Advocates concerned COVID roadblocks will disproportionally affect people of colour

Road checks raise concern

Advocates are raising concerns about law enforcement targeting Black, Indigenous and people of colour after the B.C. government announced it will conduct periodic roadblocks to curb travel in the wake of soaring cases of COVID-19.

On Friday, Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth will issue orders under the Emergency Program Act to restrict people's ability to leave their health authority.

"This will be conducted through random audits, not unlike roadside stops for Counter-Attack during the Christmas season. They will be susceptible to all travellers, not just a few travellers," said Horgan.

Horgan added that officials will consult "with the BIPOC community to make sure that we bring forward these restrictions in a way that does not give anyone fear that there will be additional repercussions" and that "no additional authority given to police."

But not everyone is convinced.

Meghan McDermott, Acting Policy Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association says the association was not consulted prior to this week's announcement.

McDermott adds that police have a great deal of discretion and can turn to other laws when conducting street checks. "In street checks, we know that they disproportionately affect Black and Indigenous folks and people of colour, and that, in those situations, they'll use the pretext of a bylaw infraction to stop somebody and to talk to them."

These situations can escalate quickly and lead to the detention of individuals, she adds. Even if every vehicle is stopped at a given roadblock, law enforcement can use further discretion for select people.

"So yeah, we are very concerned. We don't think police are the right tool whatsoever to use for public health emergencies like this."

Police may also share information with other entities that can end up in the hands of international partners, raising concerns over privacy, she notes. With civilian screening, a police database can "come back to haunt you."

Farnworth said the province will "be focused on making sure these new orders do not unfairly impact racialized communities, and we’ll be taking steps to make sure we get this right," he added.

“Our intention is to discourage recreational and leisure travel – not punish people - and we are not interested in disrupting commuters and people going about their lives. At this time, the details of the order are still being finalized, and I’ll have more to say later in the week.”

But McDermott worries that a great deal of injustice can take place under the "guise of enforcing" a public health order.

"It's kind of like a human rights horror movie. Where do our rights end and the powers at be to criminalize us begin? It's extremely concerning."

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