Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons has been named to lead the legislature’s special committee on reforming the provincial Police Act.
Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced the formation of the committee July 8, after promising in mid-June to undertake a review and “engage with communities and experts on how the 45-year-old [Police Act] can be modernized.”
Farnworth told the legislature the committee will report back by May 14, 2021 on “reforms related to independent oversight, transparency, governance, structure, service delivery, standards, funding, training and education, and any other considerations which may apply respecting the modernization and sustainability of policing.”
It’s also been tasked with looking into “the role of police with respect to complex social issues including mental health and wellness, addictions, and harm reduction” and “the scope of systemic racism within British Columbia’s police agencies, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, independent municipal police and designated policing units.”
Speaking during his weekly media briefing July 9, Premier John Horgan said the committee will span the province “to listen to British Columbians [and] to listen to people who are concerned about the lack of trust between law enforcement and community.”
“Dealing with systemic racism is a critically important part of that, but there are a whole host of other issues that can and will be addressed by this committee,” Horgan said.
Simons, who has an extensive background in criminology, including time as a crime prevention coordinator in the Northwest Territories and work with the NWT Law Reform Committee, said when he heard the province would launch a review of the act he told the premier he was interested in being involved.
He also said when he was named as chair, a position that still requires a vote of the committee to become official, he suggested the terms of reference be as broad as possible, “to address issues that we might not have addressed or might not have identified.”
The terms of reference cite funding as one of the areas to be explored, but Simons said it would be “presumptive” to predict whether the committee’s discussion will include the possibility of defunding police as some have called for.
“What I hear in the discussions in the public is issues around police involvement in mental health cases and substance abuse issues and I think that there’s plenty of space for a discussion about funding,” Simons said.
Simons also said the direction to examine “the scope of systemic racism within British Columbia’s police agencies,” as opposed to probing whether it exists, is an acknowledgement that there are elements of systemic racism in the institutions of government.
“You know it’s not a sudden realization. I think people argue over the definition of what exactly that means… What we’re looking at is an issue that the public has identified as an important one. Legislators have acknowledged that it is and we're going to look deep into the issues,” said Simons.
The other MLAs named to the all-party committee were Garry Begg, Bowinn Ma, Rachna Singh, Jas Johal, Mike Morris, Ellis Ross, Michelle Stilwell, and Adam Olsen.
You can hear our full interview with Nicholas Simons on Coast Reporter Radio www.coastreporter.net/audio