Letter to Vancouver Policy Department about review of OPCC complaint on exclusion of journalists from Hastings St. during dismantling of encampment

By December 13, 2023 January 23rd, 2024 No Comments

Dear Mr. Kuzminski,

We are writing to express our serious concerns with regards to the Vancouver Police Board’s review of an OPCC complaint about the exclusion of journalists from Hastings Street during dismantling of an encampment last April.

World Press Freedom Canada is an Ottawa-based volunteer committee that advocates on issues of press freedom in Canada and abroad.
Canadian courts have made it clear that constitutional guarantees of free expression include the right of media to cover protests and other police actions that occur in public spaces. Such media presence provides the public with independent information with regards to the actions of police and of those who are affected by the enforcement measures.

On Nov. 23, the Vancouver Police Board dismissed a complaint alleging the Vancouver Police Department improperly created an exclusion zone as municipal crews dismantled the encampment in the Downtown Eastside.

It appears the board relied on accounts from the VPD alone to draw its conclusion, chair Faye Wightman having said no journalists who had been on the scene on April 5 were interviewed, yet the board was conferrable (comfortable?) with the response it received from the department.

The failure to interview journalists and the reliance on VPD version of events calls into question the credibility of the Police Board’s oversight. Conducting interviews with all parties to a complaint is clearly a key component of a fair and impartial review.

In his letter to the board, OPCC commissioner Clayton Pecknold wrote, “after review of the concerns raised in the complaint and the public statement of the VPD, it appears that an exclusion zone was created by the VPD for the purpose of excluding the public and the media from a specific section of the city for a defined period of time. It is unclear what lawful authority was relied upon in the creation and enforcement of this exclusion zone.”

At the very least, the board had a responsibility to respond to Mr. Pecknold’s assessment of the police action in order to re-assure the public it had properly dealt with the matter. We also submit that the Vancouver police had a duty to explain why the extraordinary measure of temporarily barring journalists from public space was taken, beyond the broad umbrella of “safety and privacy.” We would like to see the board reinforce this level of accountability and transparency.

We urge the Vancouver Police Board to inquire into complaints about police infringement of press freedom more robustly. We urge you to send a letter to VPB reminding the department that journalists have the right to cover protests, injunctions and other areas where police action is required.

We would be happy to discuss this matter with you further.

Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom