Eighteen months after a Lord Byng Secondary student made a threatening anti-Black racist video, the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner wants the Vancouver Police Department to account for its actions in the case.
The commission sent a letter Wednesday to Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who also chairs the police board.
It asked the board to investigate the police department’s claim that it had decided not to recommend criminal charges partly in favour of informal “extrajudicial measures” and “sanctions” against the student.
The department cited the Youth Criminal Justice Act’s support for measures that hold offenders account without involving the criminal justice system.
But the commissioner’s letter notes that the act only allows extrajudicial measures and sanctions if they are “part of a program of sanctions that may be authorized by the attorney general” or officials given authority by the provincial cabinet.
The sanctions cited by police included the youth writing a letter of apology, offering to meet with the offended individuals and undertaking a self-education plan.
The request is not binding on the board. But it will be included, along with the board’s response, in the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner’s annual report later this year.
In an emailed statement to The Tyee, a police board spokesperson said the Vancouver Police Department will address the request during the board’s June 25 meeting.
The Tyee requested an interview with Stewart, but he was not made available.
The call for further investigation comes as both good news and a disappointment to the BC Community Alliance, an umbrella organization for Black Vancouverites and their allies.
“We’re happy that the OPCC is holding the police and the Vancouver Police Board to account, but we’re disappointed that the Vancouver Police Board and the Vancouver Police Department aren’t holding the actual accused student to account,” said Markiel Simpson, an alliance member.
“The VPD’s response to racialized hate was inadequate in this circumstance. They haven’t been able to actually discipline the accused student or protect the Black children and families, either.”
The alliance filed a complaint with the commissioner’s office April 8.
The alliance said the sanctions and measures the Vancouver Police Department took against the student were inadequate, alleging they were “self-imposed” by the student and “not meaningful.”
The student was also suspended, initially for three days that eventually became five weeks, before voluntarily transferring to another school in late 2018.
In a timeline of events released to The Tyee and other media last year, the offending student’s family said they initiated and created his self-imposed education plan and their offers to apologize to the affected students and school as a whole were rebuffed by the school and district.
A lack of school and district administration transparency over whether the student would return to Lord Byng ultimately led to two Black Lord Byng students transferring to other schools last year.
The first student who left had reported the video to school administrators in November 2018 and said that led to racist bullying that the school failed to address.
Simpson says the alliance would like Stewart and the Vancouver Police Board to meet with the group, the families involved and the Black community to seek systemic, long-term solutions to anti-Black racism and hate in the city.
“We have continued to hear here from multiple levels of government that hate has no place in Canada. The mayor himself came out condemning hate,” said Simpson. “However, if the Vancouver Police Board, which is chaired by the mayor, and the Vancouver Police Department were taking this seriously, they would ensure that community is at the centre of finding the solution, and that proper mechanisms are in place to ensure their safety. Words can only go so far.”
This wasn’t the first complaint made to the Vancouver Police Board or the Office of the Complaints Commissioner regarding this case.
Last August, the BC Community Alliance filed a complaint with the commissioner on behalf of an unnamed parent alleging the police department had broken public trust by refusing to charge the student with a crime.
The commissioner’s office found “no public trust issues” in how police handled the case.
However, the office recommended the police board require the police department to further investigate how the case was handled and report back to the board, who would relay the report to the alliance and the parent.
Another complaint from an unnamed parent about the involvement of the police department’s school liaison officer in investigating the case was filed in December. The commissioner asked the board to include it in the review of the first complaint.
The report from Vancouver police Supt. Michelle Davey was delivered to the board on Feb. 20 and contained claims about “extrajudicial measures” and “sanctions” made against the offending student.
The BC Community Alliance also filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal over the broader treatment of Black students by the Vancouver School Board. It’s in the preliminary stages.
But the alliance alleges the school board has made repeated attempts to have the complaint dismissed or limit its scope, maintaining only one student was impacted by the video, which included statements that the student wanted to kill Black people.
“It speaks to their inability to really understand racialized issues,” said Simpson. The police department and police board have also failed to understand the severity of the incident, he added, in addition to not meaningfully consulting the Black community.*
“To us, it’s so obvious that this is impacting the whole community, because we’re hearing from them. You take on the position of somebody that’s being hated on. Hate crimes in Vancouver are growing, and sure, only 12 of them have been documented, but whole groups feel like victims of those crimes.”
In an email to The Tyee, a school board spokesperson said it’s trying to narrow the scope of the case because a student has already filed a complaint with the human rights tribunal over the Lord Byng incident.
“This individual complaint raises all the same issues as the representative complaint,” the statement said. “The BCCA does not appear to have been aware that it was purporting to represent a student who had already chosen to proceed with their own complaint and retain their own legal counsel.”
The district does not want to engage in “duplicative proceedings addressing identical issues," the statement read. Since first meeting with the alliance at the beginning of the school year, the district has passed a new anti-racism policy and hired an expert to lead an assessment of district procedures.
In an email to The Tyee, an education ministry spokesperson told The Tyee the ministry is reviewing the complaint and will be responding.
* A previous version of this article stated the BC Community Alliance alleged the Vancouver School Board had not meaningfully consulted with the Black community. That was incorrect and we regret the error.