The Nelson Police Board agreed systemic racism exists in the justice system, responding to a request from a group who want local action.
The West Kootenay People for Racial Justice asked the board to recognize systemic racism exists at a meeting July 21. The board, which is chaired by Mayor John Dooley, complied with the following statement:
“As a board, we acknowledge that systemic racism is widespread in our society, including the justice system. We are dedicated to continuing to build an organization that not only reflects the community it serves but is an integral part of the community.
“We hear the concerns of our community and acknowledge discrimination that too many members of our society have faced for too long. These patterns must be broken and there is more work to be done as a society towards implementing positive change.”
The board also said it would co-operate with a provincial review of policing in B.C. An all-party committee of MLAs is reviewing the Police Act with a deadline of May 14, 2021 to make recommendations that will include the policing of visible minorities.
Data previously obtained by Black Press has shown Black, Indigenous and Middle Eastern peoples account for 20 per cent of complaints against municipal and RCMP departments in B.C., despite those same groups only making up eight per cent of the population.
Shelina Musaji, a member of the West Kootenay People for Racial Justice, said she was encouraged by the statement.
“A dedication to wanting to address that is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Musaji.
Musaji and Zaynab Mohammed also requested the board create a process allowing for people to submit confidential complaints of discrimination by the municipal police that could in turn be publicly reviewed and acted on. The board previously said at its meeting it would consider the proposal and speak on it at a future board meeting.
Other reporting systems such as the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP exist, but they require complainants to disclose their identities.
Systemic racism within the justice system rose to the forefront of public discourse in Canada following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died during an attempted arrest in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd’s death sparked protests against across the United States and in Canada.
The West Kootenay People for Racial Justice has since organized a number of public forums on racial justice, including one that Chief Paul Burkart participated in.
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