Nelson residents question chief on police violence

Nelson’s police chief Paul Burkart answered questions at an outdoor meeting on policing and race relations for more than two hours on June 8. Photo: Bill MetcalfeNelson’s police chief Paul Burkart answered questions at an outdoor meeting on policing and race relations for more than two hours on June 8. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
This represents about one-third of the number of people who attended the meeting on policing and race relations on Monday. Photo: Bill MetcalfeThis represents about one-third of the number of people who attended the meeting on policing and race relations on Monday. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Nelson residents question chief on police violence
Dr. Shelina Musaji, one of the organizers, told the Star after the meeting, “It is sad that there were not more people of colour there, and that they felt too vulnerable to be there. That says something about our community, I think.” Photo: Bill MetcalfeDr. Shelina Musaji, one of the organizers, told the Star after the meeting, “It is sad that there were not more people of colour there, and that they felt too vulnerable to be there. That says something about our community, I think.” Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Nelson’s police chief Paul Burkart met with about 150 residents on Monday to talk about policing and race in the city.

It was one of hundreds of events worldwide following a number of deaths of people in police custody in the U.S. and Canada.

The event was set up as a question-and-answer session between the public and Burkart, who answered questions for more than two hours.

The first questioner asked: “I know that Black and Indigenous and other people of colour have far more interactions with police than white people in Nelson. Can you explain why?”

Burkart responded that he keeps police statistics on race, and the number of interactions with those groups roughly corresponds with the numbers of those groups in the overall Nelson population.

By “interactions” Burkart was referring to situations that could result in criminal charges.

One questioner said this definition does not capture the whole picture.

“What we hear from people of colour in this community,” she said, “is that they experience a lot more interactions, which are questioning, suspicions, being pulled over, all kinds of things that don’t necessarily result in charges, but feel like harassment.”

The first questioner agreed: “Yeah, statistics are great, but they don’t show us what is hidden behind the scenes. [What you are saying is] the bright shiny face of everything is fine. But what happens at 2 a.m.?”

Burkart said he is aware of this perception and is working on it. He said he is a member of the street culture collaborative and chairs the city’s vulnerable population committee that is dealing with the effects of COVID-19.

Burkart said people should bring these issues forward through organizations he works closely with: Nelson Mental Health and Substance Use, Nelson CARES, Nelson Community Services, Stepping Stones, Nelson Committee on Homeless, and the Salvation Army.

Several other questioners said non-white people are targeted and those channels might not work because people might not feel comfortable with them. They wanted to know what he can do about this.

Every officer in the province is required to take the internationally recognized fair and impartial policing course, Burkart said.

He said he recently attended a meeting of western Canadian police chiefs where “there were way too many old white guys, and that was a comment made by a number of the chiefs as we sat there. We need to work on that.”

He added his department has two Indigenous officers.

Burkart said in 2015 the police department and city wanted an unmarked car staffed by a plainclothes officer and mental health worker to “help people proactively before they are in mental health crisis model.” However, the proposal failed because Interior Health declined to fund it.

Burkart said this could be understood in the context of the current “defund the police” movement, which asks that police not be required to do social services work.

“We wanted [mental health workers] to take over that portion of what we were doing. They’re better at it than we are. That’s why I work with ANKORS. They can do their part and open the overdose prevention site, which I support. I work with the street culture collaborative, so they can get outreach workers on the street to take away some of the work we’re doing and get people into care rather than us dealing with them.

A questioner asked Burkart what he is doing about the mental health of his own officers.

“Over the last two years, our members have received more mental health training than ever,” he said. “We have a job that can tear a little piece off your soul every day. We now have peer-to-peer supports within our agency who are trained by a psychologist who specializes in police.”

Burkart was asked if some parts of the job could be done without firearms. He said in the vast majority of cases a firearm is not needed, but this is not predictable.

In the 123 years of the Nelson Police Department, they have fatally shot one person, in 1968. In the past year they had 6,300 calls and used a taser once and no other weapons.

Several questioners encouraged Burkart to attempt to influence things at a national level, because they said he, in addition to his white privilege, has an additional layer of privilege by being a police chief.

He responded that he can only influence Nelson. He can influence the bigger picture by being part of a provincial association of police chiefs, but only indirectly, and not at a national level.

Dr. Shelina Musaji, one of the organizers, said after the meeting “I am cautiously optimistic. A wedge has opened, there is an opportunity for the unlearning of racism.”

She said she was pleased that at the meeting’s end, Burkart agreed to a formal process that invites people of colour to speak, and the police board committed to holding the police chief accountable during this process.

However, Musaji said she was “sad there were not more people of colour there, and that they felt too vulnerable to be there.”



bill.metcalfe@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Const. Allan Young. Photo: Abbotsford Police Department
Manslaughter charge laid in Nelson death of Abbotsford police officer

Allan Young died after an incident in downtown Nelson last summer

Forty-seven vaccination clinics will open across Interior Health beginning March 15. (Canadian Press)
48 COVID-19 vaccine clinics to open across Interior Health

Select groups can book appointments starting Monday

Seniors in the Interior Health region can book their COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7 a.m. (File photo)
Seniors in Interior Heath region can book COVID-19 shots starting Monday

Starting March 8 the vaccination call centre will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Jasper after he was reunited with his owners Mary and Brent Hummel. Photo: Steve Smith
New children’s book features lost Castlegar dog who swam the Columbia multiple times

Brent and Mary Hummel and Jasper tell their dramatic story

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Tam says the addition of two new vaccines will help Canadians get immunized faster

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

Most Read