Promised reforms to the law enforcement in B.C. have been delayed to next year, with final legislation not expected at least late 2026.
An all-party committee of MLAs made 11 recommendations in April 2022 for changes to the Police Act that focused on how officers respond to mental health calls, relations with Indigenous communities, and systemic racism in law enforcement. It also called for the creation of a provincial force that would replace the RCMP.
Last April, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said it would introduce the first proposed changes to the Police Act for consideration by the provincial government this fall.
But on Wednesday, a ministry spokesperson told Black Press Media the first amendments focusing on municipal police governance and oversight would not be brought to the Legislature before spring 2024. The final set of proposals won’t be tabled until late 2026 or 2027.
The delayed timeline, the ministry said, is required to complete consultation with Indigenous partners, local governments, police, human rights organizations and community groups.
“We needed to take the time required to ensure that we are listening, learning, and making changes that will work best for people and keep our communities safe.”
Calls to review the Police Act, which hasn’t received a significant revision since 1997, began in 2020 during Black Lives Matter protests.
The 2022 report includes a focus on change to policing of Black, Indigenous and peoples of colour, highlighted by the recommendation that Indigenous communities have direct input into their own police services.
It also calls for clearer policy on how officers respond to mental health calls, an emphasis on recruitment diversification, and a potential increase to municipalities’ share of policing costs.
But the recommendations have been criticized for overlooking other issues such as drug decriminalization, as well as suggesting a new, independent civilian-led oversight agency when B.C. already has two: the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner for municipal police forces, and the Independent Investigations Office of B.C., which investigates incidents of death or serious harm involving officers.
B.C. Civil Liberties Association policy director Meghan McDermott said the public safety ministry shouldn’t be delaying implementation of the recommendations with further consultation.
The association was among the the 411 organizations and individuals the all-party committee heard from during a consultation process that also included over 1,400 survey responses prior to releasing its recommendations.
Waiting for more input, McDermott said, could lead to the recommendations being watered down further before they are tabled.
“It just doesn’t make any sense to not deliver this sooner for the public. There’s so much at stake with these amendments. Each and every minute of every day, there can be interactions going on where people’s rights are potentially being violated or curtailed or suppressed in some way.”
Dr. Judith Sayers (Cloy-e-iis) of the BC First Nations Justice Council shares McDermott’s concerns.
Sayers said the council was unaware of the ministry’s timeline until contacted by Black Press Media, and that she is worried it could be impacted by the next provincial election scheduled for October 2024.
“The government should have acted immediately upon the recommendations when they came out, because we’ve lost all these months. We appreciate their willingness to work with us, but we’ve got to work at an accelerated timeframe if we’re going to make the changes that we need prior to the next election.”
On Wednesday, a report by Statistics Canada found Indigenous women and girls were killed at a rate six times higher than that of non-Indigenous women and girls between 2009 and 2021.
Cases involving Indigenous women and girls are also less likely to be solved than ones involving non-Indigenous women and girls.
“We want our own policing in rural and remote communities, and being able to serve the communities around us,” said Sayers. “There’s a lot of things that we want to do. So really hoping [Solicitor General Mike Farnworth] isn’t putting this off, and I will be having those conversations in my next meeting with him.”
McDermott wonders if the public will also have the same demands for policing reforms in 2026 that it did in 2020 when work on the recommendations began.
She called the Black Lives Matter movement, which began with the murder of American George Floyd by Minnesota police, “an inflection point” that she fears may wane.
“We saw a lot of protests in the streets, we saw people who cared, who got engaged with this. I just think the longer that we go from that moment in time where people have been so engaged … the public is and will be less engaged.”