Are Indigenous people especially vulnerable to racism by police? Tribunal to consider issue in Vancouver case


Deborah Campbell accuses the Vancouver police of mistreatment.

Campbell claimed that she was wronged because of her race. She is Indigenous.

A hearing on her complaint before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal starts in September this year.

In support of her complaint, Campbell sought the admission of an expert report by Bruce Miller, a professor of anthropology at UBC.

In his report, Miller answers four questions asked by Campbell:

  • Does mainstream Canadian society hold prejudicial attitudes or stereotypes about Indigenous people? [Question 1]
  • Are Indigenous people especially vulnerable to over‐policing, racial profiling or other forms of racism by police? If so, what is the impact or effect on Indigenous people? [Question 2]
  • Did over‐policing, racial profiling or any other form of racism play a role in how the VPB or individual officers interacted with Ms. Campbell? [Question 3]
  • If Ms. Campbell was subject to over‐policing, racial profiling or other form of racism by the VPB, what is the impact or effect on her? [Question 4]

The Vancouver Police Board (VPB), which is chaired by the city mayor, objects to the admissibility of Miller’s report.

Tribunal member Devyn Cousineau granted part of the board’s application.

Miller’s opinion on Questions 3 and 4 are not accepted.

In reasons for preliminary decision dated June 25, 2019, Cousineau wrote that “from a reading of the Report that the portion which answers Questions 3 and 4 is outside the scope of Dr. Miller’s expertise”.

Moreover, it is “unnecessary because it purports to answer the precise question for this Tribunal”.

But Cousineau has a different view with respect to Questions 1 and 2.

According to Cousineau, the police board “argues that this portion of the Report is not necessary to assist the Tribunal because the complaint is not about systemic discrimination, but rather a discrete interaction with Ms. Campbell and the police”.

As Cousineau noted, the only question at the hearing is whether or not the police discriminated against Campbell.

“That said, I agree with Ms. Campbell that, in adjudicating this question, the Tribunal will benefit from the fullest possible understanding of the social context between the parties,” Cousineau wrote.

The tribunal member also noted that the Supreme Court of Canada, in a recent decision, “affirmed the importance of understanding the social context of interactions between police and racialized groups when adjudicating the circumstances of a specific encounter”.

“Dr. Miller’s evidence which situates relationships between the police and Indigenous people in its historical and racial context is relevant evidence of the social context underlying the dispute,” Cousineau explained. “As such, I am satisfied that it is relevant and necessary to assist the Tribunal.”

Also, Cousineau finds “significant merit to Ms.Campbell’s argument that it is inappropriate to view policing outside the frame of relations between non‐Indigenous and Indigenous populations”.

“Much of Dr. Miller’s opinion focuses on general and pervasive stereotypes about Indigenous people, and his view that police officers would not be exempt from prevailing attitudes,” Cousineau wrote. “Further, his opinion touches on the fact that, throughout history, much of the contact between Indigenous and non‐Indigenous peoples has been through the forcible regulation of Indigenous lives, often through the policing arm of the state. This would appear to be within the proper scope of his expertise.”

Is Miller’s opinion on Questions 1 and 2 accepted?

“I defer my ruling on the admissibility of Dr. Miller’s opinion concerning Questions 1 and 2 to the hearing of this complaint,” Cousineau stated.

At the hearing, the parties “can lead evidence and cross‐examine Dr. Miller about the scope of his qualifications and his objectivity”.

In a previous decision connected to Campbell’s case, Cousineau granted intervenor status to the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

“If Ms. Campbell  can  prove  that  she  was  mistreated  by  the  police,  then a connection to her First Nations ancestry can only be proven by inference,” Cousineau wrote in that decision. “One way that she says this inference arises is by comparison with how the police  treated  two  white  bystanders  during  the  same  encounter.”