Martial Law

Vancouver’s New Gang Colours

The police are the biggest, most organized and most dangerous gang in the province and Vancouver is its head chapter. Forget about the Hell’s Angels, the Mafia or the Muppets–they all operate below the radar, concentrate mainly on drugs and primarily target each other. The police, meanwhile, proudly show off their gang colours, are knee-deep in criminal activity and are the most violent form of social control that exists.

Nowhere is the situation worse than in Vancouver. Despite numerous murders and countless beatings, the only Vancouver officers punished for criminal negligence were the ones that beat the crap out of the drug dealers in Stanley Park–and only because another officer ratted them out. Amazingly, the two that got canned are now appealing their firing. But while Chief Constable Jamie Graham continues to throw a shit fit whenever anyone dares criticize his paramilitary posse, provincial politicians have done nothing to keep the cops in check.

“There hasn’t been a public inquiry called [into the Vancouver Police Department] by the provincial government despite the incredible amount of evidence brought before them,” says Katrina Pacey, a member of the Pivot Legal Society, which is pushing for a public inquiry after Graham claimed none of their 50 allegations of police abuse were founded. “There’s no pressure from the public because the people that tend to be targeted by the police are marginalized. It’s our position that the government should respond, not just because it’s an issue that’s going to gain them support in the public eye, but because it’s a human rights issue.”

British Columbia’s top cop, Solicitor General and warlord Rich Coleman, is a former RCMP officer who has armed Skytrain cops and rejected calls for a public inquiry into the death of Frank Paul. But perhaps Coleman’s greatest legacy is his inaction to change civilian oversight–the complaints commissioner and police boards–despite overwhelming calls for reform.

“I think the most important thing is the complaint system,” says Murray Mollard, the executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association. “I express some disappointment with the provincial government’s lack of a timely response in reforming and fine tuning the [Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner] even though the original legislation came into effect in 1998.”

But Mollard does acknowledge that the Liberals made the right move when they appointed Dirk Ryneveld as complaints commissioner. Ryneveld is widely seen as tough but fair and is currently pushing for new legislation to embolden his office. The Liberals also received a major coup when BC Court of Appeal Justice Wally Oppal recently announced his decision to run for them in this election. The well respected judge led a massive provincial commission in the early 90s that looked into policing in BC and offered over 300 recommendations for reform–the majority of which have been ignored. However, whether Ryneveld and Oppal can get past Coleman’s soldiers is another matter.

“Obviously I’d be in favour of a more responsible type of policing and more decentralized type of policing and more policing…but again I want to remind you that it’s something the Solicitor General does,” said Oppal when asked if he would be pushing for police reforms if elected to office.

The NDP for their part have a much better track record with police reform, but it’s far from perfect. Jenny Kwan did present Pivot’s report to the legislature but the party has yet to make any mention of policing in their election campaign. While the complaints commissioner was created under the NDP’s watch, the party is just as guilty as the Liberals for failing to implement most of Oppal’s recommendations. Each party seems to need the police to keep the public in check. If a few heads get smashed, prostitutes go missing or drunks die, then it’s a small price to pay to keep the gang in business.

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