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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Human rights complaints against VicPD will go ahead: tribunal

Two complaints, by a current constable and former staff member, allege race-based discrimination

By Tori Marlan
January 3, 2023
Policing
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Human rights complaints against VicPD will go ahead: tribunal

Two complaints, by a current constable and former staff member, allege race-based discrimination

By Tori Marlan
Jan 3, 2023
Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily
Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily
Policing
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Human rights complaints against VicPD will go ahead: tribunal

Two complaints, by a current constable and former staff member, allege race-based discrimination

By Tori Marlan
January 3, 2023
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Human rights complaints against VicPD will go ahead: tribunal
Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily

VicPD is facing allegations of discrimination from two employees of colour. The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal decided in November to allow their human-rights complaints, filed in Jan. 2022 and Aug. 2021, to move forward.

Ten months after filing his complaint with the tribunal, First Nations constable Brad Meyer told Capital Daily, “It was good to get accepted, but it also triggered my PTSD quite a bit.”

Meyer’s complaint alleges that the treatment he endured during two decades of policing resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder—and that his condition was exacerbated by VicPD’s senior managers.

“Racial slurs made by other officers about First Nations people were made in front of not only myself but supervisors . . . with no reprimand or acknowledgment,” Meyer wrote. (Capital Daily has previously reported on PTSD in the department and its link to workplace culture.) The police board and the City of Victoria are also named in his complaint.

VicPD responded to a request for comment on the allegations with a statement from Esquimalt Mayor and co-chair of the police board Barb Desjardins. The statement did not address the allegations directly, citing the ongoing complaint process.

Meyer also claims that he was “scrutinized to a standard” different from that of white police officers, denied training opportunities that could lead to a higher rank and salary, and investigated under the Police Act for an off-duty argument he’d had at a union meeting with a white officer, who faced no such investigation.

Following that argument, the department placed Meyer on administrative leave. “I have been denied access to the department for 3yrs 4 months with no explanation,” he wrote in his complaint. “I have been denied access to our Gym facility which I pay Union Dues to use.”

According to his complaint, the department has refused to make the necessary accommodations for him to return to work, while white officers have been accommodated.

The Human Rights Tribunal screens all discrimination complaints to ensure that if the facts are proven they would constitute a breach of the BC Human Rights Code. Indigenous identity was added to the code last year as a distinct ground of discrimination, according to the tribunal’s latest annual report.

The other complaint was filed by Karen Hira, a South Asian UVic doctoral student who was recently awarded a Medal of Good Citizenship by the province and who worked as a civilian employee for VicPD for more than three-and-a-half years before quitting in frustration in August of 2021.

“I was having anxiety every day before I would go to work,” Hira told Capital Daily. “I would talk myself into going to work, because every day I just felt like, ‘I have to defend myself; I have to defend the communities I care about.’ It was exhausting. And even though I worked at the department, they didn't see me as a member of their team. I was always perceived as an outsider and treated just like it.”

Hira’s complaint, which also names the police board, alleges that she was subject to “discrimination, racist comments, and selective accountability” throughout her employment and that her repeated attempts to have VicPD’s leadership team address her concerns gained no traction.

She said the problems began shortly after she was hired in January of 2018.

Just weeks into her job as a research, audit, and policy analyst, an officer she’d never before met asked for her opinion of Black Lives Matter. After saying she supported the movement, “He just lost it,” she said. “He was like an inch from my face, saying, ‘They're all terrorists and gangbangers.’ He was yelling to the point that someone from down the hall came into the office and asked if everything was OK.”

Hira’s complaint details that incident and several others, as well as a reluctance on the part of senior managers to hold department members accountable for problematic behaviour.

After Hira provided the chief and deputies with a list of racist and discriminatory comments she’d been subject to, she wrote in her complaint, “No one asked me who the people who made the comments were or which positions they were in. I was essentially told that these were ‘opinions’ and people were allowed to have them.”

Hira also told Capital Daily that when the Inter-cultural Association of Greater Victoria released a community survey that included data related to BIPOC perceptions of police, the department’s senior managers dismissed it outright, “finding flaws in the data, even though none of them are researchers.” Disregarding the perception and feelings of BIPOC communities “happened on a regular basis” at the department, she said.

Taking her concerns to the Human Rights Tribunal was a last resort, she said, and happened only after non-fruitful exchanges with her sergeants and the department’s inspector, deputies, and chief. She said she and two other BIPOC employees even took their concerns to former Victoria mayor Lisa Helps, to no avail.

Helps told Capital Daily that she took Hira’s concerns seriously and “mobilized around them,” putting together a subcommittee of the police board to look at the culture of racism and gender-based discrimination at VicPD. The board also undertook an internal survey of the department.

But with only a “handful” of employees of colour, Hira said, that process seemed unnecessary. “You have three of them here telling you that there are issues," she recalls thinking. "Why are you putting out a survey?"

Helps, though, believes the survey was useful. “Those voices and lived experiences are important,” she said of Hira and the other two BIPOC employees, “but we wanted to take a wider temperature to understand if there might be other people in the department facing similar issues.”

The city, VicPD, and the police board have until Jan. 3 to respond to Meyer’s complaint, and the police board and VicPD have until Jan. 18 to respond to Hira's.

In the written statement, Desjardins said VicPD and the police board “are committed to supporting a workplace that is respectful, inclusive and equitable” and that they “cannot speak to the specifics of any individual complaints currently before them.”

Remedies for findings of discrimination under the Human Rights Code include  “cease and refrain” orders, mandated actions intended to correct problems, and financial compensation.

In 2016, the tribunal awarded a VicPD officer $20,000 for “injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect” after determining that the department had discriminated against him for his political beliefs. The officer was a member of the US-based group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and advocated for changes to drug laws. The department had directed him to refrain from participating in a harm-reduction conference, speaking to media, and speaking at a Green Party fundraiser.

Hira told Capital Daily that she started her job at VicPD hopeful that she could be a bridge to communities of colour. The department “completely lost that opportunity,” she said.

Her experience at VicPD now informs the topic of her doctoral research. She says she is looking at police leadership demographics and the experiences of BIPOC employees and police board members in municipal police departments in BC.

She recently reached out to VicPD with a request to interview human resources personnel about the department’s demographics and its policies related to equity, inclusion, and anti-racism, even suggesting that her supervisor could be the one to conduct the interviews, given her history with the department.

She said VicPD declined to participate—or even to forward her request for interviews to its employees: “They’re still doing what they can to refrain from allowing people of colour within the department to come forward and speak about their experiences.”

Article Author's Profile Picture
Tori Marlan
Investigative Reporter
contact@capitaldaily.ca

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