VANCOUVER — B.C.’s human rights commissioner is calling for the end of liaison officer programs that put police in schools just as Vancouver's school board prepares to vote on a motion to bring them back.
In a letter to the B.C. School Trustees Association, commissioner Kasari Govender recommends that the programs be ended by all districts unless they can demonstrate an evidence-based need for them that can't be met some other way.
The letter, dated Nov. 25, came ahead of an expected vote by the Vancouver School Board on Monday on a motion that would reinstate a "revised and reimagined" version of the program in public schools after it was ended last year.
"It is troubling that the (Vancouver School Board) motion implies, without evidence, that (liaison officers) are necessary for school and community safety and that tweaks to the construct will be sufficient to address community concerns of harm and discrimination," the letter says.
Govender says Indigenous, Black and other marginalized students, as well as their parents and communities, have raised significant concerns about the harm caused by having police in schools.
She says a study last year concluded that there's little research on Canadian programs but those in the United States have been found to make marginalized students feel less safe, contributing to a sense of criminalization, and that officers discipline Black students and students with disabilities at disproportionately high rates.
The decision to end the Vancouver liaison program in 2021 was made after a review prompted by concerns that uniformed officers make some students anxious or upset, including many identifying themselves as Black, Indigenous or people of colour.
The change was supported by several groups, including the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council and associations representing elementary and secondary school teachers in the city.
The motion to reinstate the program, tabled by trustee Preeti Faridkot, calls for the implementation of a new program no later than September 2023.
The motion says that after the discontinuation of the program, the city has seen a "marked increase" in incidents involving Vancouver youth, including swarmings, robberies and attacks on teens.
"The election of a new school board on Oct. 15, 2022, and the demonstrable lack of community consensus surrounding the discontinuance of the program, offers the incoming board an opportunity to implement a reimagined (liaison) that addresses the needs and concerns of students and stakeholders," it says.
The ABC Vancouver party campaigned on a promise to bring back police liaisons. Four of the board's nine members belong to ABC, while a fifth lost his endorsement from the party before winning as an Independent.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said ABC has a majority on the Vancouver School Board.