Victoria, B.C.’s 2014 street check rate second only to Edmonton

In 2014, Victoria, B.C. police officers street checked the city’s population at a higher rate than any other jurisdiction in Canada, with the exception of Edmonton.

Victoria police performed 3,059 street checks in 2014, equivalent to 3.18 per cent of Victoria and Esquimalt’s 2011 census population. For Canadian cities where I could find statistics, that made Victoria’s street check rate the second-highest in the country.

City or region

Street checks, 2014

% of population stopped

Source

Edmonton

27,172

3.35

Black Lives Matter Edmonton, 2017

Victoria

3,059

3.18

Victoria Police Department, 2017

Calgary

34,270

3.12

Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association, 2016

London

8,400

2.29

Toronto Star, 2015

Saskatoon

4,475

2.0

Globe and Mail, 2015

Halifax

6,798

1.7

Globe and Mail, 2015

Kingston

1,906

1.5

Globe and Mail, 2015

Medicine Hat

760

1.3

Globe and Mail, 2015

Vancouver

7,891

1.3

Globe and Mail, 2015

Peel Region

14,193

1.1

Globe and Mail, 2015

Montreal

10,735

0.7

Globe and Mail, 2015

Waterloo Region

3,304

0.65

Waterloo Region Record, 2015

Prince Albert

221

0.6

Globe and Mail, 2015

Ottawa

4,405

0.5

Globe and Mail, 2015

Windsor

953

0.5

Globe and Mail, 2015

Abbotsford

586

0.4

Globe and Mail, 2015

Toronto

11,202

0.4

Globe and Mail, 2015

Moose Jaw

46

0.1

Globe and Mail, 2015

Hamilton

188

0.04

Hamilton Spectator, 2015

*Note: For consistency, I used the Globe and Mail's method of comparing 2014 street check numbers against cities' 2011 census population, in order to find the approximate percentage of the population that was street checked. All of the non-Globe and Mail percentages are my own calculations. I also compared 2014 street check numbers against 2014 population data for the first five cities. While the percentages changed, the order stayed the same.

Street checks “typically involv[e] an officer stopping a community member, questioning them and entering information into a computer database,” the Globe and Mail writes. Victoria police say that they street check people they “suspect … [have] been involved in suspicious circumstances,” and that street checks happen “at the officer’s discretion.” Black Lives Matter Edmonton, and others, define street checks as “the practice of arbitrarily stopping and collection [of] information from individuals who are not suspected of committing a crime.”

I chose to look at 2014 statistics because the Globe and Mail’s research made it the easiest year to compare. When the Globe and Mail asked the Victoria police department for their 2014 street check stats, the department “refused to disclose” that information. However, when I asked for those stats two years later, they sent me the number of street checks by year.

Year

Street checks in Victoria

% of population stopped

2014

3,059

3.18% (2011 census data)

2015

2,822

2.93% (2011 census data)

2016

1,696

1.64% (2016 census data)

2017 (to 09/11/17)

1,009 [Est. 1,450 for year]

1.40% (2016 census data)

The police spokesperson added a caveat, saying “there is a wide range of reasons for a street check,” including “a bar ejection under the bar watch program.” Note that the bar watch program in Victoria has been under scrutiny “as a convenient tool for the police to track citizens.” While there might be multiple categories of street checks in Victoria, and the numbers show they’re falling, a review of what we know about street checks in Canada shows that the practice deserves serious scrutiny.

Reports this summer showed that Indigenous women are 9.7 times more likely to be street checked in Edmonton than white people; Alberta is now conducting a provincial review of street checks. Black people in Halifax are three times more likely to be street checked than white people. A survey in Saskatoon and Regina found that Indigenous students “are 1.6 times more likely to be stopped by police on the street compared to non-indigenous students.” Similar stories were reported in Ottawa, Kingston, and elsewhere. In January, the Ontario government made changes to limit police “carding” in the province.

A quick note about definitions. Police departments across the country have tried to differentiate Ontario’s “carding” from their own street checks. Desmond Cole, a vocal critic on this issue, says it’s a meaningless distinction, because in both cases police forces are stopping people not suspected of crimes and taking their information. Cole told Metro, “You can call it whatever you want. It’s illegal and it’s wrong. … And because it’s happening disproportionality to Black and Indigenous people, it’s racist.”

I asked the Victoria Police Department if it had reviewed its street check practices to see if visible minorities are disproportionately street checked, or if any review was planned. If no review had taken place, I asked if one was technically possible based on how the department currently tracks personal information. Their media spokesperson did not provide a comment by deadline.

For context, I’m a white guy who started asking about street checks when I was researching loitering enforcement in Victoria. I was requesting stats and filing FOIs while trying to document how loitering and trespassing laws continue to be disproportionately used against Victoria’s street community. As part of that work, I also requested information on street checks, thinking I might be able to compile stats on street checks and race in Victoria, to see if they’re being used in a discriminatory fashion.

In an interview, however, Cole points out that white people’s desire for street check stats — my desire for stats — in order to ‘prove’ that police discrimination is a thing, is problematic. When people require stats before they’ll believe there’s a problem with racist policing in Canada, he says, that means they “are not hearing, and particularly not believing, everyday stories and experiences of black and Indigenous people.”

There’s no need to wait on street check stats, because people have already told us policing in Victoria is racist. One-in-five people in a 2012 VIPIRG report, for example, said the police had treated them unequally or unfairly based on their race or ancestry. One person said they’d “been treated unequally because my name identifies me as Métis.” Another said that when they were homeless, the police would “leave me alone but would really be hassling the First Nations person.” Interviewees said “they experience regular police harassment based on their appearances or identities.”

People also reported police discrimination based on social status. Sixty-three per cent of VIPIRG’s respondents said they had received unfair or unequal treatment because of their status, “including being on the streets, poor, homeless, or using drugs.”

When other jurisdictions reviewed their street check practices, they found that they disproportionately targeted groups based on race or social status. And given the stories people have already shared in Victoria, I fully expect that to be the case here. By all means, the Victoria police department can disclose statistics on street checks so they can be subject to increased public scrutiny. But people have already said loud and clear that, regardless of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or any police codes of conduct or diversity training, racism in policing is a Canada-wide problem, and it’s a Victoria problem, too.

Stephen Harrison