The Vancouver Police Board has dismissed a complaint from a local citizen who claimed police officers failed to enforce laws against cyclists during a summer “Critical Mass” bike ride.
The complainant, whose name wasn’t disclosed by the police board, filed a complaint with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner after the June 24 bike ride.
The ride, which occurs the last Friday of every month, saw hundreds of cyclists in June block intersections and disrupt traffic. Many weren’t wearing helmets.
The complainant argued cyclists were flagrantly breaking the law, specifically the Motor Vehicle Act, while the Vancouver Police Department’s response was to simply monitor the event.
The complaint was turned over to the police board, which led to a police review of the complaint. Acting deputy chief Mike Porteous conducted the review and concluded in a Dec. 14 report to the board that officers “acted in compliance of VPD policy.”
“The police are not duty bound to take enforcement action in every case involving an infraction of the law about which they become aware, and there are many valid reasons why a police officer may properly exercise his or her discretion not to,” wrote Porteous, citing case law that suggested discretion of an officer not to take action in a large-scale event is sometimes a better option to keep the peace.
For many years, the VPD has discussed how to police Critical Mass, which is believed to have started in Vancouver in 1998 or 1999.
Historically, the event begins outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, where cyclists gather until the group reaches a critical mass before taking to the streets.
By design, the event does not have a leader in the traditional sense, which has made it difficult for police to develop a crowd control plan.
As a result, police have taken a conservative approach to the event, much like police do in San Francisco and other cities where such bike rides occur.
“San Francisco, similarly to Vancouver, maintains that the best way to police the ride is to escort it through the city and attempt to intervene in any confrontations that take place between cyclists and motorists,” Porteous wrote. “This is consistent with the policy of the VPD and the police in many other major North American cities when dealing with peaceful demonstrations and/or protests.”
Police board member Glenn Wong said he was concerned the VPD’s approach could be interpreted as “carte blanche” for people to flagrantly flout the law.
Police Chief Jim Chu replied by saying he doesn’t have “a recipe book” or spreadsheet to follow for each protest. But Chu said the VPD’s focus is to ensure the safety of participants, police and those affected by a protest.
“We want to police it as we police any other protest,” Chu told reporters after the Dec. 14 police board meeting. “We want it to end peacefully and we see ourselves as peacekeepers with a measured response to allow people to exercise their democratic rights to protest but also respecting other peoples’ rights to do their business or to enjoy their property rights.”