< class="what-entry-title">BCCLA announces departure of Litigation Director Grace Pastine>
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The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) announced today that Grace Pastine is stepping down from her position as the litigation director of the BCCLA.

Pastine was hired in 2007 as the BCCLA’s first litigation director and  engineered a string of court victories in high profile cases.

The BCCLA praises Pastine’s work for spurring major reforms and victories related to patients’ rights, police accountability, and the rights of people in prison.

“Over nearly 15 years, Grace has brought compassion and intellect to her work on behalf of our clients,” says Vanessa Wolff, the vice president of the BCCLA board of directors. “Her thoughtful, strategic approach to long-term reform has improved lives and helped guide our organization. She’s a tireless and passionate advocate for civil liberties and human rights. She will be sorely missed.”

During her 15 years as litigation director, Grace Pastine was a leading civil liberties advocate.

With Pastine as litigation director, the BCCLA racked up a winning record in a number of headline-generating cases, including the successful challenge to have solitary confinement in prisons declared unconstitutional. She served as part of the trial team that represented the plaintiffs in the case that saw medical assistance in dying (MAID) legalized across the country. The victory transformed the end-of-life options for gravely ill Canadians whose suffering is unbearable.  

She served as counsel for the BCCLA on some of the country’s notable public inquiries into police abuse, including the inquiry into the death of Frank Joseph Paul, a 48-year-old Mi’kmaq man, who died of hypothermia after the police left him in a Vancouver alley. 

The BCCLA’s participation in the public inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver International Airport resulted in the provincial government ending the practice of police investigating themselves. Pastine was also counsel on an inquiry into the actions of the Canadian military police in a long-running controversy over the torture of detainees in Afghanistan.

Working with a coalition of prisoners’ rights advocates, the BCCLA filed a case that led to the abolition of a practice called the ’management protocol’, an extreme form of solitary confinement that was used almost exclusively against Indigenous women. Pastine helped facilitate a settlement for one of the women who spent three and half years in solitary confinement under the protocol.

In the wake of revelations that governments around the world were engaging in the massive collection and monitoring of citizens’ personal communications, Pastine helped the BCCLA bring a legal challenge to the secret activities of Canada’s electronic intelligence agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE). The lawsuit spurred legal change, prompting Parliament to reform the entire legal framework governing CSE’s information gathering activities.

During her tenure, Pastine directed the BCCLA’s interventions in over one hundred cases before the Supreme Court of Canada on cases including police accountability, warrantless surveillance, free speech, safe injection sites, mandatory minimum sentences, the right to sue for torture, and the decriminalization of sex work.

Under Pastine’s leadership, the BCCLA attracted a stellar team of committed staff lawyers and a roster of preeminent lawyers across the country who volunteered their services free of charge to defend civil liberties.

“The number of people who are willing to do good for the world is astoundingly high,” said Pastine. “My respect runs very deep for the courage and conviction of our clients. And I cannot begin to express my deep admiration for the incredible people – volunteer lawyers, supporters and members – who stepped forward to wage justice, one case at a time.”

Lee Carter, left, hugs Grace Pastine, litigation director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, inside The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Friday morning, Feb. 6, 2015. Carter and her husband accompanied her 89-year-old mother Kathleen (Kay) Carter, who suffered from spinal stenosis, to Switzerland in 2010, to end her life. The Supreme Court unanimously struck down the ban on providing a doctor-assisted death to mentally competent but suffering and “irremediable” patients. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Pastine says she is taking some time off to spend time with her young family before she decides on her next steps.  She will leave her role at the end of March 2022. Pastine plans to continue to devote her legal career to human rights and civil liberties. “I’ve reached the decision that it’s time to move on, but I won’t be leaving the work, just this workplace. I’m profoundly grateful for the years that I’ve been honoured to serve as the litigation director of the BCCLA.”

“We are at a critical time for civil liberties and human rights,” Pastine continues. “There are significant assaults on our rights in several spaces — from free speech to trans rights to immigrant justice to policing, and the BCCLA is in that fight, working to bend the arc of history toward justice. There is a tremendous opening to truly embrace reconciliation and anti-racism at the core of the approach to civil liberties.”

The BCCLA plans a nationwide search for a new litigation director.

< class="what-entry-title">Human Rights: Change Through Collaboration>
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We have always fought to protect fundamental human rights and freedoms, but we never do this work alone. From coalition work and joint advocacy, to lending our perspectives in challenges against unjust legislation, to amplifying the voices of people across the country, we continue to uphold human rights and push for change through collaboration.

In 2020, our collaborative work with partner organizations, pro bono counsel, and our membership resulted in multiple victories for access to justice, human dignity, and protecting democratic rights.

Dismantling Legacies of Discrimination

As part of the Coalition on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in BC, we raised concerns about the lack of information and registration delays for First Nations women and their descendants who are newly entitled to status. In 2019, Canada made historic and welcome amendments to sexist provisions in the Indian Act, entitling up to 450,000 people to status. However, information on eligibility is not being distributed to communities, and the wait time for processing applications can take up to three years.

Along with the BC Human Rights Tribunal and other organizations, we also advocated for the addition of Indigenous identity as a ground of discrimination in the BC Human Rights Code. The Code prohibits discrimination based on race, colour, ancestry, and place of origin, which fails to capture the experiences reported by Indigenous Peoples and protect them from exercising rights unique to their Indigenous identity.

Protecting the Right to Die with Dignity

We continued the fight for end-of-life rights and won. In February 2020, the federal government introduced Bill C-7, which allows those who are intolerably suffering and incurably ill to access medical assistance in dying (MAiD) without being “near-death”. The Bill also allows for advanced requests in place of a final confirmation for those whose capacity to do so may become impaired. When the federal government considered adding other barriers in Bill C-7, we created a digital toolkit that was downloaded thousands of times by our members and supporters to help people across Canada participate in the public consultation process and make their voices heard. In March of 2021, we successfully advocated for amendments to remove the barriers, and the House of Commons passed Bill C-7.  

Human Rights in The Courts

  • In Attorney General of Quebec, et al. v. 9147-0732 Québec Inc., we secured an important victory for human dignity when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled corporations don’t have a constitutional right to freedom from cruelty. The BCCLA intervened to argue that protections against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment only apply to human beings.
  • In Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms v. Her Majesty the Queen (Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta), we are holding governments accountable by fighting Alberta’s unconstitutional Bill 10. The bill grants sweeping new powers to the provincial government to write new laws without legislative oversight.This violates our right to democratic due process and the Charter. Even during a pandemic, the Alberta government remains bound by the constitution.
  • We fought to protect benefits for young adults leaving government care in Alberta in AC and JF v. Her Majesty the Queen. The case was about an Alberta law that put young adults raised in government care at risk of losing financial and emotional benefits to help them transition to independence. We argued that the law should be suspended because it violates the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person under s. 7 of the Charter. Unfortunately, the Alberta Court of Appeal allowed the injunction appeal, which meant that young adults raised in government care were denied critical benefits. However, the majority of the Court agreed with the BCCLA that s. 7 of the Charter may protect positive socio-economic rights in a future case.

< class="what-entry-title">Raising the Alarm on State and Corporate Surveillance of Tiny House Warriors>

In August I travelled to the Tiny House Warriors Village on a fact-finding mission to better understand the escalating intimidation and surveillance at the hands of the state of Canada and the Trans Mountain (TMX) Crown Corporation.

The Tiny House Warriors (THWs) are Secwepemc Land & Water Defenders who oppose the plan to twin the TMX pipeline. They engage in political advocacy to block the expansion of the pipeline, including the maintenance of the THW Village, which was set up in July 2018 to challenge the establishment of an industrial man camp in Blue River, BC.

After a warm welcome from Kanahus Manuel and other THW members, they showed me the idling and unmarked vehicles nearby, each pointing towards the village with a single man inside. When I approached them, I could see that the men inside were filming me and the THWs confirmed that this occurs 24/7. I asked the men who they were and why they were recording me, but they would only shake their heads.

In addition to the constant surveillance by men seeking to remain anonymous, the THWs are also subject to a robotic surveillance tower installed by TMX. This tower points directly at the village and even into the private premises of Kanahus Manuel’s tiny house. This tower is arrayed with floodlights, loudspeakers, sensors and cameras. 

A walk with the THWs around their village revealed additional surveillance equipment installed in public areas along a footpath leading through blueberry fields and towards the banks of the Blue River. I was alarmed to see video cameras affixed to trees on public land, without any form of notice as to which government agency is collecting the recordings and for what purpose!

When we came across some workers in the area with video cameras on their hardhats, they too refused to discuss who they work for and why they were collecting our personal information in a public space. 

This around-the-clock monitoring of the THWs is an intimidation tactic by the Canadian state to silence Secwepemc Land & Water Defenders and to continue to disregard the authority, jurisdiction and inherent Title and Rights of Indigenous peoples. While I have filed a request with TMX to find out more about what they are doing with the audio and video recordings that are being collected, the BCCLA continues to work in coalition with the THWs and others to call for an immediate suspension of permits and halt of TMX construction until the Secwepemc people give their free, prior and informed consent to the pipeline expansion. 

< class="what-entry-title">Enough is Enough: We took the RCMP Commissioner to Court>
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On September 21, 2021, pro bono counsel Paul Champ and I appeared in Federal Court to argue the BCCLA’s case against the RCMP Commissioner. This lawsuit was about the RCMP Commissioner’s extreme delays in responding to public complaints. In February 2014, the BCCLA filed a complaint against the RCMP for spying on Indigenous and climate advocates opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline. The complaint was investigated by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) – the RCMP watchdog. But due to the RCMP Commissioner’s extreme delay in dealing with this complaint, the CRCC was only able to release its final report in December 2020, nearly seven years after the complaint was filed.

At the Federal Court, we argued that the RCMP Commissioner had violated her statutory obligations and the BCCLA’s constitutional rights by causing this inexcusable delay.

Unfortunately, this case is not the only example of extreme delay by the RCMP Commissioner. Indeed, delays have plagued the RCMP complaints system for over a decade. These delays have significant consequences. They undermine public confidence in the RCMP and the complaints process. They harm individuals and families waiting for accountability and justice. Complaints about very serious matters have sat on the RCMP Commissioner’s desk for years. Recommendations from the CRCC for addressing RCMP misconduct are only implemented once the complaints process is complete. We told the Federal Court that the culture of complacency within the RCMP needs to change.

During the hearing, counsel for the Attorney General of Canada finally acknowledged that the RCMP Commissioner had violated her obligations under the RCMP Act by waiting so many years to respond to the BCCLA’s complaint. This was a significant concession.

We now anxiously await the Federal Court’s decision. But regardless of the outcome, we know our litigation has had a positive impact. Since the BCCLA launched this case, the RCMP Commissioner has hired additional staff members to help her respond to complaints more quickly. She has also made significant progress in dealing with the backlog of complaints. We hope the Federal Court issues a strong judgment condemning the extreme delays caused by the RCMP Commissioner, so she is finally held to account.  

< class="what-entry-title">Proof Of Vaccination Programs Are Warranted to Protect Public Health and Save Lives Amid a Deadly Pandemic>
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Proof of Vaccination Programs[1] have become a popular tool for governments across Canada responding to the fourth and current wave of COVID-19 infections. As an organization dedicated to advancing human rights and liberties while focusing on the relationship between people and the state, the BCCLA in principle[2] supports the implementation of proof of vaccination programs being unveiled across the country right now. This blog will explain why we are in favour of these public health measures while pointing to some features of current proof of vaccination programs that cause us concern.  

COVID-19 Can Cause Grave Harms to Those Infected and the Healthcare System

The virus carries the risk of serious health consequences, including death, temporary or permanent disability, and a condition known as “long COVID.” As of the end of September 2021, almost 28,000 people have already lost their lives in Canada after having been infected with COVID-19. Widespread COVID-19 can also cause grave harms to the healthcare system and those harmed by the healthcare system being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. In earlier waves, provinces and territories had to contemplate invoking triage protocols that would have resulted in patients with conditions other than COVID-19 being denied or removed from critical care beds. Some people have had their medical treatment for conditions other than COVID-19 delayed or denied because the system was stretched too thin responding to COVID-19.

COVID-19 Vaccines are Safe and Effective

Although we have had concerns about the accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines, we have no doubt that the available COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. The potential side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines are very rare and largely treatable (even when not treatable, the risks of the vaccines are dramatically less than the risks of COVID-19). The vaccines reduce the risk of infection and serious disease in the individual who receives the vaccine. Unvaccinated persons are at a higher risk than vaccinated persons of transmitting COVID-19 to other people.

Proof of vaccination programs do not force medical treatment on anyone.

We have long championed personal autonomy and bodily integrity, neither of which are at risk under these programs.

Proof of vaccination programs restrict fundamental civil liberties for some, while protecting and promoting fundamental civil liberties for others

Broadly speaking, given the widespread and devastating impact of COVID-19, the effectiveness and safety of COVID-19 vaccines, and the absence of an equally effective and less intrusive alternative, we believe that programs requiring proof of vaccination can be consistent with and even promote civil liberties and human rights principles.  However, the permissibility of any such program will depend on a fact-specific, case-by-case inquiry, and changing circumstances.

Proof of vaccination programs by their very nature impair a variety of constitutionally protected rights and freedoms. These include the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”), including:

  • the right to life, liberty and security of the person limited only in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice;
  • freedom of religion and conscience;
  • freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression;
  • freedom of peaceful assembly; and
  • freedom of association.

On the other hand, these same freedoms can be protected by proof of vaccination programs.  For example, these programs can reduce the risk of infection for those who cannot get vaccinated or for whom vaccination is less effective.  Another case in point is how the proof of vaccination program currently implemented in Alberta allows businesses and venues to avoid restrictive public health measures such as mandatory masking, distancing, and capacity limits if they instead require proof of vaccination or a negative test result from anyone entering.

Concerns about Proof of Vaccination Programs

Although many of us have been subject to the requirement to produce vaccination records in our lives (e.g. to attend public school in some places, to travel internationally, etc.) we realize that the current programs being implemented to reduce the harms posed by COVID-19 are unprecedented in their scope as well as in their use of technology. 

As the implications of these measures extend beyond public health, particularly for people already experiencing barriers to housing, services, and businesses, governments implementing these programs need to take adequate direction from communities and organizations that understand how to best navigate public health in the context of precarious status, criminalization, poverty, disability, and other intersecting oppressions.

With such new and expansive programs, there are several areas that we are paying careful attention to:

  • Any program that does not provide accommodations or exemptions for the people who are unable to be vaccinated for rare medical reasons does not uphold human rights.[3] The current BC Vaccine Card program is an example of a program with this flaw.
  • Programs must be accessible to people without government identification documents, including photo ID, or smartphone technology. In particular, governments must ensure that undocumented migrants and unhoused people are not excluded.
  • Programs must avoid requiring Two-Spirit, Trans, and Non-Binary individuals having to use government ID and legal documents that contain their deadnames or inaccurate gender markers.
  • Programs must be designed to maximize public health benefits while minimizing privacy impacts. Special consideration must be given to what information is encoded in the proof of vaccination, what information is collected by the organization issuing the proof of vaccination at the time of issuance and what entities are permitted to issue and implement the programs. Personal information collected through proof of vaccination programs must be deleted as soon as public health officials either declare that the pandemic is over or when the programs are no longer necessary, minimally impairing, and proportionate.
  • Programs must be monitored on a regular and timely basis to ensure that they only remain in place so long as they are necessary, minimally impairing, and proportionate. As COVID-19 and our understanding of COVID-19 evolves, so too will the justifications for the limits they place on rights and freedoms.

Read the Statement of Principles Regarding Proof of Vaccination Programs


[1] What we mean when we use the term “proof of vaccination program”: Proof of vaccination programs are state-imposed requirements for people to provide some specified form of evidence to prove that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to, for example, access modes of transportation, premises, venues, and services. The term also includes proof of vaccination programs that may arise in the context of employment. Other terms commonly used to refer to a means of confirming a person’s COVID-19 vaccination or immunity status are vaccine passport, immunity passport, vaccine or vaccination certificate or card.

[2] The BCCLA Board of Directors recently approved a Statement of Principles regarding Proof of Vaccination Programs that further elucidates how the organization approaches and evaluates the wide variety of possible proof of vaccination programs. 

[3] These conditions are currently limited to those with a confirmed severe allergy and those with a diagnosed episode of myocarditis/pericarditis after receipt of an mRNA vaccine.  

< class="what-entry-title">Creating change – in the world and the workplace>

Over the past few years, the BC Civil Liberties Association has focused its attention on how we can create a different world and a different workplace than the one so many of us are raised and trained in. We want to be part of creating change, both out there in the world and within our organization. Our 2020-2025 Strategic Plan notes “The BCCLA values our staff and seeks to promote   their   well-being,   consistent   with   our   values   and   to   ensure   the   sustainability of our work.”

As the BCCLA’s (outgoing) Executive Director and the Director of Operations and People, we are thrilled to be sharing four important steps the BCCLA is taking to build a more equitable wage structure, permanent job security, and meaningfully valuing all teamwork.

For many years, BCCLA has been a Living Wage Employer, officially certified by Living Wage for Families B.C — the organization responsible for certifying employers. A living wage is higher than the legal minimum wage. It provides economic security by setting the bar to reflect what wage individuals and families need to bring home based on the actual costs of living. For several years, the BCCLA has used the Living Wage Calculation to establish an annual minimum salary of $43,680.

However, we are now going even further. As of July 2021, the BCCLA’s minimum salary for 1.0 full-time, permanent employees is $52,000 per year. We have also increased the salary ranges for all staff, with a current average salary of $75,200 and a median salary of $74,500.

As a non-profit organization, it is extremely difficult to find the financial resources to support these changes, and it is far too common to think that organizations such as ours simply “can’t afford” to shift. It may also raise eyebrows that an organization whose mandate is to serve others would spend so much of its resources internally.

However, we firmly believe that valuing the labour and dignity of our team is consistent with our fundamental mandate and values. Even as we are surrounded by constant crises and urgency in our work, our team’s contributions — particularly those whose work is typically underpaid in society — must be valued. Lifting up the wage floor of our team helps cultivate connection and shared purpose, shifts legal work cultures toward equality, and means we are more effective in advancing our mission. Increasing the wage floor is also an equity issue, as racialized women workers tend to be the lowest paid staff in administrative roles.

Parallel to lifting up the wage floor, last year we took the bold move of instituting a maximum cap on the salary of the Executive Director. This is an important way to reduce large wage disparities across the organization, and demonstrates to our team that we are working together to build a better, more equitable, and more sustainable workplace.

We recognize that salaries are not the only factor affecting job security. We have also moved toward changing our temporary contracts into secure, permanent employment and are minimizing part-time work contracts. While some temporary contract positions are inevitable, such as covering for parental leaves or backfilling, we understand that permanent positions are important for job security and tenure. Full-time, permanent work also means we can strengthen our fantastic team and our many relationships and collaborations.

Finally, we have changed and retired a number of job positions. The position of Legal Assistant, Office Assistant, Administrative Assistant, and Executive Assistant are all common positions in legal organizations and non-profits. BCCLA has had some of these positions. However, based on reflection and important staff feedback, we have removed all ‘Assistant’-level roles in the organization and have created new job titles and job descriptions. While we all have varying responsibility to assist each other in our jobs, having a degree of autonomy and control in one’s job is key to dignified work. This is also crucial move to address entrenched gender bias in the workplace, and the common experience of being overwhelmingly subordinated to another person.

As BCCLA’s former Legal Assistant, and one of the advocates for this change, says: “There is a commonly held belief in many office cultures, whether conscious or not, that the work of assistants is somehow beneath those who do not hold that title. If you google the definition of ‘assistant,’ the first one provided is ‘a person who ranks below a senior person.’ It is a job title that is literally defined based on its inferiority to others. It does not begin to describe the countless hours of coordination, planning, and project management that are core to secretarial and administrative positions.  Changing the job title and description to Litigation and Office Coordinator more accurately reflects the day-to-day work in this position, and the respect the BCCLA gives to this type of work.

These are just some of the first small steps in this journey. We are also reviewing a number of our policies and practices, and we support efforts on the staff team towards collective bargaining. We know we have more work to do, and we are excited to share more developments with you. If you are a BCCLA member or donor, we thank you for making these changes possible and for being part of our work.

< class="what-entry-title">Down the Rabbit Hole of Police Governance: The Saga of BCCLA’s Street Checks Complaint>
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The BCCLA took on the issue of police street checks in 2018. A police street check is a discretionary police practice where police stop a person in public, question them outside the context of an arrest or detention, and often record their personal information in a database. No provincial or federal statute authorizes street checks in BC, nor are they authorized by common law developed by courts. Data from Abbotsford, Central Saanich, Nelson, New Westminster, Oak Bay, Port Moody, Saanich, Vancouver, and West Vancouver police departments reveal a decade of police street checks in BC targeting Indigenous, Black and racialized communities, with Indigenous women particularly over-represented in all departments’ data. Over 9050 people and 92 organizations, have been demanding an immediate ban on police street checks.

Over the past three years, we have gone deep down the rabbit hole of police governance in Vancouver. Our deeply frustrating experience is a crucial window into the complete institutional failure of police governance bodies, like the Vancouver Police Board, as well as the provincial government who is responsible for ensuring civilian and independent oversight over all police forces operating in the province. We share our experience so people are informed about the number of hurdles we faced, to imagine how much more inaccessible this process would be for the average person, and to understand how deeply ingrained policing culture is and how police governance acts as an appendage to – rather than counter to – the harms of policing.

Making a Policy Complaint

On May 24, 2018, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) released data on street checks from 2008 to 2017 based on a Freedom of Information request. According to the data, 15% of all street checks conducted were of Indigenous people, despite representing approximately 2% of the population of Vancouver. Furthermore, over 4% of street checks conducted were of Black people, despite representing less than 1% of the population.

The data strongly suggested that street checks are conducted in a racist and discriminatory manner, contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and B.C.’s Human Rights Code. In June 2018, the BCCLA and UBCIC launched a joint Policy Complaint with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner based on the VPD data. The complaint called for an immediate investigation of the significant racial disparity revealed in the VPD’s practice of street checks. The complaint also called for the Vancouver Police Board to initiate an independent study that would analyze the released VPD street check data, the efficacy of street checks as a policing tool, the impact of street checks on Indigenous, Black and racialized people, as well as policy development on the collection of personal information resulting from police checks. A month later and after newly released data, we filed an amendment to our complaint calling for the investigation and study of the over-representation of Indigenous women in VPD police street checks.

Advocating Against Police Self-Investigation

In July 2018, the Vancouver Police Board informed the BCCLA and UBCIC that the VPD would be conducting the investigation into the complaint and that “the Department investigates all Service and Policy complaints.” The VPD brought forward their report “Understanding Street Checks” which contained six recommendations that were adopted by the Vancouver Police Board. One of these recommendations was to “formalize the existing VPD street check standards into policy.”   

The BCCLA and UBCIC wrote to the Vancouver Police Board explaining why, in our view, VPD self-investigation in relation to our street checks complaint is problematic: “[W]e are highly troubled by the lack of independence, and the lack of the appearance of independence, of the VPD’s investigation and reporting on its own practices in this case. Given the public interest in a review of this matter that appears independent and is independent in fact, it is clear to us that the VPD must not be the only body to conduct an investigation in relation to this Complaint.”

Challenging an External Review Run by Former Police Officer

The Vancouver Police Board then hired Pyxis Consulting, run by a former Edmonton police superintendent, to conduct an external review of police street checks in Vancouver. The Pyxis-authored Vancouver Police Board Street Check Review Report was released to the public in February 2020. The Vancouver Police Board accepted the findings of the Report, which concluded, “the available data and information could neither confirm nor deny police racism.”

The BCCLA, UBCIC, and Black Lives Matter-Vancouver issued a statement expressing strong concerns with the methodology and findings of the Pyxis-authored Street Check Review Report. The report assumed and concluded that street checks are valuable and non-discriminatory, despite the lack of any evidence in the review to support the claim. The review itself provided clear evidence that police are arbitrarily stopping people without lawful authority, including people who were “walking in the rain,” “walking a dog on a church lawn,” “standing on a street corner,” or simply “a clean couple in a poor hotel.” The review also referenced the use of police street checks to document and collect information about the whereabouts of individuals “known” to police outside of an active investigation. This is not a legally justifiable reason to stop and question an individual and collect or record their personal information. It also suggests that over-policing and pretext policing are occurring.

In January 2020, despite our concerns, the Vancouver Police Board concluded BCCLA’s and UBICIC’s policy complaint, citing recommendations from the Pyxis-authored Street Check Review Report and a new VPD street check policy.

The BCCLA and UBCIC asserted that there were serious problems with both the Pyxis Report and the new VPD street check policy, and then asked the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner to review the Vancouver Police Board’s decision. We argued that the Vancouver Police Board relied on the Pyxis-authored Vancouver Police Board Street Check Review Report’s recommendations, VPD’s implementation of a purportedly compliant street check policy, and its continued oversight function to monitor the annual audit of street check data as reasons for concluding the complaint. We argued that these actions were insufficient and did not get at the core of our original policy complaint.

Exposé of Disturbing VPD Conduct during Street Checks Review

In response to our request that the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner review the Vancouver Police Board’s decision to conclude our complaint, the BCCLA and UBCIC received two shocking letters from Police Complaint Commissioner Clayton Pecknold.

In June 2020, Commissioner Pecknold revealed to us that a Vancouver Police Professional Standards (VPD-PSS) investigation was ordered into disturbing and inappropriate conduct and comments about racialized and vulnerable people by two VPD officers. Pyxis contractors, while conducting research for the Vancouver Police Board Street Check Review Report, witnessed these two officers. Pyxis researchers stated that during two separate VPD ride-along excursions, one officer made a number of “inappropriate, racially insensitive comments” and another made “inappropriate comments about vulnerable and marginalized people, had anger issues, and was overly terse and extremely rude to a member of the public.” One of the Pyxis researchers self-identified as a member of a racialized community. The Commissioner asserted that if the conduct was substantiated, it would constitute misconduct.

Even more shocking, these allegations were included in a draft of the Pyxis-authored Vancouver Police Board Street Check Review, but were missing from the final public report; the report that the Vancouver Police Board had accepted. It was deeply troubling to us that this extremely relevant section — detailing racist and inappropriate comments and conduct by VPD officers even as they were under observation — had been removed. The deleted paragraph was directly relevant to the Pyxis Street Check Review Report and were at the very core of the concerns in BCCLA and UBCIC’s original policy complaint.

In July 2020, Commissioner Pecknold issued a follow-up letter outlining the conclusion of the investigation. VPD-PSS interviewed VPD officers and Police Board members and attempted to interview eight Pyxis researchers. All Pyxis researchers declined to be interviewed or provide documentation and claimed that all field notes had been destroyed. As a result, a Notice of Discontinuance was issued since the investigator was unable to identify the two VPD officers. It was unbelievable to us that two VPD officers, who were part of two out of twelve VPD ride-along excursions as part of a formal street check review, could not be identified or held accountable.

The BCCLA and UBCIC wrote to the Vancouver Police Board requesting further information regarding the deletion of this information about VPD officer conduct from the final Pyxis-authored Vancouver Police Board Street Check Review Report.

Shocking Revelations of VPD Interference in External Review of Street Checks

In November 2020, we found out—through media reports and not the Vancouver Police Board—how the relevant paragraph about VPD officers’ racist and inappropriate conduct and comments came to be censored from the final report of the Pyxis-authored Vancouver Police Board Street Check Review.

We found out that the Vancouver Police Board Street Checks Review Committee had released an interim draft of the Street Check Review report to the VPD. Deputy Chief Howard Chow then had “lengthy discussions” with a Pyxis researcher about the section in question, and Chow spoke to the Vancouver Police Board Street Checks Review Committee about the “variety of reasons” for the removal of the paragraph. This paragraph was subsequently removed from the final public report, and the Vancouver Police Board subcommittee was informed of the significant erasure.

The substance of the deleted paragraph, the involvement of at least one senior VPD officer in discussions regarding editing out a paragraph relating to officers’ racist and inappropriate comments, as well as the discrepancy in the draft and final report versions all raised alarming concerns about the objectivity, methodology, and findings of the Pyxis-authored Vancouver Police Board Street Check Review. We were also shocked that the Vancouver Police Board’s vice-chairman, Barj Dhahan, told media “I don’t see anything wrong” with the chain of events and didn’t think the publicly funded Vancouver Police Board Street Check Review was compromised.

Provincial ‘Review of the Review’

In December 2020, the provincial Director of Police Services appointed David Loukidelis, BC’s former Privacy Commissioner, to conduct a review under section 42 of the Police Act. The review is currently investigating the Vancouver Police Board’s response to BCCLA and UBCIC’s original complaint, the Vancouver Police Board’s role in complaints generally, and the Vancouver Police Board Board’s level of independence from the VPD. The provincial Director of Police Services also initiated a second study pursuant to conduct an analysis of the processes employed by the Vancouver Police Board to conduct the Street Checks Review, including the selection and retention of the contractor, Pyxis. These investigations have just been completed and we are eagerly awaiting the public findings.

In February 2021, the BCCLA and UBCIC again wrote to the Vancouver Police Board. We highlighted the public trust at stake in light of the information about the deleted paragraph that contained information that is directly relevant to the nature of the Pyxis-authored Vancouver Police Board Street Checks Review report. We called on the Vancouver Police Board to review its prior decision to accept the findings of the Pyxis-authored Vancouver Police Board Street Checks Review report, and to re-assess its decision to conclude our original street checks complaint.


Our three-year saga into the rabbit hole of police governance sheds a critical light on the failures of police board governance and raises serious concerns about the Vancouver Police Board’s lack of independence from the VPD. The actions of the Vancouver Police Board violated their obligation to provide impartial civilian oversight of the Vancouver Police Department and to govern with independence, integrity, and be accountable to the community. Indeed, what has happened with the Vancouver Police Board Street Check Review forces a reckoning about the power of police, even over those governance bodies tasked with holding them accountable.

< class="what-entry-title">Letter from the Board President to the Community>
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Words matter. Context matters. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association supports the cherished right to free expression, and as an organization we want our messages to be clear. A tweet by our executive director on her personal account failed in that regard.

Using a particular turn of phrase in that context left some people with the wrong impression about the values and principles to which we adhere.

We regret the misunderstanding that was caused by the tweet and apologize for the harm the words caused.

Further, we acknowledge the anger, frustration, and sadness many people feel after the confirmation of over 1000 unmarked graves of Indigenous children at various residential school sites. We share those emotions and share in the desire to dismantle the colonial systems that commit genocide.

During the aftermath of the tweet, we encountered a wave of hateful commentary, fueled by the fact that our executive director is a racialized woman leader. Our executive director and staff were exposed to inexcusable racism and misogyny and threats to physical and mental safety. We did not engage with those voices and are prioritizing the health and safety of staff. We have also taken time to gather feedback within our organization and with our community partners. These events have been difficult, but we are emerging stronger and more committed to our work. We are back with the same fearless truth-telling that our supporters and detractors know us for.

Our mandate is to promote, defend, sustain, and extend civil liberties and human rights for all. Those rights and liberties include the security of the person, freedom of religion and freedom of expression. As a legal organization, we work within the law to advance this mandate.

The BCCLA also recognizes that, despite the inherent and inalienable rights of Indigenous peoples, and the recognition of those rights within the Canadian Constitution, the colonial legal system in which we work continues to deprive Indigenous peoples of their lands, freedoms, rights, autonomy and dignity. We affirm that Indigenous laws and the inalienable right to self-determination continue despite the Crown and the federal and provincial governments’ attempts to suppress them.

The BCCLA is committed to the full realization of the rights of Indigenous peoples, and to the pursuit of a just, equitable and durable reconciliation between Indigenous Nations and the Canadian state. The BCCLA is committed to upholding its promise to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and Calls to Action.

The BCCLA often takes controversial positions in defence of civil liberties. We remain resolute in our conviction that our work can never be challenged as partisan.

It is with these essential values that we have evolved and achieved great progress over six decades in the defence of civil liberties and human rights in Canada, and with which we will continue to do this work for decades to come.

We recognize the importance of communicating these values clearly and without compromise.

< class="what-entry-title">Announcement from the BCCLA Board of Directors>
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It is with heavy hearts that the Board of Directors of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has accepted the resignation of our executive director, Harsha Walia. The Board and Staff thank her for her bold, skillful, and compassionate leadership during the extremely challenging times of the pandemic. Harsha built and deepened important relationships with BCCLA’s partners and community stakeholders. She worked with integrity to strengthen our policy positions especially on policing, Indigenous self-determination, and immigration. Harsha is responsible for significant improvements to the structural integrity of the organization including financial stewardship, HR, and advancing our strategic plan. Throughout her leadership, she demonstrated a deep commitment to civil liberties and human rights and furthered our work on equity, diversity, and inclusion. Her leadership, vision, and relationships with staff, board members and community partners will be deeply missed.

< class="what-entry-title">Thank you to our Communications and Development Volunteers!>
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Join us in saying thank you to Tomila and Alexandra who have been supporting us in virtual engagement, outreach, and event planning over the last few months. We are sad to see them go but excited to see what they do next! Learn more about them below. 

Tomila Sahbaei

Tomila is currently in her third year at the University of British Columbia Vancouver. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Political Science and a minor in English Literature. She has focused her studies on comparative politics, with a particular interest in the way different countries have undergone democratization. She is passionate about her community, academics, literature, and having an impact on the world around her.

Tomila is looking forward to her time with the BCCLA. She hopes to use her creativity and her past work experience to help the team continue their meaningful work in the community. In her free time, you can find Tomila skiing or snowboarding, as she thoroughly enjoys winter sports. She also loves to read and spend time trying to find stars and planets through her telescope.

Alexandra Calbery

Alexandra holds a Bachelor of Arts from Simon Fraser University with majors in Political Science and French. She is currently in her last semester at Douglas College, completing an Associate of Arts in Economics. She is passionate about public policy and the transformative potential of law in creating systemic change.

She also volunteers with the Urban Native Youth Association as a youth mentor. Her experience supporting and growing alongside her mentee has deepened her knowledge of the injustices that Indigenous youth face and has played an important role in her decision to pursue a career in law.

Alexandra enjoys walking and running in nature whenever she has the opportunity, and has participated in the Scotiabank 5K and Eastside 10K in support of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre several times. She hopes to continue her charitable running this year by participating virtually. Alexandra is honoured to join the BCCLA team and learn from such a dedicated group of people.