Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins has a different take on police street checks than Victoria council.
Desjardins, who is also the lead co-chair of the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board, says police are not using street checks – the act of stopping and recording information from people who aren’t official suspects in a criminal offense – but are using “compassionate check-ins” with people in the town.
She says the two municipalities have different policing needs.
“This is really one of those things that challenges our department – the fact that you have two very different communities with two very different sets of needs and two very different sets of directions,” she said. “We don’t have the bars, we don’t have the tourism, we’re not the core community … we don’t have the homelessness problem. We don’t have the things that heighten the challenges for downtown Victoria and certainly not to the same extent.”
On July 23, Victoria council voted unanimously to seek a ban on street checks. The decision came as part of an effort to address racism in the community and society at large.
Data from VicPD shows that in 2016, 84 per cent of people street checked were not visible minorities, though they composed 82 per cent of the population.
Indigenous people made up six per cent of total street checks but were 4.8 per cent of the population. Ethnic data was not reported for six per cent of total street checks.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and dozens of other organizations have put out a call to ban the practice, which is known to disproportionately target Indigenous, Black and people of colour.
Desjardins points to statements by Victoria Police Chief Del Manak, who said the police force doesn’t support random or arbitrary stops, but does support officers “initiating conversations” where there is a “reasonable and unbiased reason to do so.”
“Our police force is already not doing improper street checks, so I’m not sure what the issue is,” Desjardins said. “Our police officers do a lot of extra training around understanding their personal bias [and] overcoming discrimination. Certainly everything I’ve seen in Esquimalt when it comes to a street check is done with compassion and understanding and it’s not done unless there’s a reason to do it.”
Esquimalt council is on break until mid-August. Desjardins emphasizes that she speaks only from her own opinion.
The matter is set to be discussed at the next Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board meeting Sept. 15.