Despite new provincial rules that led to a 94 per cent drop in “street checks” by the VPD, Indigenous people in Vancouver are still far more likely than others to be stopped by police.

Article content

A coalition of civil rights groups panned a newly released audit of street checks overseen by the Vancouver Police Board, arguing that street checks were illegal and that they “disproportionately harm Indigenous and Black communities.”

The audit of every street check recorded by VPD officers in 2020 showed that the new rules cut street checks by more than 90 per cent — from 4,544 in 2019 to 87 people in 2020 — but that compared to the 10-year average from 2008-2017, overrepresentation of Indigenous people increased by nearly five percentage points.

The mandated annual audit is part of new rules introduced by the province in January 2020 intended to regulate the controversial process where police stop and question individuals who are not suspected of having committed a crime, often recording personal information in the process.

Despite the dramatic drop in the number of street checks conducted, Indigenous and Black people still faced a higher likelihood of being stopped. Twenty-three per cent of those stopped in 2020 were Indigenous — even though they are just over two per cent of the city’s population.


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

A 2018 review of a decade of street check data from the VPD showed that Black and Indigenous people were stopped and questioned by police at far higher rates than others. It led to a complaint with the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. The complaint is still under review.

The Vancouver Police Board did not answer emailed questions but provided a statement from Vice-Chari Barj Dhahan, saying the board supports “the community’s calls that it is time to end the racism that exists in all facets of our society.”

Critics argue that there are no legal statutes allowing for street checks and that the power imbalance between police and the marginalized and racialized communities most impacted by the practice effectively creates a form of psychological detention even though police call street checks “voluntary”.

“The issue is not whether there are 10 street checks or 10,000,” the BCCLA said in a statement. “The issue remains that there is no legal basis for street checks.”

There is some precedent in support of the BCCLA’s claim that street checks lack a legal basis. A 2019 ruling by the Supreme Court dismissed charges against a man detained by police without reasonable suspicion, writing “someone is ‘detained’ when an ordinary person in the same situation would think that they weren’t free to leave and had to comply with police demands.”


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

In its review of the audit, the Vancouver Police Board called street checks “voluntary” and “an important public safety tool.”

Chief Don Tom, Vice President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, disagreed.

“Slapping ‘voluntary’ on a street check policy does not change the fact that it is threatening to be questioned by a person with a gun in a uniform,” he said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that despite all data and calls for accountability, the Police Board continues to support police authority to conduct street checks.”

Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here