The Federation staff team.