B.C.'s solicitor general agrees with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) on a greater need for ensuring police are accountable to civilian oversight under police boards.
A report released by the OPCC on Nov. 4 shows complaints against B.C. police rose in 2020-21.
However, the number of investigations declined, commissioner Clayton Pecknold said in his report to the legislature.
“There is an important public dialogue underway regarding police accountability and the need for reform,” Pecknold said. “Core to the modernization of policing is ensuring that the civilian governance of police is robust and that municipal police boards are equipped to perform their important work. Good governance is foundational to preventing and addressing systemic and repeated misconduct.”
That reform and modernization isn’t Pecknold’s responsibility, however. Changes to the province's Police Act sit with the provincial solicitor general and the legislature.
"As solicitor general, I know that the public needs to be able to trust the police so that police can be effective and efficient in keeping our communities safe," Mike Farnworth said in a statement to Glacier Media. "That is why I’m always very interested in steps we can take to increase the effectiveness of the police complaint process."
He said the B.C. government is developing a comprehensive police board training program to strengthen the governance and oversight role of the province's police boards.
"The province will also be working with the OPCC to build a training curriculum that will ensure police boards understand their role in the complaint process," Farnworth said.
“Government received the report from the Special Committee to Review the Police Complaint Process in late 2019. The ministry met with the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner to review the report and work is underway to implement those recommendations.”
Further, the solicitor general said, the government convened a Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act to address concerns about systemic biases and racism within policing.
"We also established a Policing and Public Safety Modernization Project with the vision of creating an equitable, efficient, and accountable public safety model for all British Columbians," he said. "The modernization project anticipates the special committee’s final recommendations in April 2022.”
Deputy commissioner Andrea Spindler confirmed recommendations for increased police oversight are expected in the spring.
Pecknold stressed the need for responsible oversight of police forces by their police boards — particularly as Surrey develops its own municipal force. He said changes to rules in how those boards and the forces they oversee operate can protect not only citizens but also officers.
His report said work continues to make police forces more responsive to complaints from the public as well as education on how to access that process. That’s in response to the Special Committee to Reform the Police Complaint Process’s November 2018 recommendations to the legislature.
“The effective governance and the independent oversight function of municipal police boards therefore correlates directly to upholding public confidence in the police and is foundational to the system of oversight and accountability in British Columbia,” Pecknold said.
Municipal police departments — including Abbotsford, Central Saanich, Nelson, New Westminster, Oak Bay, Port Moody, Saanich, Vancouver, Victoria, West Vancouver, Metro Vancouver Transit Police, Stl’atl’imx Tribal Police Service and the Organized Crime Agency of British Columbia — fall under OPCC jurisdiction.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.