The BC First Nations Justice Council (BCFNJC) says it supports a report calling for an overhaul of the Police Act in the province.
Doug White, chair of the BCFNJC, says now is the time for a less harmful and more appropriate approach to policing of Indigenous people.
“The Northwest Mounted Police being created to control Indigenous People’s across the Prairies for the western expansion of Canada,” he says, “that basic framework has never been updated, it’s never been changed to include Indigenous people as part of the ownership and the authority from which policing comes from.”
Two years ago, the B.C. government appointed a special committee on reforming the Police Act. which was meant to modernize policing in the province.
The committee released its final report that addresses issues including systemic racism, mental health and harm reduction.
The special committee’s report has 11 key recommendations.
They include implementing a new Community Safety and Policing Act to govern policing and public safety, transitioning to a new BC provincial police service, and ensuring all Indigenous communities have direct input in their police service.
Other recommendations include establishing a single, independent oversight body that would handle complaints and investigations.
White agrees there is a need for accountability because of the power police hold.
“There has to be that kind of accountability; the police wield this incredible power; they are the only group in society that is authorized by society to use force against citizens.
White added that there is a need to stop the violence Indigenous people face in policing.
“The militarization of police is not appropriate, military forces are for war not policing and there has been this trend in Canadian policing following the American policing model – over-policing, use of technology, the use of militarized tools and vehicles,” he says.
“That is not the vision of policing we have in this country.”
The BCFNJC is also part First Nation Leadership Council.
White says they are all hopeful that B.C. will adopt the recommendations.
“Very important space being recognized and created through these recommendations, we are very hopeful BC government adopts the recommendations of the committee and gets on with the important work of reforming this critical system,” he says.
Mike Farnworth, the minister of Public Safety in B.C., released a statement supporting the report’s findings.
He says everyone deserves equal treatment by the police.
“We will review the report’s findings on the roles and responsibilities of police, the effectiveness and efficiencies of policing practices, the level of public trust, and how to deliver exceptional services to all British Columbians while being understanding and responsive to the needs of Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities,” the statement says.
White says an example of the need for change in policing is the recent case of Chelsea Poorman, a Kawacatoose First Nation member.
After going missing for two years, Poorman’s remains were found in Vancouver, but it was immediately ruled not a suspicious death.
White says that Indigenous people are rightfully concerned.
“It’s an example of where Indigenous People’s need to be in a different with respect to policing to ensure that our people have the kind of policing system that they deserve and that is necessary for our time and in our country,” he says.