National report details police-involved deaths in B.C. between 2000 and 2022

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A report into police-involved deaths across Canada said 704 people have been killed or died during police use-of-force encounters since 2000, with 141 of them in B.C.

The report, named Police-involved deaths on the Rise across Canada, said there had been a 66.5-per cent rise in deaths associated with police use of force, comparing stats from 2011 to 2022 with the previous 10-year period.

In B.C., 2022 had the most police-involved deaths with 19 fatalities, according to the statistics. The second most was 10 in 2015.

The leading author, Alexander McClelland, said the report is the first of its kind with the goal of bringing more transparency to the deaths.

“Due to ongoing systemic issues with a lack of access, transparency, and consistency in reporting data on police-involved deaths and killings across Canada, tracking this issue is an imperfect and challenging process,” said McClelland, an assistant professor at the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Carleton University.

“While our data is limited, our findings indicate a steep rise in deaths. Police killed 69 people in 2022, setting a grim record with the highest number of known police use of force deaths in one year.”

The gaps in data are acknowledged by the author, especially data that addresses what precipitated the interactions with police, whether the people who died carried or used weapons or engaged in behaviour that threatened the officers’ lives.

McClelland said the report is a step in the right direction, and he hopes the work done will encourage more research and statistics to shed light on the deaths.

“Surprisingly, there is no government body that tracks the number of police-involved deaths using force across Canada,” he said.

“Other countries have systems that do this, like the U.K. and Australia.”

The report shows the RCMP, as well as Quebec and Ontario’s provincial police, are implicated in many of the cases. In B.C., there are a number of municipal police forces, including Vancouver and Abbotsford, that operate within the province along with the B.C. RCMP, which contributes to statistics.

A B.C. RCMP official said the more commonly-used term within the law enforcement community for these types of deaths is “in-custody deaths” (I-CDs), however, it does not include fatal officer-involved shootings.

Fatal shootings amount to 73 per cent of police-involved deaths since 2000 across Canada, according to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, a partner in the study.

“We respect and acknowledge that real people were involved in all of these incidents and continue to be impacted by them,” said B.C. RCMP Staff Sgt. Kris Clark.

“Each situation has unique circumstances and complexities.”

“Ultimately, there is no single factor that can be addressed to eliminate I-CDs as the public safety needs of our communities are ever-changing and evolving. Policing is an inherently dangerous profession and our officers are asked to deal with violent subjects, overdose victims, mental health crises, and everything in between, to keep our communities safe.

“As a result of our officers’ training and professionalism, the overwhelming majority (99.9 percent) of all police interactions are resolved without injury, death or even the use of police intervention options.”

RCMP defines an I-CD as:

  • An incident where a person died while under police care and control, arrest, and/or detention; or while in a police facility or transport.
  • Police presence alone is not enough for an incident to be considered an I-CD.
  • Not every encounter between police and members of the public is a detention. Detention requires physical or psychological restraint. Psychological detention occurs when there is a legal obligation to comply with a request from the police, or when a reasonable person would conclude there is no choice but to comply with such a demand.
  • A death can be defined as an I-CD, even after a person has been released from custody depending on many factors, where a link between their death and earlier detention could be made.

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIO BC), the provincial police watchdog, which investigates every police-involved death including shootings, said it’s hard to draw conclusions from the statistics without the context of every specific case.

“The data, with respect to the rates of use of force leading to death, is consistent with what we’ve seen in B.C., however, I’m not sure much can be drawn from it,” Ron MacDonald said, IIO BC’s chief civilian officer.

“It is the case that the rates have gone up in the last three years. To be fair, in B.C. in the last year, we have seen a very significant increase in officer-involved shootings. Normally we see around seven a year and this year we will be around twenty-four, so triple the number.

“In a large number of those cases, we’ve seen people with firearms confronting police. What the cause of that is, is hard to say.”

The B.C. RCMP has also pointed to the IIO BC’s investigations into police-involved shootings as an indicator that in many of the incidents police actions have been justified.

“It’s important to note that, in B.C., of the cases that have been investigated independently by the IIO, the vast majority of those investigations have concluded with their chief civilian director determining that they did not consider that any officer may have committed an offence under any enactment,” Clark said.

According to the national report, while it acknowledges there are a “significant number of unknowns that exist” when it comes to identifying race of the victim, Black and Indigenous people are overrepresented in the number of deaths.

Black and Indigenous people comprise 27.2  per cent of police-involved shooting deaths across Canada, despite making up just under nine per cent of the population, the report said.

“These numbers, these deaths, must be situated in a context of systemic discrimination within the criminal justice system,” Christa Big Canoe said, Aboriginal Legal Services’ legal director.

“While we have known anecdotally that Indigenous people are overrepresented in police use of force-involved deaths in Canada, this data provides us a clear picture of ongoing colonial racial injustice. While 5.1 per cent of people living in Canada are Indigenous, 16.2 per cent of people killed in police-involved deaths are Indigenous.”

The report and ongoing project’s goal is to document all deaths that occur during police operations, as well as all deaths that occur in Canada’s jails, prisons, immigration detention, or forensic psychiatry centres. The report was done by Tracking in Justice.

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