It’s been four months since the Vancouver School Board decided to hire a consultant to look into whether armed police officers should be in schools, promising a report on the school liaison officer program by December.
But school board trustee Lois Chan-Pedley told the board’s policy and governance committee this week the report is now delayed by three to nine months because the district’s request for proposals from consultants was flawed.
“We have received a number of proposals to facilitate the review of the school liaison officer program. And when trustees and staff reviewed them, it became clear that the [request for proposals] itself needs to be revised so that we make sure that we have the engagement and consultation piece front and centre,” said Chan-Pedley, who chaired the meeting, which was livestreamed and recorded.
“We want to make sure that we hear from the community and students, and in particular the Black and Indigenous communities.”
But the committee did hear from six members of the Black community and one ally that night. Each speaker called for the immediate end of police in schools. No one spoke in favour of the program.
Ruby Smith Diaz, the first speaker of the evening, has Black and Latinx heritage.
“I am deeply disappointed that I have to be here, in this capacity today, shaming the Vancouver School Board and its failure to address police in schools that continues to perpetuate anti-Black racism in its district and compromises the safety of Black and Indigenous youth,” Smith Diaz said.
An artist and an educator, Smith Diaz said she led a professional development workshop for the district on incorporating Black histories and justice in the classroom.
At the committee meeting, she cited Black and Indigenous people whose deaths this year were directly or indirectly caused by Canadian police, including Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Rodney Levi, Chantel Moore and Anthony Aust.
Smith Diaz was the first among many speakers to point to Canadian policing history.
“The Royal Canadian Mounted Police was created to keep Indigenous peoples on reservations, to tear away Indigenous children and babies from their communities to be put into residential schools, and to ensure that runaway enslaved Africans were returned to the home of their ‘master,’” she said.
Police are also involved in the over-representation of Indigenous children in foster care, she added, raids on Indigenous protests and continued surveillance and criminalization of Black people.
“How can we claim to be creating inclusive and trauma-informed spaces for youth, when they are being actively retraumatized every day they walk down the school hallway or enter the classroom?”
Vancouver public schools have had the school liaison program since at least 1972. Originally, it trained students to be crossing guards.
Today there is one Vancouver police officer assigned to each of the district’s 17 high schools. Each high school has several elementary feeder schools, which officers also visit. The only exception are schools on the University of British Columbia lands policed by the RCMP.
While addressing crime in schools, school liaison officers also conduct programs like Here4Peers, a student mental health program, and the Churchill Strong student workout program at Churchill Secondary. The officers and their programming are solely funded by the Vancouver Police Department.
Following police-involved deaths in Canada and the U.S., there were calls to remove police from Vancouver schools.
That’s happened in other districts. Toronto removed officers from schools in 2017. Hamilton banned officers from schools on the same day the Vancouver School Board voted to keep their program in June. And Edmonton decided to remove officers for one year, while the board also conducts a review.
Before the June 22 board meeting, the Vancouver board received “hundreds” of messages from community members speaking out against police officers in schools. A petition calling for their removal has over 2,700 signatures.
But trustees and staff also reported receiving emails in favour of the program from students, parents, educators and district staff.
A motion at the June meeting to suspend the program while a review was conducted was defeated six to three, with only trustees Chan-Pedley, Barb Parrott and Jennifer Reddy voting in favour. None of the district trustees identifies as Black or Indigneous.
During that meeting, trustee Fraser Ballantyne spoke in favour of keeping cops in schools, saying “Caucasian” students must be heard.
“I think a number of trustees will be quite surprised to hear the level of their connectedness to this program,” he said.
At this week’s meeting, three of the seven speakers said the review process is a “tool of white supremacy.”
In an interview with The Tyee, Vancouver high school student Changich Baboth agreed.
“Period. It is a tool of white supremacy,” said Baboth, adding opponents of the program had to “fight to get to speak at that meeting, making them go through all these hoops.”
Chan-Pedley agreed the process to approve speakers was “messy” and apologized for the multiple emails and phone calls speakers received before being allowed to speak.
Baboth, who is Black, left Lord Byng Secondary school in 2019 after facing backlash for reporting a fellow student’s anti-Black racist death threat.
“They don’t understand how much it takes as Black and Indigenous people to speak on these issues and take the time out of their lives to do it. They don’t get it,” she said. “Everything the Vancouver School Board does is through a lens of white supremacy. It’s built on white supremacy.
“Even how the trustees run their meeting, it’s like capitalism, it’s this hierarchy. Everything is linked into white supremacy.”
Parker Johnson, the father of a Black student at Vancouver Technical Secondary, asked the sub-committee what the purpose of the school liaison officer program is.
“I’m just not sure where the need arises for having police in schools,” he said, or why the district is using scarce resources on a review.
“I would like to find out what information is currently available that makes what’s happening in Vancouver schools so different from other places that have removed police from schools.”
Deputy superintendent David Nelson said he did not have the answer in front of him. “That’s certainly information that would be valuable in the review process, to review past documentation provided around the scope of work and the impact of the SLO programs,” he said.
Markiel Simpson of the BC Community Alliance, an umbrella organization of Black community organizations and allies formed in response to the school district’s response to the threats at Lord Byng Secondary, also spoke at the meeting.
He told The Tyee it is troubling the school district doesn’t know why police are in schools.
“There’s been thousands of people vocally opposed. It doesn’t make good policy,” Simpson said. “We just want to know why the program exists, and if there isn’t a good reason why, then it isn’t worth defending.”
The review is scheduled to be discussed again at the next board committee meeting Dec. 2.