This transcript was taken from the BC Legislature’s website.
Vancouver Women’s Health Collective
B. Salimath: Thank you. Namaskar. My name is Bina Salimath. I’m the board chair of the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective that I will refer to as the collective in this presentation.
Originally from India, I identify as a Hindu woman on the unceded, ancient and traditional lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh. I acknowledge I’m a settler here, and my presence on this land is because of the intersection of colonization of India and Canada.
The collective is a non-profit organization helping those who identify as women and gender-non-conforming foster health, wellness and equity through feminist approaches to advocacy, shared knowledge and low-barrier programs and services. We value shared information and experience over authoritative knowledge, especially when it comes to our own bodies. We support women’s right to make informed choices about their health and health care, and we strive to provide gender-affirming health and wellness support.
We were compelled to submit to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act as one of the community organizations that has to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of retraumatizing — I emphasize the word “retraumatizing” — encounters between community members and the Vancouver police department.
Amongst the examples we outlined in our written submission, I would like to emphasize and link the following situations as some that highlight how the VPD lacks an intersectional — including racial — lens and a lack of understanding that diversifying VPD with Indigenous and BIPOC representation, without actively deconstructing that colonial policing causes greater harm. The VPD is shaping white supremacy inherent in policing to be multicultural.
The examples. A male officer attending a disclosure of sexual assault, who stood in a military position — an attitude that is not conducive to building a trusting and safe environment for disclosures.
A mother in possession of an updated court order allowing her to see her child at school was apprehended on school premises because neither the principal nor the police took the time to look at the updated court order she had in her hand.
A grandmother carrying food we had donated to her was apprehended nearby and accused of stealing the food she was carrying.
Calls to ACT teams, Car 87, and police intervention, including handcuffing of women in crisis and attempts to intimidate our staff who advocated against use of symbols of police power in mental health support.
All of the above have in common how the current policing model disproportionately disadvantages and victimizes Indigenous People, Black people, Brown people and people of colour, people living in straitened circumstances and with varying physical or mental abilities. Amongst them, women are at a greater disadvantage.
Back in 2012, in Forsaken: The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, Commissioner Oppal conceded that the police had “the mistaken belief that the missing and murdered Indigenous women were transient, had high-risk lifestyles.” He also stated: “Faulty stereotyping of street-involved women in the DTES” by the police and “discrimination in the form of systemic institutional bias and political/public indifference.”
In 2019, seven years later, other reports continued to highlight systemic and widespread police bias against Indigenous women — Red Women Rising, a report in 2019; the UN convention on the elimination of discrimination against women, CEDAW. This begs the question: what has changed? According to the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls from 2019, there has been very limited movement to implement recommendations from previous reports. What little efforts have been made have focused more on reactive rather than preventative measures. This is a significant barrier to addressing the root cause of violence.
We are past the time for raising awareness and implementing energy-efficient training. We’ve come to the sad conclusion that the police institution has not learned, because it is resisting change and is still in a place of general failure to pursue preventative strategies and of inadequate accountability structures, as the Forsaken report outlined. Having diversity within the institution will not change the oppressive system, as the folks who are recruited, and their members of the marginalized communities, have to apply laws that are created to benefit the wealthy, the able-bodied, the gender-conforming white folks.
The rift within the Indigenous and the police communities is significant, for their own members have to intervene as police officers, not to mention the vicarious trauma carried by police officers who witness the colonial impacts of systemic racism and discrimination in their daily work. Any white, privileged person would refuse to become part of an institution that negates the basic human rights of their community members. Exerting measures on the folks it is supposed to protect, it is expected that any other person would gladly do so in order to join the police force. The recruitment efforts of police, fire and military institutions are bound to fail for as long as they focus on representation.
When Indigenous women or people of colour go into policing to make a change, opportunities for advancement are fewer, and the risk is much greater, so that by the time they get into leadership roles, they will have been ‘formatted’ to comply with the mainstream model. We support divesting in the police and moving forward to more small, community-led approaches to safety and wellness in our community –– with the emphasis on community-led.”
Commissioner Oppal was a supporter of this new approach. He placed emphasis on proactive rather than reactive policing, further stating: “Perhaps more importantly, community policing cannot work in a situation where there is deep distrust and a sense of alienation between the community and the police.” The commissioner’s report cites this to watch as an example of how community-based policing means real community involvement by the police in partnership with the community.
The 2019 Red Women Rising report paints a more nuanced approach for us to watch, as unsuccessful in building trust between the VPD and the women residents in DTES…. Furthermore, in the DTES women’s safety audit, only 15 percent of women in the DTES said that they would go to the police if they felt unsafe, although it acknowledged that it is significant that several DTES agencies now have greater organizational support and trust with the VPD as a result of this project, according to an independent evaluation.
Community-based policing is different than community-led policing alternatives. The issue is that when the police are involved, things have to be done as the police want, not how the community would do it. The voices of Indigenous and Black women, brown women, women of colour, women living with disabilities, as well as transgender, gender-nonconforming and non-binary people, need to be prioritized and are fundamental in eliminating violence in law enforcement.
We cannot stress enough the importance of recognizing that the sole existence of the police institution is based on colonial, patriarchal, heteronormative, oppressive views and the importance of applying a decolonizing, intersectional and racial lens to the review process. We urge the B.C. government to act on its commitment to reconciliation, justice and redress by implementing the recommendations from the previously published reports and boldly transforming an archaic institution, rather than tweaking it to continue to serve the privileged few that it was founded by.
I don’t have time to go through the reports, but as Angela did, I will try to in the chat as well. On behalf of the collective, I thank you for this space and time.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you, Bina.
Before we go to questions from members, I’ll invite my friend Adam to introduce himself.
A. Olsen: Thank you. I apologize for being late. I almost made it here on time. I think I came in halfway through Angela’s presentation. My apologies for being late.
I’m Adam Olsen. I’m the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, and I’m happy to be working from my home office here in the W̱SÁNEĆ territory, in the W̱JOȽEȽP village.
D. Routley (Chair): Thanks, Adam, and thanks to the presenters. I’ll open the floor to members for questions.
H. Sandhu: Thank you so much, Bina, Sue, Angela and Laurel. Kudos to you for the work you’re doing. Myself being a woman of colour, I’ve been watching women deliver in conferences, and all these feminists…. Whenever I see sisters like all of you, it encourages me even further. I just want to say thank you for your presentations and sharing some of the concerns and the work that you’re doing with the challenges that many women are facing.
I know, Laurel, you also touched upon…. There was some Kelowna incident, and no resolution was offered — and the cases are dismissed. I wonder if these women you’re working with, or any of your organizations, have had the opportunity to contact the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. If so, what was your experience like with that, with OPCC? Anybody can answer, if there is any experience that you can share. I’m just curious.
A. MacDougall: I have experience.
D. Routley (Chair): Go ahead, Angela.
A. MacDougall: Thank you. It is a practice through…. In addition to Feminists Deliver, I’m also executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services, which is a member of Feminists Deliver. What I know in terms of all of the anti-violence organizations….
What we’ve done is really encouraged following through with complaints and working with the independent office. As a matter of fact, we are writing complaints monthly, and it takes a lot of time to write a complaint and to do it in a way that is going to be effective. It’s a lot of work, and there are a lot of complaints to do. I’m actually thinking that I need to have a dedicated staff person that is just responsible for writing complaints because of the number of complaints that we do.
So the answer is: yes, we use that process. Is it effective? It depends, but it draws down on a lot of resources. We have to spend time following up on police problems instead of doing the front-line work with survivors.
H. Sandhu: Thank you so much, Angela. The reason for my question was, being in the government in an elected role, just trying to find ways. What was the outcome, and what are the ways that you think these women can be fully supported? I really appreciate your answer.
K. Kirkpatrick: As Harwinder said, thank you so much for the work that you do in the community. I was at Family Services of Greater Vancouver prior to being here. I think, Angela Marie, I may have met you through Cheryl Melder, and I really appreciate the work that your group does.
I’m curious about…. Bina said something about the Car 87 model and some of the challenges with that. With the work that I’ve done previously, we did a lot of victim support workers embedded with police, and that would be for domestic violence calls, sex-trafficking calls. They were a slightly different model than Car 87.
Do you find that those models are effective, or is the connecting the police and the uniform and that whole kind of colonial approach to things…? Even though you’re providing a victim support person there, are there better ways to do that than the way we’re doing it? That’s a bit of a general question, but maybe I can ask Angela Marie, direct it to you.
A. MacDougall: Bina, do you have…?
B. Salimath: You can go ahead, Angela Marie, and if there’s something to add, I’ll add in. Thanks.
A. MacDougall: Well, a couple of things. Firstly, just with respect to the police…. Of course, I’m very familiar with the model that you refer to, with counsellors that work with the Vancouver police department as well as the New West police department. I’m aware of that model. Now, I know that that one only works with the highest-risk cases, so there are a number of cases that aren’t captured under that model and that are referred to community-based organizations.
I think the piece that is…. I have to speak very specifically to what I heard from our colleagues that are working with the crisis centre in British Columbia, the crisis line in British Columbia.
There are mixed results with respect to Car 86, Car 87 — mixed results — and, in general, there is a desire to continue to find ways to not have law enforcement involved, not have police services involved, except under very specific cases. Not to assume…. I think that’s something that there should be…. This process should really look hard at that and, also, look at other jurisdictions that are piloting this idea right now, where police aren’t involved in wellness checks, for example — that it is community-based organizations that are doing that work. I think that this is an opportunity to do something different than Car 86, Car 87.
B. Salimath: If I can add to what Angela was saying. I completely agree with what Angela said about mixed results. One of the things I want to bring forward is that where we have seen it not working is where there’s marginalization involved. When there is racial marginalization involved or mental health marginalization involved or some other kind of minoritization involved, often there is a subtle bias that goes in there. We haven’t seen it work in what it is meant to do.
D. Routley (Chair): Did you have a follow-up, Karin?
K. Kirkpatrick: No, thank you very much. I was just going to ask Bina about that. I will say, and I’m not sure who mentioned it, but the Jim Fisher incident — bigger than an incident…. That was some of our victim support workers that were working with the young people who had been sex-trafficked. The inability to move that forward to get a conviction because of that is, I think, just a huge demonstration of the challenges that we’re talking about in this very process.
A. Olsen: Thank you all for your presentations. They are all very consistent with much of the presentations that we’ve heard to this committee, unfortunately. The state of our society right now has…. There’s a lot of repair that needs to be done and a lot of work that we have to do. I’m thankful to be on this committee and have the opportunity to be doing it.
Also, with that context, I think it’s important for me to acknowledge — because I don’t think that the public are going to see — the long list of reports and commissions and inquiries and work that’s been done, year in and year out, that’s been posted in the comments section.
Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada by the Human Rights Watch.
The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission.
Justice Reform for B.C. by the Community Legal Assistance Society, Pivot Legal, West Coast LEAF and B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
Getting to the Roots, a Downtown Eastside safety audit by the Downtown Eastside Women’s Coalition.
Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report from the Oppal Commission.
Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside by the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.
“Calls for Justice” from the final report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action.
I just wanted to read those into the record because they’re in the comments section, but it, I think, adds further emphasis to the points that are being made. We can continue to do these reports and inquiries and commissions and committees like we’re on right now, but it’s incumbent upon us to follow through — the experiences that you’ve shared in the four presentations that we’ve heard this afternoon — so that another committee in the near future isn’t sitting and listening to the lack of action that this committee has. I just wanted to put an emphasis on that and thank you for your advocacy of our mothers and sisters and grandmothers and nieces and aunties. I raise my hands to you.
D. Routley (Chair): I don’t see any more hands up. Unless members would like to…. Not seeing that, I will thank our presenters very, very much. Obviously, it’s really deeply important work. We’re hearing some really powerful presentations like yours. It’s also really helpful, informative and helps us feel as though we will have the material to make significant recommendations. We very much appreciate your help.
With that, I think the committee will recess.
The committee recessed from 3:45 p.m. to 4:06 p.m.