B.C.’s patchwork of RCMP and municipal police forces should “transition to a new B.C. provincial police service,” amalgamating police services on a regional basis, an all-party committee of MLAs recommends.
After hundreds of submissions, the committee recommended a significant increase in mental health services, integrated into the province’s 9-1-1 emergency response system.
“Police have become the default first responders to mental health and other complex social issues due to a lack of alternatives and supports,” Peace River North MLA Dan Davies, deputy chair, said as the report was tabled in the B.C. legislature April 28.
“Significant investments into a continuum of response, as well as increased co-ordination and integration across sectors, are needed.”
The committee also recommends a single civilian oversight system for police, and a “fair and equitable shared funding model for municipalities.”
Currently B.C. has a police complaint commission, an independent investigator for police-involved deaths and injuries, and a system of funding for RCMP detachments based on the size of the community.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said his ministry is already working with police leadership, oversight bodies, mental health groups and Indigenous communities on the issues raised in the report.
Consultation meetings will begin on the specific recommendations in late summer, he said.
“The committee’s recommendations to reform B.C.’s Police Act are based on extensive analysis and input and reflect today’s challenges, including addressing systemic racism, mental health, and harm reduction,” Farnworth said.
In a news release, the B.C. First Nations Justice Council, the First Nations Summit, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs praised the work of the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act.
“The recommendations in this report represent an enormous alignment with the B.C. First Nations Justice Strategy, which outlines a less harmful and more appropriate and respectful approach to policing for our people,” said Doug White, chair of the B.C. First Nations Justice Council.
White said that the report recognizes the role the police need to play in supporting diverse programs to keep Indigenous people out of the carceral justice system. He also applauded efforts to establish a B.C. provincial police force.
Other groups had a not so favourable response to the recommendations.
At a news conference on Friday (April 29), advocacy groups representing drug users and sex workers on Vancouver’s downtown east side, as well as the B.C. Civil Liberties Association panned the report’s recommendations, saying they do too little to address systemic issues in policing.
Garth Mullins, a member of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and host of the Crackdown Podcast, has been watching the evolution of policing in B.C. for the past three decades. Mullins has long advocated for police reform and said a small part of him was hopeful the report would bring substantive reform.
“This report does not decriminalize people,” he said. “If you read through the report, there’s a lot of good stuff in there.
“The committee obviously heard from excellent witnesses that identified the key issues we’re thinking about. But the committee said, ‘yes, we heard you’, then when they turned to the recommendations and those great ideas, those key problems don’t track into the recommendations.”
“It’s a real opportunity missed to actually change things.”
With files from Cole Shisler