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Salish Sea Sentinel | November 13, 2019

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BCCLA launches ‘Policing Indigenous Communities’ project

The B.C. Civil Liberties Foundation (BCCLA) has launched a multi-year initiative to address negative impacts of policing in Indigenous communities.  

The Policing Indigenous Communities project went live in April with funding from the Vancouver Foundation. 

The project builds on previous work that BCCLA has done on police accountability for more than 50 years — BCCLA is an independent, non-political legal society and has a mandate to promote, defend and extend civil liberties and human rights. 

The work on Policing Indigenous Communities is being done in partnership with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and other Indigenous organizations. 

BCCLA community lawyer Dylan Mazur said the initiative has begun by looking at pre-trial release conditions in B.C. 

“We wanted to look at how Indigenous people are disproportionately impacted by policing,” he said. 

“Research has been done on the effects of pre-trial release on marginalized communities, but not a lot of research has been done on the disproportionate impact on Indigenous communities.” 
Mazur said he starts becoming more aware of issues with certain pre-trial release conditions when he was working in rural communities in Northern B.C. 

He said the conditions given to people awaiting trial during their arrest or a bail hearing can sometimes not account for the different realities for Indigenous people living on reserve. 

For example, if someone from a rural community is given geographical restrictions to stay within a certain small area, they might not be able to do basic activities such as go home, get groceries or go to a bank, without breaching the condition.  

“If people are given unreasonable conditions of pre-trial release, because of a whole number of factors, they breach these conditions,” Mazur said. 

“Then what can happen is the charges start to build … and if they go to trial, potentially what can happen is you can have fewer ability to negotiate with Crown, potentially you have higher sentences.” 
He said one researcher who did work in this area referred to that system as a “revolving door” for people who get charged, breach conditions, and end up back in court.  

“We wanted to look at how these conditions are impacting people in rural and remote areas,” he said. 
“Not simply to do research but to also produce practice tools for Indigenous people and people in general who are self-represented and for defence lawyers, potentially police, as well, and judges.” 

The initiative will expand this Fall to review the inclusion of Indigenous justice systems within the police complaints project against the RCMP, and Mazur said it will keep growing into different areas. 

For now, BCCLA is offering public legal information “Know Your Rights” workshops to Indigenous communities and service providers to outline what people’s rights are when dealing with police. 

“I want people to know that we are really interested in hearing from them,” Mazur said. 

“We want to reach outside of the Lower Mainland, and get in touch with people who are interested in Know Your Rights work or in being able to contribute to this project. One of the ways is looking at people’s experience of what these conditions has been.” 

More information can be found at https://bccla.org/the-policing-indigenous-communities-initiative, or Mazur can be contacted directly at dylan@bccla.org.