A submission to the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority police board

Seven Oaks Magazine

The transit police force used tasers six times since July of 2007.  The public deserves to know when, where, how and why?

Remarks by Am Johal, Civil Society Development
Project, to the GVTA Police Board – January 14th, 2008

With the recent death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport, the public has been asking pointed questions of law enforcement agencies regarding taser use.  The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP responded by ordering a review.  As part of that process, the Commission released an interim series of recommendations in early December.  I have forwarded a letter from Jenny Kwan and Mike Farnworth that asks the same questions of the GVTA Police Board that was forwarded to the Vancouver Police Board following that report.

It is my understanding that all provincial police forces are adopting those recommendations and hearing that directly from the Board would be helpful for the public to gain the confidence of this new police board and police force.

The transit police force used tasers six times since July of 2007.  The public deserves to know when, where, how and why?

Furthermore, specific to the GVTA Police Board, the ongoing issue of the governance of the board remains a major issue.

In my personal view, the governance of the board is reflective of bureaucratic, political and policing disconnection from the public interest and directly undermines basic standards associated with the democratic governance of policing.  The lack of public involvement has resulted in this current, distorted and biased, entity.

This Board should not just be democratic, it should be seen to be democratic.

In my view, every policing representative should be removed from the Board by the end of January 2008 at the very latest.

A long time ago, Max Weber, the father of sociology, observed in a book called Politics as a Vocation, that states arrogate to themselves a monopoly on the legitimate use violence in society – I would argue that with that comes an awesome responsibility.

Public oversight by non-policing and non-bureaucratic representatives has become a basic democratic principle that should never be compromised or delegated away without reasonable deliberation. Unfortunately, the structure of this board and the process which led to its creation does not meet this rudimentary test.

The idea that this force, which currently has 120 members and will by next year move to 200 members, carries lethal weapons including guns and tasers raises serious questions about the role of the Board – the board should be representative of the public much like any municipal police force in Metro Vancouver.

The very existence of this board, in its present form, is an affront to democracy and a total embarrassment that it exists at all in Canada in the 21st Century.

The idea that the current composition of the Board could possibly be justified by the fact that this is a new police force which crosses jurisdictions is an irrational argument by its very premise – it is reflective of policy planning which does not involve the public in any meaningful way.

If there are jurisdictional issues, then, by all means, set up an advisory board that has policing input – it shouldn’t be used as an excuse, nor should it be a chimera, to justify policing representation on the Board.

The Solicitor General of the Province needs to stand up and act in the public interest and remove policing representatives from this Board immediately. Otherwise, it remains a public body without democratic legitimacy.

We need the public to oversee and set policies for a police force which carries guns and tasers, and which will have over 200 officers by next year.

Anything less than that, in my view, is unacceptable.

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