Victoria motion to send letter asking for school liaison officers to be reinstated narrowly passes

Victoria motion to send letter asking for school liaison officers to be reinstated narrowly passes
File photo of the Greater Victoria School District offices.

A Victoria council member motion to send a letter to the Greater Victoria School District (SD61) to reinstate school liaison officers narrowly passed in the committee of the whole.

After an hour-and-fifteen-minute discussion, the committee of the whole ultimately voted 5-4 to send the letter, after the motion was amended.

Coun. Stephen Hammond was one of the five who supported sending the letter, and said that although the presence of school liaison officers makes some students uncomfortable, we shouldn’t shy away from discomfort.

He outlined his history with being targeted by police or similar officials, including being detained at the Vancouver airport for pointing out to security officials that he was travelling with his husband, a few years before gay marriage was legal in Canada, the fact that Pride parades started due to riots against police treatment of gay people, and that “persons of colour, Indigenous Canadians still feel enormous amount of discrimination, as do gay and other sexual minorities.”

“But when we talk about Victoria and the Victoria Police Department, students of colour do not usually face the blatant discrimination by our police,” Hammond said.

“Life isn’t a fun house. Some days, many of us feel it’s everything we can do just to get out of bed and face the cruel and unfair realities of life, but we do and we must. And when those kids feel discomfort, whether from police, from bullies, from teachers, from friends, from gangs or from anywhere else, we talk about it and we find ways to improve their situation.”

“The students of Victoria won’t end their discomfort by not interacting with police in schools, but there’s a better chance they will when there are programs designed with involvement from parents, schools, police and students specifically to help students know they can go to police when they can get help.”

Couns. Marg Gardiner, Krista Loughton, Chris Coleman, Hammond and Mayor Marianne Alto all voted in favour of sending the letter to the school board.

The amended motion requests the mayor write a letter to the Greater Victoria school board asking for the rationale for why it ended the school liaison program, urges the school board to “engage directly with diverse community interests,” and asks that the school liaison officers be reinstated.

READ MORE FROM 2023: SD 61 board unanimously votes to end school police liaison program

Coun. Dave Thompson noted that he supported these amendments put forward by the mayor because “it makes it a lot clearer what we’re voting on here, and what we’re voting on is a request for information about the decision and we’re requesting reinstatement without paying any attention to what that information says,” Thompson said.

“This really shows us that we are doing decision before evidence and for that reason, I’ll be voting against the motion.”

Thompson was joined by Couns. Jeremy Caradonna, Matt Dell and Susan Kim in voting against the motion asking for liaison officers to be reinstated.

Loughton spoke in favour of sending the letter, saying in her role on the Victoria Family Court and Youth Justice Committee, she hears from the Mobile Youth Services Team (MYST) that there is an increase in need for these programs.

“At the Family Court and Youth Justice, we’ve actually asked for the province to implement three more of these [MYST] teams because that’s what’s seen as being required,” Loughton said.

“When I reached out to MYST to talk about this situation (the removal of school liaison officers), it’s negatively impacting them. It’s running them off their feet because when there’s an issue in the school, they’re called or a police officer who isn’t aware of the the dynamics and a school comes in cold.”

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(Saanich Police Department/Facebook)

Dell noted he could not support sending the letter to the school board, because he does not have enough information on what the liaison officer program looks like, and how the officers are deployed in schools.

“Normally, when a decision like this would come to a body, [it] should be full of reports, data, that type of thing, and this was a one-page motion on an issue I don’t know anything about that’s clearly quite controversial,” Dell said.

“I actually don’t know how the program works. I’d like to see what the schedule looks like. You know, how does this program go to different schools? When an officer shows up, what does the day look like? Are they just going into classrooms? What kind of things are they talking about? Are they hanging out at the doors? I actually have zero idea so it’s kind of asking me to vote on something that’s one, outside of my lane. In my opinion, it’s a school board decision.”

Dell tried to introduce a motion to delay a decision on this motion until after Victoria Police Chief Del Manak’s next presentation to council, which would give them a chance to ask him the questions on what the police liaison officer program looks like in schools, were it to be reinstated. The motion to delay failed 6-3 with only Dell, Thompson and Caradonna in favour.

Victoria Police removed its school liaison officer program in 2018, five years prior to the school board ending the program district wide, when it redeployed its school liaison officers to the front lines after Esquimalt council chose to not fund an additional six officers for the department.

Victoria Police did not reinstate the school liaison officer program after the province ordered Esquimalt to pay for the six additional officers.

READ MORE: Province orders hiring of six VicPD officers

Saanich Police, Oak Bay Police and the West Shore RCMP continued to provide school liaison officers in SD61 schools in their jurisdiction up until the point the district voted to end the program in 2023.

CHEK News has asked these four police departments for data on gang recruitment and youth arrests comparing when the program was still in place to after it was removed. Saanich Police and West Shore RCMP said they would need time to compile the data.

Saanich Police previously reported that youth arrests were up, with 19 youth arrests in the 2021/2022 school year, 24 in the 2022/2023 school year and 26 thus far in the 2023/2024 school year.

Oak Bay Police said while there hasn’t been an increase in youth arrests, “what we have experienced is an increase in reported incidents related to our school community where a police file has been generated and our front-line officers are responding and investigating.”

The department did not provide numbers on this and CHEK News has requested those numbers. In the 2021/2022 school year the department made five youth arrests, zero in the 2022/2023 school year, and one thus far in the 2023/2024 school year.

VicPD has not yet responded to CHEK’s request.

Gang recruitment in schools

Gardiner, who brought the motion forward, says police media releases have been saying there is an increase in gang recruitment in schools, indicating a need for the return of liaison officers.

“We have learned over the last year that, increasingly, a primary target of gang activity has been our youth with gang recruitment through schools,” Gardiner said.

“In early March we heard of the arrest of a person who had been seen selling vape products to youth in two schools in the region and interaction with youth at a third school. Upon arrest, the police seized four imitation firearms, three knives and hundreds of nicotine and cannabis vapes.”

Kim spoke against the motion, noting in part that when the BC Human Rights Commissioner recommended the removal of liaison officers from schools, she said it was due to a lack of Canadian or B.C.-based evidence looking at either the harm or benefit of the programs.

“In other words, we don’t even have the quantitative data to show if it’s good or bad,” Kim said. “And frankly, aren’t we a council that tries to show off the fact that we make data-driven decisions?”

She also said that the program is harmful because “at the very best, it creates a stressful environment for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) and queer students, but at the very worst, could end up with violence towards kids.”

Kim also pointed to a BC Teachers’ Federation 2022 report on school liaison officers that said that many BIPOC teachers that the federation spoke with said they felt “uncomfortable, intimidated, fearful, and unsafe with police presence in schools. These fears were most strongly articulated by Indigenous participants.”

This motion came before committee of the whole after Saanich passed a similar motion last month.


Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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