The B.C. Civil Liberties Association submitted a letter of complaint today to Don Morrison, B.C.’s new Police Complaint Commissioner, calling for an investigation into the tactics and conduct of the New Westminster police in dealing with street-level drug trafficking.
The Association raised these concerns after viewing news coverage by CBC Television of the New West Police Department’s strategy to deal with the vexing problem of street-level drug trafficking in New West.
“We understand that New Westminster City Council and police are under tremendous public pressure to do something about the vexing problems posed by the street-level drug trade.” said BCCLA policy director Murray Mollard. “That does not mean that the police can play fast and loose with the law. We expect—in fact, demand—that the police respect the law when trying to enforce it.”
In its letter of complaint, the BCCLA identifies six concerns about the police’s conduct and tactics:
- Using the trachea choke hold to take down suspected traffickers, a risky tactic that the Oppal Commission recommended in 1994 not be used by the police in B.C.
- Searching and seizing property within private dwellings without search warrants.
- Gaining access to private dwellings ostensibly on the basis of assisting other authorities, such as fire and health inspectors, when their motivation is to pursue criminal matters.
- Facilitating a serious invasion of privacy of individuals by permitting television crews to film individuals and their private dwellings without ensuring that the media would obscure identities.
- Using breach of the peace authority to load suspected traffickers into police paddy wagons and drive them out of town, and “assisting” other suspected persons to find cabs in order to get them out of town.
- Describing the drug trafficking problem as due to “Hondurans”, thus unfairly tainting people from Honduras—and indeed all Latinos—as being involved in criminal activity.
“We are asking the Complaints Commissioner to look into the policies, tactics and conduct used by the New Westminster police. Our aim is to ensure that such tactics and conduct are neither officially condoned nor used in the future,” Mollard said.
The BCCLA cautioned that an internal investigation by the police would be inappropriate. “This is one of those rare situations where the police cannot be left to investigate themselves,” said Mollard. “These tactics appear to have received at least tacit endorsement, if not likely been coordinated and planned, by all levels of the department.”
Since July of last year, municipal police forces have been under a new complaints process, one which the BCCLA has endorsed. Mollard said, “In addition to involving all levels of the New Westminster Police Department, our complaint involves a complex mix of conduct and policies. We will be very interested in seeing whether the new complaint procedures are capable of handling it.”