Candidates for Delta North discussed racism, equity, policing and more during the first all-candidates meeting in the riding last week.
Hosted by Delta’s Organizing Against Racism and Hate Committee, the virtual meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 6 was billed as “an opportunity for candidates to talk about their own positions, as well as each party’s platform related to systemic issues of racism, hate and other injustices.”
BC Liberal Party candidate Jet Sunner and BC NDP candidate Ravi Kahlon both took part in the meeting. BC Green Party candidate Neema Manral did not attend.
After delivering their opening remarks, the candidates each named their privileges before sharing their personal journeys in addressing racism.
Kahlon spoke first, focusing on the work he’s done in the last three years as both MLA for the riding and parliamentary secretary for sport and multiculturalism, including helping re-establish B.C.’s Human Rights Commission, his government’s adoption of the B.C. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) and other work around hate crime and anti-racism files.
“I’m proud we have the only independent human rights commission in North America, completely independent of government. And that was important because when I spoke to Indigenous leaders in particular, they said how can you have … a body that’s going to try to speak for us and with us when it’s a part of the colonial system,” Kahlon said.
Kahlon further said he was proud of his party’s platform commitments in this area, including bringing in race-based data collection across all aspects of government “so that we can call out systemic racism within our systems,” and modernizing the Police Act and the Multiculturalism Act.
“It’s way out-dated, and I think people are just tired of the funding song-and-dance. I think people want to see real substance and getting at the real issues, and that’ll be a critical piece,” he said.
Sunner, meanwhile, spoke to his experiences with racism growing up an immigrant in Victoria and not speaking English, admitting to being “maybe even slightly confrontational when it came to anyone being bullied or any kind of incidents that I saw.”
“That’s probably why I got into policing: I didn’t like any kind of injustice or anybody being victimized for anything. That bothered me.”
The longtime RCMP officer spoke about the work he’s done to bridge the gap between the Punjabi community and law enforcement, and about starting Team Izzat — a group of police officers and university students who volunteer their time to connect with youth — in 2004 to combat negative media attention at the time around South Asian youth, gangs and drugs.
“My thing was, you know what? Ninety-nine per cent of kids from all backgrounds are good people and we can’t be using this stereotype because it can really hurt people,” Sunner said. “We saw it in the Aboriginal community, we saw it with Black people in the United States. So I never want to see that.”
“I think all those efforts really helped, but there’s so much more we can do.”
The candidates next spoke about what they would do to address violence towards — and the normalization of violence against — Indigenous people.
Kahlon spoke first, saying unequivocally that systemic racism exists “in all our institutions,” and again pointed to DRIPA as a key part of addressing the issue.
“It’s not just health care. We’ve got challenges in policing, we’ve got challenges in housing, we’ve got challenges in land-based decision-making. And so I think the cornerstone of how we address these issues is DRIPA.”
Further, he said raising the minimum wage and addressing income inequality will also help address systemic racism.
“I can’t sit here and tell you we’re going to fix it overnight; I wouldn’t be honest with everybody if I said that’s possible. But what is possible is acknowledging the problem and bringing everyone to the table to start having the difficult conversations to move these files along.”
Sunner began by saying how sickened and angered he was by cases like the deaths of George Floyd in the U.S. and Joyce Echaquan in Quebec, before speaking to the responsibility police have in their community.
“We are given so much power, and everything we do and say, especially when wearing that uniform, affects people for life,” he said.
Sunner spoke to the need to work together and not “play politics” before acknowledging there is more that can be done in terms of police training.
He also stressed the need to focus on early education to combat systemic racism and by extension many of the issues that stem from it.
“Kids are very impressionable. That’s where we can tackle so many issues before drugs, before homelessness, and also just for hatred, to address that.”
The candidates were also asked several questions about policing: namely what role police have in perpetuating and helping stop systemic racism, and whether the candidates support calls to re-establish the special committee to reform the Police Act; remove cops from schools, mental health initiatives and off of Indigenous lands; and redirecting funds from policing into community-led harm reduction initiatives.
Sunner, in answering the first question, said police are the most visible — “that’s where the videos come from that shock people” — and that it’s unfortunate people “politicize” incidents.
“To me, racism and policing are two different topics.”
Sunner stressed the importance of being honest with the public and getting the full story out as quickly as possible, suggesting something like an extension of the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIO), the province’s police watchdog, be dedicated to investigating these incidents.
“I know they only have so many resources and they’re dedicated to more serious stuff, but to me this is very important, that we have a body that looks at this as well and can investigate it in a lot faster time and get out the results so we can start tackling this issue so there isn’t that divide,” Sunner said. “To me, the police are part of the community, and we need to bring that back so we can move forward and become a better community.”
Sunner said police training and hiring practices could help and acknowledged there may be calls that police don’t need to respond to such as medical calls, before lauding a program he helped start in Richmond where mental health nurses accompany officers attending mental health calls.
“When it’s a 911 [call], someone is suicidal or they want to hurt someone else, […] the police need to attend. We can’t stop those programs, a lot of people will get hurt or killed,” Sunner said.
“I think when we politicize it, it becomes us versus them. And really, policemen are part of the community. […] To me, hopefully, the good people in the community are in policing.”
“I think we need the police. We are establishing more community engagement, more community policing, and we need to make sure that we have the right leadership to continue those types of programs [so] that when people call, they get the police officer they can trust to deal with their 12-year-old. That should be a protective person, someone that’s going to take care of them.”
Kahlon in turn spoke of his party’s commitment to calling an all-party committee to reform the Police Act, specifically highlighting the need to look at police training and procedures surrounding wellness checks, and collecting race-based data that will allow both government and police to “see where the challenges are so we can address those challenges.”
He also said local police departments should all have dedicated hate crime units.
Later, the candidates were asked to name three tangible actions their respective parties would take to make meaningful strides in addressing racism and inequity in B.C.
Sunner said his party would fight for education, tougher anti-hate laws and more resources for police to develop anti-racism programs.
Kahlon reiterated his party’s commitment to collecting race-based data and modernizing the Police Act, as well as having greater representation of diverse people within government and the public sector.
Other topics touched on during the meeting include the ongoing opioid crisis, supporting people with disabilities, addressing the housing crisis, inequities revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and maintaining candidates’ allyship in the face of offensive comments from members of their respective caucuses.
The Delta Chamber of Commerce is hosting a virtual all-candidates meeting for candidates running in Delta North on Thursday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. Residents can watch the all-candidate meeting on the Eastlink Community TV channel and on the Delta Chamber of Commerce Facebook page facebook.com/DeltaChamberofCommerce.
Questions can be submitted in advance to Lydia Elder, manager of policy development, government & stakeholder relations for the Delta Chamber of Commerce, at email@example.com.
The Delta Residents Association has also scheduled a Zoom-based all-candidates meeting for Saturday, Oct. 17. The meeting will be limited to just the candidates and moderator and will not be live-streamed, however a video recording will be available on the DRA’s website (groupspaces.com/DeltaResidentsAssociation) as soon as the next day.
Questions for the candidates can be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advance voting begins on Thursday, Oct. 15 and runs through Wednesday, Oct. 21, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with general voting on Saturday, Oct. 24. Visit elections.bc.ca/voting/where-to-vote for more information about where and how to cast your ballot.
For full election coverage, head to northdeltareporter.com/tag/bc-politics.