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Province’s policing consultation called a ‘farce’

Apr 26 2012

The B.C. government wants to hear what you have to say about policing — but they’re not making it easy.

The Justice Ministry on Wednesday announced its “public engagement” strategy — consisting of closed-door meetings with invite-only stakeholders and a blog that is not yet set up — to support the development of a 10-year policing plan.

The first “community roundtable” took place in Victoria, although the place and time of Wednesday’s meeting were not published. When the Times Colonist arrived at the meeting at the Inn at Laurel Point, a reporter was not allowed to hear the discussion. A spokeswoman said media were prohibited so that participants could speak freely about their ideas for policing reforms.

About 40 people — mostly the region’s police chiefs and politicians and B.C. police union representatives — were at the Victoria meeting. About 100 groups or individuals were invited, including police, social agencies, restorative-justice groups and First Nations.

The government would not provide an invitation list and it was only obtained through someone who attended the meeting. Neither the B.C. Civil Liberties Association nor the Pivot Legal Society, two groups that have been outspoken on the need for police reform, were on the list.

The only way the public can voice their opinions on policing is through “dialogue sessions” on a yet-to-be-created blog that will be launched in the next few weeks.

Robert Gordon, Simon Fraser University’s lead criminologist, called the strategy “a farce,” saying it is the government’s way of appearing to ask for public input while gathering information that will affirm the status quo or support incremental changes.

“The answer is not this kind of half-witted, half-baked attempt to consult online with people, but instead to bite the bullet and strike a blue-ribbon committee … a fully independent body that is going to examine the structure and organization of policing in this province,” Gordon said.

Gordon said the government seems completely tuned out to the lack of confidence British Columbians have in police.

An Angus Reid Public Opinion survey conducted in late March of more than 1,000 Canadians found British Columbians have the lowest confidence in their local police officers. The survey found that 27 per cent of British Columbians have faith in the RCMP, while 28 per cent have confidence in their municipal police forces, compared to about 40 per cent Canada-wide.

Gordon also questioned the timing of the meetings, wondering why the government would launch the discussions before the Missing Women’s Inquiry — which also focused on failures in the province’s fractured policing system — has wrapped up.

According to the agenda, stakeholders were asked about topics such as problems and responses to criminal activity, crime prevention and public safety, police resources and core responsibilities.

Since municipal politicians have been invited, it’s likely the discussion will also include the shaky start to the new 20-year RCMP contract. Mayors have said they were caught off guard by the recent RCMP pay raises.

The province has extended the deadline for municipalities to sign the RCMP contract to the end of May, since many mayors have said they want more information about the compensation package.

Justice Ministry roundtables are planned for Nanaimo, Vancouver, Surrey, Cranbrook, Prince George, Prince Rupert and Kelowna in the next few months.

Justice Minister Shirley Bond was in Prince George and not available for an interview.

In a statement, she said: “B.C.’s Policing Plan will help us modernize the justice sector and make it more transparent and responsive to B.C. families. I encourage British Columbians to provide their input as we develop the strategic policing plan.”

A report based on the online discussion and roundtables is to be published in the fall.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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