Blue Line

Discrimination probe launched into police use of force in B.C.

January 30, 2024  By The Canadian Press

Jan. 30, 2024, Vancouver, B.C. – British Columbia’s human rights commissioner has launched an inquiry into police use of force against people who are racialized or coping with mental-health issues, although Kasari Govender acknowledged there may be gaps in the data they’re working with.

The inquiry follows a 2021 study by her office that found a “disturbing pattern of discrimination in policing in the province.”

The report analyzing data from five B.C. police jurisdictions found Indigenous, Black and West-Asian people were overrepresented in arrests and detentions.

It also found that police interact more frequently with people experiencing mental-health issues, which in turn had a greater impact on racialized individuals.


However, the earlier study did not look at police use of force.

It’s another area where it’s important to understand how certain populations are disproportionately affected by police actions, and whether that disparity amounts to systemic discrimination, Govender said in an interview.

While no comprehensive data exists on the severity of the problem, a statement from the commissioner’s office said available information suggests police use force “more frequently and with greater severity” against those same populations.

“(Police) do a challenging job and a job that certainly intersects with human rights issues in many ways,” Govender said.

“Police need to be held to a high standard to ensure that they’re complying with human rights law and principles.”

The inquiry aims to “quantify” police use of force against racialized people and those with mental-health challenges, her office said.

Across the province, police departments are required to submit reports on officers’ use of force to the B.C. government, and Govender said her office had just received a batch of the data it had requested from the Ministry of Public Safety.

“We’re just beginning that process to understand what is there and what we’re missing,” she said.

But the reports do not include requirements to provide race-based data, she said.

“What we have here, again, is no correlation between how (data) is collected by the police versus how it shows up on the use-of-force forms,” Govender said.

“Without that data from the police services there’s no question there will be a gap.”

Govender said she expects her office would make a recommendation to address gaps in race-based data if that indeed is one of the inquiry’s findings.

There are more requirements for mental-health information in the forms police provide to the province related to their use of force, she noted.

“I do expect that we will have something to dig into here, some evidence to dig into, but not necessarily on the race-based side,” she said.

The RCMP announced earlier this month that it would launch a pilot project for the collection of race-based data, saying it aims to analyze and report on the data “to better understand the experiences of Indigenous, Black and other racialized people and communities in their interactions with RCMP front line officers.”

An RCMP detachment in B.C. is set to take part in the project, but the Mounties have yet to announce the location, Govender said.

The aim of collecting and analyzing race-based data is to measure “racism, not race,” she added.

It’s “understanding that when we discover racial disparities, for example, in police conduct, that we don’t attribute those to some inherent problem in a particular racialized community,” she said.

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