Mayor Stewart's Testimony to BC's Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act

Public safety requires trust and accountability

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Mark Hosak
July 28, 2021


Mayor Kennedy Stewart today issued the following testimony to the Special Provincial Committee on Reforming the Police Act.

“Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today.

My name is Kennedy Stewart.

I am the Mayor of Vancouver and I am speaking to you today from the unceded, traditional territories of the Musquem, Squamish, and Tsleil Waututh people.

I want to begin by saying how important I believe this committee’s work is to fostering public trust in police and those tasked with overseeing police services.

As Mayor of one of Canada’s largest and most diverse cities, I have developed a deep and abiding appreciation for the work, dedication, and professionalism of the Vancouver Police Department and Chief Adam Palmer.

I want to take this opportunity, at the outset of my remarks, to offer the City’s heartfelt gratitude for all that they do.

I am going to use my time today to focus on two issues.

First, I want to speak about our collective responsibility to tackle systemic racism and bias in policing.

And second, I want to offer my thoughts on the urgent need to reform the way Vancouver’s police department is governed to improve democratic accountability.

Let me start with systemic racism.

Systemic racism is an undeniable fact in a society built on colonialism.

By systemic racism, I mean the policies and practices entrenched in all our institutions which disadvantage Indigeous, Black and People of Colour or advantage white people.

Let me be clear: Naming systemic racism for what it is and how it distorts our society is not saying that any one person is racist.

What it does say is that we are obligated to confront and tackle the racism that threads throughout our institutions and cultures – including in policing.

And as Mayor, I am very heartened that after a robust - and sometimes very difficult public discussion - the Vancouver Police Board has formally acknowledged systemic racism and moved forward with addressing this important issue.

The Board’s July 25th motion officially acknowledges that the Vancouver Police Department – like all institutions -- is built on a foundation of structural racism and colonization and that the Board and Department have a responsibility to make anti-racism and decolonization a top priority.

This important Board motion and ideas contained in submissions from the City I submitted earlier this year lay the foundation for the work ahead.

In my mind, we have started to turn the corner on this issue, but still have a lot of work to do.

Next, I want to talk about how we need to change how the Vancouver Police Department is governed.

In the 2012 Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, the Honourable Wally Oppal recommended that the Province establish a Greater Vancouver Police Service.

This makes sense as the changing nature of criminal activity – including organized crime, gang violence, human trafficking, and cybercrime – requires a more integrated approach to policing our region so that we can better combat complex criminal activities.

Of course, I understand that establishing one regional police force is a huge job and if this government is not prepared to undertake this type of structural change, there is much we can do to improve our current model.

As you know, the Police Act delegates responsibility for policing in Vancouver to a police board.

Composed of unsalaried volunteers, the Police Board is the direct employer of all Vancouver police department personnel.

Although board members are talented and dedicated, the amount of work they are forced to deal with has grown to such a size and complexity that I feel it has outstripped what volunteers can reasonably be expected to undertake.

At the same time, the Mayor of Vancouver who serves as the Police Board Chair, has no statutory authority over police operations.  

Even though the City of Vancouver foots the bill for policing services which consumes 21% of our annual budget, as chair, I cannot even table or amend Board motions and only vote in the event of a tie.

Ask yourself:

Is it reasonable that one of the largest independent police services in the country is overseen by an under-resourced, volunteer board chaired by a Mayor who has negligible statutory authority?

It is not reasonable.

It is a relic from another era.

And it needs to change.

I am here today to ask committee members to recommend changes to the Police Act that improve democratic accountability.

This would require either:

(1) shifting the Vancouver Police Department to be a regular city department -- such as Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, or

(2) creating a new salaried Police Board that is directly appointed by Vancouver City Council.

Bringing the VPD more directly under the purview of the City of Vancouver will allow council or salaried board members to access the considerable managerial, legal, human resources, and financial resources built into our city administration to oversee a department with a $350 million annual operating budget and with a mandate to use lethal force in the execution of its duties.

I trust you will carefully consider these ideas.

Thank you for your time.”

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