VPD rejects applicant with vision problem

Kiren Gill wants nothing more than to be a Vancouver police officer.

The 28-year-old Surrey resident has a degree in human kinetics from the University of B.C., he’s worked as an assistant supervisor at a college, he’s volunteered with children at the YMCA and Union Gospel Mission and is physically fit.

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But his colour vision isn’t the best.

“A normal red to you would be a bit dark to me,” he told the Courier. “Sometimes, blues and purples can be a bit difficult, especially if it’s a dark purple and a blue. But I can see colours. What I see is just slightly different than what a person with normal vision would see.”

Because of this deficiency, the Vancouver Police Department told Gill he wouldn’t be a suitable candidate for a recruit. That meant no interview, no testing, no training. He received the news shortly after he applied in February 2013.

Last Thursday, Gill made a presentation to the Vancouver Police Board saying the VPD’s vision acuity requirement is discriminatory and that it wouldn’t prevent him from doing the job.

“I and many others bring many other skills and assets to serve the community and are being unfairly barred from doing so,” he told the board, noting the VPD has evolved over the years, allowing minorities and women on the force, as well as doing away with height requirements.

In an interview after the board meeting, Gill said his abnormal vision was diagnosed when he was a child. So when he applied to the VPD and attached his acuity test with his application, he knew he might not land an interview.

“I knew there would be issues,” he said, noting he’s received the same response from other departments he’s applied to in the Lower Mainland.  “But this is the only thing I want to do. This is my dream — to serve the community. That’s all I want to do. Everything I’ve done has been to work towards this goal.”

In his research, he has learned that countries such as Ireland, England and Australia have either modified or scrapped their vision acuity requirements. He noted Vancouver Fire and Rescue now considers candidates on a case-by-case basis.

Though Gill said he recognizes his vision isn’t perfect, he pointed out that should be weighted against his other attributes, including his work and life experience and skills.

“Why this is an automatic rejection doesn’t make sense,” he said, noting he has a driver’s licence and, unless he told friends or co-workers about his deficiency, they would never recognize it.

After hearing Gill’s presentation, the police board agreed to investigate further.

All municipal police departments in B.C., including the VPD, follow vision acuity standards set by the B.C. Police Services Division. Those standards are based on recommendations from the Canadian Ophthalmological Society.

Const. Brian Montague, a VPD media liaison officer, said in an email to the Courier the society examined the requirements of an officer’s job, including giving evidence in court, identifying suspects “and other duties that may require an officer to be able to distinguish, identify and explain colour.”

Montague said Gill made some “excellent points” in his presentation to the board. He added that the VPD’s investigation of Gill’s complaint will include looking at risk management of hiring an officer who has abnormal vision. Montague said he didn’t have any statistics tracking how many applicants to the VPD had been rejected because of issues with vision acuity.

Gill, meanwhile, said he can only hope his complaint will get a full examination and requirements will be relaxed. He said he will also contact Justice Minister Suzanne Anton about his concern.

mhowell@vancourier.com

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