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School liaison meeting 'a fiasco,' Vancouver police board member resigns

VPD's African descent advisory committee walks out of meeting, Rachel Roy quits.
Parker Johnson of the Vancouver Police Department’s African descent advisory committee called Thursday’s police board meeting “a fiasco.”

Members of the Vancouver police’s African descent advisory committee walked out of a police board meeting Thursday after being informed that a vote on the controversial return of a school liaison officer program had already been made and approved last fall.

The news delivered at the beginning of the meeting by police board vice-chairperson Faye Wightman also led member Rachel Roy to announce she would be tendering her resignation, saying she felt she had been lied to about a vote occurring Thursday.

Wightman apologized for what she described as a misunderstanding, saying the board in November 2022 had approved the VPD’s overall budget for 2023, which included funds dedicated to the school liaison officer (SLO) program.

The board’s 2023 public documents, however, do not show a line item for the SLO program, or an attached budget, which the department has yet to publicly disclose, despite previous requests by Glacier Media.

Wightman also clearly said at the board’s last meeting in April that there would be a vote on the program at the June 15 meeting. That’s what prompted Parker Johnson, Sadie Kuehn and other members of the VPD’s African descent advisory committee to attend Thursday’s meeting.

“We've met with the board, we've met with your research group, and we assume that there's going to be some engagement with what we had to share,” Johnson said from a lectern.

“What we're hearing now though, is that despite us sharing this information, a decision has already been made. So it's merely going to be filed, and so we are quite disappointed.”

Added Johnson: “What is being done right now, in our minds, is a fiasco. And you wasted our time asking us to come to a meeting, which you've already made a decision on. And so it seems like a bold-faced lie.”

'Wasting my time'

Kuehn spoke next, saying it was “insulting” to have people on an advisory group give up their time, energy, expertise and skills to advise the VPD on matters related to the Black community when a vote had already occurred.

“Everyone in this room, whether they are police, or trustees, or lawyers or whatever know that we live in a society, in a culture that is biased and bigoted…and certain people are not seen to be fully human,” she said.

“I am tired of wasting my time in justifying building communities that represent everybody — and demonstrates that — just to be rolled over by people who are totally incapable of following their basic responsibilities.”

A letter from Kuehn and the committee was sent to the board Monday, stating it did not support reinstatement of the SLO program, which was scrapped by the previous school board in May 2021.

“Black, Indigenous and other racialized students have repeatedly stated that the school liaison program causes harm, and their voices are not being heard,” said the letter obtained by Glacier Media.

“The harm indicated includes concerns about surveillance, intelligence gathering, profiling and discomfort around having firearms present.”

The letter further stated that based on this “documented harm” that the SLO program, past and reimagined, is in contravention of the BC School Act legislation “to protect every child in their care.”

'Systemic racism'

The previous board cancelled the program, which had been in place since 1972, after hearing from Black and Indigenous students who felt threatened by officers’ presence — concerns that were reflected in the Argyle consultant’s report released in March 2021.

“Students who self-identified as Black and Indigenous were more likely to mention police as symbols of larger societal concerns, including systemic racism, oppression, and abuses of power,” said the report, which heard from more than 1,900 participants via interviews, meetings, surveys, written statements and focus groups.

“These comments often reflected personal, lived experience with [school liaison officers] and policing in their communities.”

A newly elected school board voted last fall to reinstate the program, although it was up to the police board to decide whether it should go ahead.

Glacier Media reported in April that VPD were still finalizing types of uniforms, unmarked cars and number of officers, with Wightman saying at the time: "To remind the board, we're not asking for approval at this date. [The police] will come back in June with a final presentation in terms of what it is."

Vancouver Police Board member Rachel Roy announced at Thursday's meeting that she was resigning. Photo Mike Howell

'Dereliction of our duty'

Roy, who has been a board member for more than two years, told reporters after the meeting that the board could have stopped the program. At the meeting in April, she raised concerns over officers wearing guns — and raised the same point Thursday.

“The breaking point today was when we were deprived of the opportunity to vote on this — we came here expecting that,” Roy said. “A decision was made — apparently — that the board could not vote on this. It's a serious governance issue. In my view, it's a dereliction of our duty as board members under the Police Act.”

Roy said she didn’t recall voting specifically on a reimagined SLO program at the board’s budget vote in November 2022. Though new investments listed in the public documents indicated 100 new officers would be hired, it was not spelled out where those officers would be deployed.

“[The school board] might have voted to approve the program, city council may have said we're going to send you a bunch of money, but it is still up to the board and the department to determine what to do with that,” she said.

The board did hear an update on the program Thursday from Deputy Chief Fiona Wilson, although many of the details were shared in an April presentation from Insp. Gary Hiar.

'Probably shouldn't have used those words'

Wightman said in an interview following the meeting that she wanted to take ownership of "her error" at the April meeting when she said the program was going to a vote at Thursday’s meeting.

“I used those words, and I probably shouldn't have used those words because that led to an expectation that there was going to be a vote,” she said.

“This has been a lesson for us, as well, in terms of when we approve the budget. I think in all of our minds, [the school liaison program] was subject to coming back and telling us what the elements are [of the program] because we approved the budget [in November 2022], which included the SLO program.”

Police Chief Adam Palmer told reporters that the department had a "great working relationship" with the African descent advisory committee, which includes two former VPD officers.

Asked for his response to the committee walking out of the meeting and Roy's resignation, Palmer said:

"When we're talking about something like school liaison officers, it's a very hot topic. It's controversial. Not everybody is going to be in favour of it. Many people are, but it's one of those things where you will never get everybody aligned. So we do want to work with people going forward to make it the best program possible and we still want to get input from our African descent advisory committee on that. So we value that relationship very much."

Mayor Ken Sim, who doubles as chairperson of the police board, shared during the meeting that he was "personally preyed on" by the Lotus and Red Eagles gangs when he attended Churchill secondary school.

"You were either on the program, or you got the crap beaten out of you," said Sim, whose ABC Vancouver party campaigned in last year's election on reinstating the SLO program. "For me personally, if it wasn't for the SLO program, I would have had some serious physical harm, or in a gang, or I'd be dead."