This transcript is taken from the BC Legislature’s website.
Hogan’s Alley Society
L. Mugabo: First of all, thank you for inviting me to speak to you and make a presentation to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act. My name is Lama Mugabo. I’m a community planner and a founding member of Hogan’s Alley Society.
I work in the Downtown Eastside. Currently one of the projects I’m running is a food security project at Nora Hendrix Place, so I work with people who are low income and people who are Black and Indigenous. We know that this demographic is targeted by the police, given the information we’ve received through the Freedom of Information Act. On a daily basis, I’m told that when they’re walking down the street, they’re harassed. The worst thing they say is that when they’re confronted with an African-descent police officer, in their judgment, they probably try to perform well so that they are seen well.
We have four recommendations. The first one looks at the rate of civilian fatalities in police encounters in Canada. We know that piece has doubled since 1990. The rate of civilian deaths in police encounters has almost doubled since ’90. Police agencies don’t collect enough data regarding their interactions with civilians.
Also, provincial oversight bodies — such as the independent investigations office, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP and the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner — all lack independence. The data makes this clear.
RCMP, VPD and other police agencies have denied the existence of systemic racism. Even a former Supreme Court of Canada judge, Bastarache, found the RCMP incapable of internal systemic reform.
We’d also like to remind you that this is not new. We need innovative and urgent actions to help cops do the job they’re equipped to do and to let go of duties that they were never suited to perform. The Police Act is a great home for mandates that will inform policing priorities.
Here I would like to draw your attention to municipalities such as Wales and even New Zealand where they prioritize non-lethal alternatives. So what happens is that firearms are kept in the car, and police officers patrol without guns. They only get the guns if necessary. We want to de-escalate. What I find often is that with the presence of a gun, it encourages people to use it. If you don’t have it, you can de-escalate and resort to other tactics.
We also would like to explain the benefits of collecting disaggregated data not to vilify police but instead to help police and lawmakers understand the shortcomings of policing and respond accordingly with evidence-based policies.
We’d also like to bring to your attention a provincial police investigator with a large background — not a police background — to investigate long-term systemic issues or respond to inquiries from the public and to work with police agencies to advance reform, like the Office of the Correctional Investigator federally. This is really important for us because we need to work collaboratively. Without data, we can’t do this well.
We also want to incentivize police agencies and their public funders to redirect funding dedicated to mental health calls into clinical institutions. It’s clear that when police show up with guns, responding to a mental health situation or even domestic violence, the tendency is, because they have a gun, that very often someone ends up dead. And it’s not the police officer. So we need to find a way of being innovative, of engaging community while building trust and really find a way to build better, liveable communities. Thank you very much.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you very much for your presentation. We deeply appreciate that.
Members, it’s the time for your questions. Do I see hands? I see MLA Olsen.
A. Olsen: Thank you very much, Mr. Mugabo. You mentioned that you have four specific recommendations. I’m just wondering if you could provide them for us. I just want to give you an opportunity to repeat them in, like, one, two, three, four, just so that we can have them. I can keep them in my notes, and we can have them on the record in that way.
L. Mugabo: Oh, yes. I did send a copy. I hope you have it.
Quickly, the first recommendation. Mandate police agencies to adopt the approach that New Zealand and Wales took to firearms, looking at stringent and minimum use, only held in vehicles, prioritizing non-lethal alternatives. That’s one.
Two is to mandate police agencies to collect and distribute disaggregated data regarding their interactions with civilians.
Three. Establish an independent provincial policing investigator with a legal background, as opposed to policing, to address systemic issues regarding accountability.
The fourth and last recommendation is to incentivize police agencies and their public funders to redirect funds dedicated to mental health calls into clinical institutions.
D. Routley (Chair): Thank you.
R. Singh: Thank you so much, Mr. Mugabo, for your presentation and the important work that your organization does. Thank you for these recommendations as well.
You talk about…. I know how much work Hogan’s Alley is doing in addressing the systemic racism issues. You spelt it out in your presentation and also the slides that you have sent to us. You have talked about the number of incidents increasing.
How do you see…? Especially, I’m looking at the fourth part. And we have heard from other organizations, as well, about the social issues — police being challenged by the number of social issues that we are dealing with. You mentioned a little bit about the mental health issues, the barriers that people are facing, the intersectionality that comes into play. How do you see…? Would you have any examples of the jurisdictions? You gave the example of New Zealand and Wales, about not having weapons.
Would you have any examples of the organizations or the jurisdictions that have adopted different ways to address the social issues?
L. Mugabo: I think that municipalities south of the border…. I’m thinking New Jersey. I’m thinking about Berkeley.
I think what we are looking at now is to imagine policing without police. How do we build trust? How do we alleviate the impact of violence on the people? Really, when we talk about reallocating funds from the police to social services, what we are trying to explain is that very often police are called for things that they are not trained for — mental health. They’re not trained to de-escalate, to deal with mental health patients.
We would appreciate very much if the police were removed from this responsibility and replaced with people who can actually de-escalate. The other thing we find is that overpolicing our communities, like the Downtown Eastside, doesn’t really help. It doesn’t help build the trust. Also, I think that if these communities — if people had jobs, if people had mental health support, if they had good education and so on, you wouldn’t need the police.
Look at West Vancouver. You don’t have police 24-7. You don’t have police patrolling the streets. They don’t need to. I want us to really imagine — look at the long term — how we can get to where we want, how we can be responsible citizens.
R. Singh: Thank you so much on that, and especially your work in the Downtown Eastside. We have heard from the organizations there and the broken trust between the organizations, between the residents — especially on the vulnerable, marginalized sidelines — and between the police.
When police have come and talked about…. They talk about the initiatives that they are bringing in to build that trust, which are, practically, not working somehow. What would you like to say on that?
L. Mugabo: Yeah, I think we need better engagement with local communities. I remember when Hogan’s Alley Society met with the police for the first time, and we asked them about the stats that showed, disproportionately, how Black and Indigenous folks were targeted. They said they never read it.
For me, that’s really…. It’s disingenuous. When you come to meet people, you know what the issues are. Do your homework. Don’t hide, and don’t lie. Just be honest, because we need to build trust, and we have a long way to go.
Also, this whole idea of who is investigating the police — definitely don’t use ex-police officers. Don’t use people who are close to the police. Make it independent. Bring someone who knows the law, who can be objective, and let’s move forward. This cover-up, this lack of accountability, is what really drags down our trust. We need to learn from our mistakes.
R. Singh: Thank you so much, Mr. Mugabo. I really appreciate that.
D. Routley (Chair): At this point, I’m going to check with MLA Davies to see if he has a question.
D. Davies (Deputy Chair): I’m all good. Thank you, Chair.
And thank you for your presentation.
D. Routley (Chair): Then the next on the list is MLA Halford.
T. Halford: Just a quick question. Maybe if you can speak about your interactions in Vancouver with Car 87 and if that’s….
L. Mugabo: With who?
T. Halford: Car 87. Are you familiar with Car 87?
L. Mugabo: No.
T. Halford: Car 87. I’m not that overly familiar. I’m getting to be a little bit more familiar with it. But it’s a car that is dedicated for mental health services with the police that usually has a mental health nurse in it — mental health support.
I guess that’s probably something that you haven’t come across in your work down there, which is problematic, given your commitment down there. We need to make sure that you are aware of that program.
L. Mugabo: Yeah. Basically, my reaction to this is…. When I talk to people about mental health, people who live in the Downtown Eastside who interact with police, the sight of a uniformed police officer with a gun always triggers something negative.
I would prefer that the police don’t show up in this case but instead send social workers. We just need to de-escalate until we build enough trust, because the history tells us that the relationship between the police and people that they’re trying to protect hasn’t been very good. So yeah. I would stay away from the police and prioritize social workers.
K. Kirkpatrick: That was an interesting last comment you made about staying away from the police. There is that kind of stigma. And the Car 87 –– we’ve heard that comment, that there will be a hesitation sometimes. Regardless of whether there’s mental health support there, they’re still police.
I just wanted to thank you for the presentation. You’re a very good presenter. It was very succinct. The information was good and the clarity of the recommendations. Just to let you know, these are very similar recommendations. There’s certainly a theme in what you’re talking about. Thank you for that.
I know of the Hogan’s Alley work with PHS, the Portland Hotel Society. You guys do great work. I just have — whether this is relevant or not — a question about your funding. How does Hogan’s Alley get funded? Do you rely solely on donations, or do you get grants?
L. Mugabo: Yeah, we rely on grants — we write grants all the time — and donations. I must admit that last year was very fruitful for us, I think, because of the incidents around racial reckoning. We were very pleased to see a lot of donations coming our way, so we appreciate this support. Yeah, grants and fundraising.
K. Kirkpatrick: Great. Thank you very much for your time — much appreciated.
L. Mugabo: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.