A committee tasked with reforming policing in British Columbia has recommended the province stop using the RCMP and create its own police force.
The special committee, made of provincial politicians from across all parties, unanimously agreed a provincial police force would create a more consistent standard for police response, training and oversight across B.C.
“It is a complete overhaul of policing to ensure that they’re accountable, to ensure that there’s transparency and ensure that the public trust remains with policing,” said committee member Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands.
In a report released Thursday, the committee made 11 recommendations to modernize policing to better reflect what people across B.C. need from law enforcement.
The committee was appointed amid widespread awareness of systemic racism, a demand for more accountability and questions about responses to mental health and addictions issues.
Lack of trust apparent in ‘meeting after meeting’: MLA
The committee heard from more than 1,800 people and organizations about their experiences with police, including a general lack of trust in those services.
“There was a lot of testimony from people saying there was mistrust in how policing currently works in the province and so the recommendation, I think, reflects what we heard meeting in and meeting out,” Olsen said.
The first recommendation was to bring in a new Policing Act designed in part by Indigenous communities and local governments.
“I believe in the province of British Columbia that significant, transformative police reform is long overdue. I believe that the RCMP has failed to effectively carry out their mandate providing for the safety and well-being of the residents throughout this province, particularly in First Nations communities,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said in an interview Thursday.
“Having failed that high duty of care, I think it’s time that the RCMP went back to Ottawa and that a collective group of leaders … come together and design a policing agency in British Columbia that will serve the diverse interests that are clearly evident — that will respect the cultural diversity here in the province.”
Deputy chair Dan Davies, B.C. Liberal MLA for Peace River North, said police being used as the “default first responders” to mental health and other “complex social issues” was seen as a major issue. Other recommendations address the need for more resources to be given to other services, such as social workers, to tackle such cases.
Vancouver lawyer Wally Oppal, a former B.C. Supreme Court judge and attorney general, said individual officers have done an “excellent job” in the province but agreed the RCMP should go because of inadequate oversight.
“You need local accountability … and none of that is being done by the RCMP,” he said.
In 1994, Oppal ran an inquiry into the province’s policing system and recommended broad reforms to the NDP government in power at the time, but was largely ignored.
RCMP reviewing report
There are 13 independent police forces in B.C. The RCMP has policed the remainder of the province, including almost all of rural B.C., since 1950.
A statement from RCMP Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, the commanding officer in B.C., said they’ll take time to review the report and won’t speculate on next steps until that’s done.
“The RCMP has a complex role in B.C. as we deliver services at the municipal, provincial and federal level,” his statement said. “I am very proud of the RCMP team that works incredibly hard every day to keep B.C. communities safe and secure and we remain committed to doing so.”
B.C.’s contract with the RCMP expires in 2032.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the province has begun contacting its partners to discuss the recommendations.
“The recommendations … echo our government’s belief that everyone deserves equal treatment by the police,” Farnworth, who is not a member of the all-party committee, said in a statement.
“This has not always been the case for many Indigenous, Black and other people of colour. Public trust requires that the delivery of police services is fair, equitable and responsive to all British Columbians.”
In terms of a timeline, the report said police reform as recommended would take years and multiple governments to implement. A similar, committee-led reform in New Zealand took a decade, Olsen said.
The full list of recommendations includes:
- That B.C. transition to a new provincial police service governed by a new Community Safety and Policing Act;
- That Indigenous communities have direct input into their police services;
- That the government “create and appropriately fund a continuum of response to mental health, addictions and other complex social issues” and that mental health services be integrated into 911 options;
- Reforming police funding models to be more “fair and equitable” for municipalities; and
- Requiring police services to collect and publicly report race-based and other demographic data in order to address systemic racism within policing.