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New legislation paves the way for police reform

April 4, 2024 at 10:48 am  BC, News, Politics, Provincial

Changes introduced to the Police Act will improve governance and oversight of policing as part of the Province’s work to make systemic improvements to the policing and public safety landscape in B.C.

“We count on our police to respond in difficult situations to keep us safe and there are ongoing conversations on how to change policing to keep pace with a changing world, particularly for many Black, Indigenous and other people of minority communities who have had negative experiences with the police,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “By focusing on changes to municipal policing, we are setting the foundation for a modern policing system that is fair, equitable and responsive to all communities.”

The legislation makes changes to municipal police governance, oversight and police superintendence. The changes address recommendations from the 2022 Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act and from the 2019 Special Committee to Review the Police Complaint Process, and addresses legislative changes requested by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. 

Changes to governance will allow local governments to determine who their representative will be on their police board and will allow members of the police board to elect their chair and vice-chair. Currently, the mayor is automatically the local government representative and the chair of the police board.

The legislation will also strengthen oversight of municipal police with several changes, including allowing the police complaint commissioner to call a public hearing earlier in misconduct investigations, and providing the police complaint commissioner authority to conduct systemic reviews and investigations into the causes and contributors of police complaints.

The Province is continuing to work on other policy and legislative reforms called for by the 2022 Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, including police training, provincial governance and Indigenous policing models. This work involves broad engagement with Indigenous partners, local governments, policing representatives, police oversight agencies, and community-based and advocacy organizations that will inform the work of further efforts to change policing in the province of B.C.

The work being undertaken in Police Act reform is aligned with Section 3.11 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. The Province has committed to developing and implementing policing reform that is responsive to the diverse needs of all communities and fosters increased public trust in policing, particularly for Indigenous and racialized communities.

Quotes:

Ronald J. Macdonald, KC, chief civilian director, Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of B.C. –

“The changes made to the Police Act today extend the jurisdiction of the IIO to include examining the actions of jail guards. Up until now, the role a jail guard may have played in the serious harm or death of a person was investigated by police agencies. Moving this responsibility to the IIO enhances the appearance of independence in these important investigations. Given the over-representation of Indigenous and other equity-owed groups in the justice system, this change, in addition to continued work in partnerships with community leadership, will help to contribute to improved treatment and outcomes for all equity-owed groups in B.C.”

Patrick Johnstone, mayor of New Westminster, and chair of the New Westminster Police Board –

“I am glad to see the minister announce this first phase of Police Act changes. I have appreciated the comprehensive consultation with local government and police board leadership through the roundtable model, and the recognition that not only is policing changing, but that public expectations about police oversight are changing as well. These measures are moving us is a good direction.”

Patricia Barnes, president of B.C. Association of Police Boards, and director of Vancouver Police Board –

“On behalf of the British Columbia Association of Police Boards, I am very pleased that the Province is moving forward with Phase 1 changes to the Police Act. We believe that strengthening the governance of independent civilian police boards can only improve policing in the Province and ensure their mandate of public safety is supported in a way that benefits people across British Columbia. We look forward to continuing to work with the Province on further changes and adjustments, as the Special Committee’s recommendations are implemented to support and uphold public trust, safety, police accountability and policing effectiveness.”

Quick Facts:

  • These amendments are responsive to recommendations 2b, 5c and 9e of the 2022 Special Committee’s Report on Reforming the Police Act, and recommendations 9, 12, 13, 16, 21, 23 and 25 of the 2019 Special Committee’s Report to Review the Police Complaints Process.
  • To align with the spirit and intent of the 2022 Special Committee’s Report that new legislation should be developed by community and for community, government provided grants to 37 community organizations totalling $350,000 to conduct culturally safe and trauma-informed engagements on policing topics.

Learn More:

To follow the progress of Bill 17 through the legislature, visit: leg.bc.ca/parliamentary-business/legislation-debates-proceedings/42nd-parliament/4th- session/bills/progress-of-bills

To read the Special Committee’s Report on Reforming the Police Act, visit: https://www.leg.bc.ca/content/CommitteeDocuments/42nd-parliament/3rd-session/rpa/SC-RPA-Report_42-3_2022-04-28.pdf

To read the Special Committee’s Report to Review the Police Complaints Process, visit: https://www.leg.bc.ca/content/CommitteeDocuments/41st-parliament/4th-session/pcp/SC-PCP-Review_40-4_2019-11-25_Report.pdf

For more information about B.C. legislation, visit: https://strongerbc.gov.bc.ca/legislation/

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