Disturbing racial disparities in policing activities across B.C. revealed in B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner’s Police Act submission

B.C.’S Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender on Wednesday released her submission to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act (SCORPA), which she says makes recommendations to address a disturbing pattern of discrimination in policing in this province.

BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner’s (BCOHRC) written submission, “Equity is Safer: Human rights considerations for policing reform in British Columbia,” includes expert analysis of data from five police jurisdictions that reveals disturbing racial disparities in policing activities across B.C. The submission makes 29 recommendations for reforming policing in B.C. to reduce systemic discrimination and improve safety.

The Commissioner’s recommendations centre on:

  • realizing B.C.’s obligations to Indigenous peoples
  • implementing a human rights-based approach to the collection of disaggregated data
  • reforming the practice of street checks
  • de-tasking the police
  • improving police accountability

The report also includes expert analysis of data from the Vancouver Police Department, the Nelson Police Department and the Surrey, Duncan and Prince George RCMP detachments, which were selected to represent different communities with varied demographic populations in distinct parts of the province.

Among the findings:

  • Indigenous people are highly overrepresented in arrests or chargeable incidents in all five police services studied. For example, in Vancouver, Indigenous men are 17.3 times more likely to be arrested than their presence in the population would predict.
  • Black people are highly overrepresented in arrests or chargeable incidents in three of the five jurisdictions examined: namely, Vancouver, Surrey and Nelson. Hispanic and Arab/West Asian people are also overrepresented in many police jurisdictions.
  • People with mental health issues have frequent interaction with police services, which in turn also has a greater impact on Indigenous, Black and Arab/West Asian people. For example, in Nelson, Black people are 4.7 times more likely to appear in mental health incidents involving police than their presence in the general population would predict.
  • Indigenous women are either grossly or significantly overrepresented in arrest statistics in most jurisdictions examined in B.C., despite the fact that women are generally underrepresented in arrest statistics. In many cases, their arrest rate exceeds that of white men.
  • “Systemic racism in policing undermines community trust and safety,” Govender said. “To restore this trust, we need to reimagine the role of police in our province, including shifting our focus from the police as default responders to other community-based strategies.”Scot Wortley, professor of criminology in the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto analyzed the policing data on behalf of BCOHRC.

    “One thing is clear: profound racial disparities in police arrest and mental health statistics exist in British Columbia. These disparities demand monitoring, policy attention and action by police, government and oversight bodies to redress the disparities that this data points to,” said Wortley.

    “While this report analyzes data and numbers, it is critical to acknowledge that the data is about individuals, particularly Indigenous, Black and other racialized individuals who experience significant and long-term harm, trauma and mental health impacts as a result of police interactions and involvement in the criminal justice system,” said Govender. “This report calls for immediate and sustained action to address the structural discrimination behind these numbers and to redress the harms caused by it.”

    Concern about collection and retention of police data

    The Commissioner said she is concerned about the limitations of the police data available for research and study purposes in B.C. For example, BC RCMP is the largest policing agency in B.C. and serves 70 per cent of the population, yet they do not currently retain historical records of data for research purposes after a file is closed beyond the minimum national standard, which in some cases is just 24 months. This makes it difficult for researchers to access the kind of data needed to examine policing patterns over time. The Commissioner recommends that provincial data retention schedules be established through consultation with community.

    “The B.C. RCMP’s failure to retain historical policing data for research and study purposes is deeply troubling as it contradicts principles of transparency and accountability in policing,” Govender said.

    Support for impacted communities

    Govender added: “The data we are releasing points to a trend of over policing of racialized people in British Columbia. We recognize this information will be deeply disturbing for many people in our province to hear. This issue, while critical to examine, is extremely challenging, especially for people who have experienced or witnessed negative interactions with police or law enforcement. Members of police services who are shocked by these statistics and concerned with the conclusions drawn may also feel the need for support. British Columbians who experience distress at hearing this news or who need immediate help can access a list of crisis lines and emergency mental health supports we have compiled on our website at: bchumanrights.ca/support”


A PDF of BCOHRC’s written submission, “Equity is Safer: Human rights considerations for policing reform in British Columbia,” and links to supporting materials can be found at: bchumanrights.ca/SCORPA