UBC’s external review of Campus Security is taking place in recent memory of uproar over a video showing an RCMP officer brutally dragging a student along the floor of her apartment building while completing a wellness check.
The case of UBC Okanagan nursing student Mona Wang in June came on the heels of widespread anti-racist protests over police brutality.
Tracy Odhiambo, UBC Black Student Union co-president, was “horrified” but not shocked to see the video of Wang. The encounter unfolded off of UBC’s Kelowna campus in a nearby residence, but closer to home, UBC Vancouver faces its own policing problem.
Two weeks before Wang’s story surfaced this summer, graduate student Savoy Williams alleged that a Campus Security officer denied him building entry in a case of racial profiling. The incident was reminiscent of Congress 2019, when visiting scholar Shelby McPhee said two conference attendees accused him of theft based on his race, with both Campus Security and the RCMP involved.
“To a certain degree, I think that Campus Security does keep us safe,” Odhiambo said. “But I personally also witnessed cases where they have profiled students on the basis of the colour of their skin.”
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The relationship between UBC and the RCMP university detachment has come into question, especially in McPhee and Wang’s cases. And as UBC solicits feedback and sets the scope of its current Campus Security review, campus community members are reconsidering what they think campus security should look like.
“When it comes to people of colour — just as easily as Campus Security keeps us safe, they can also take that safety away from us on the basis of the biases that they do have against people of colour,” said Odhiambo.
A modest response to an old external review
Before UBC’s current Campus Security review, a May 2016 external review found that the department “over promises and under delivers” with its model at the time. Authors noted a lack of clarity around internal roles: “Dissonance best describes what the committee found,” the report said.
“I think they were certainly good people with very good intentions and doing the best they could with what they had,” said Pat Patton in a June 2020 interview with The Ubyssey. Patton, a member of the 2016 review committee and report co-author, is the director of security & operations at the University of Regina and has over 30 years of experience at different universities.
After the report was released in 2016, Debbie Harvie, then-managing director of University Community Services, said Campus Security would prioritize 8 of the 32 total recommendations the review committee had provided in areas such as the development of a vision statement, management of campus blue phones and clarity around job descriptions.
“I’m actually quite excited about [the recommendations], because I think for the first time we’re going to get [a] very clear role and mandate clarification for the department,” Harvie said at the time.
A year later in 2017, Campus Security’s annual report said “a number” of recommendations had been implemented and the department was hiring for its newly created executive director position. The 2018 report said little more than the director position had been filled, with a few loose statements in reference to the recommendations.
“As 2018 unfolds there will be further changes that will enhance the safety and security of all those on campus,” the report reads.
There was no mention of the 2016 review in the 2019 and 2020 annual reports.
Four years after the review, it remains unclear how much progress Campus Security made on the recommendations.
“UBC Campus Security implemented a number of the recommendations following the 2016 review and Campus Security continues to make improvements to their services,” said Acting Director of Campus Security Ali Mojdehi, in an emailed statement from July 2020.
He said in July that he expects the current external review to replace the one from 2016.
No formal agreement between UBC Vancouver and RCMP
The 2016 review found that there was no formal agreement between Campus Security and the RCMP university detachment, recommending that the two establish a memorandum of agreement to clarify their relationship.
The mandates of university security departments and police are different, with campus security in general not responsible for policing, Patton said. Campus security units are better able to handle certain situations, such as monitoring campus buildings.
“I don’t think this is a problem that’s unique to UBC. It's just magnified because the RCMP is right on your campus,” she said. “ … I wouldn’t expect to walk into the Regina police service and do their job … We’re quite capable, quite well trained, really smart people that are able to do a job that doesn’t necessarily require the police to do it.”
When McPhee said he was racially profiled in 2019, a letter from the Black Canadian Studies Association said that the two alleged perpetrators had initially contacted the RCMP, with conference volunteers reaching Campus Security who also later contacted the RCMP.
When Mounties arrived on the scene, the letter said officers “illegally detained” McPhee. The RCMP later said there was “no indication” he had been detained and that the accusations against McPhee were unfounded.
The chain of events raised questions of when the RCMP should intervene on campus.
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“If you have people who are trained to use force dealing with non-forceful situations, I’m pretty sure violent outcomes are plausible,” said Odhiambo. “And it’s what we’ve seen happen.”
Dr. Charles Menzies, a faculty member involved with the UBC Board of Governors and Senate and a member of Gitxaała Nation, brought up the fact that the government established the RCMP to police Indigenous peoples and protect colonial interests, not the public.
“The RCMP for that matter, as a police force especially with its colonial history, wasn't about protecting people. it was about preserving territorial authority,” he said. Menzies is also a professor in the department of anthropology.
Both UBC and the RCMP said that still no memorandum between them exists, with Mojdehi chalking the lack of action on the recommendation up to “organizational change” Campus Security was undergoing in the four years since the 2016 recommendations.
Nonetheless, Mojdehi said in July the university and Mounties had a “solid working relationship.” The RCMP agreed.
“We have an excellent working relationship with Campus Security,” said RCMP Constable Ian Sim in a July email. “Open lines of communication between the Detachment Commander and Campus Security Director have been established for years. Both agencies have a clear understanding of their respective roles and [are] committed to assisting each other.”
In December, UBC President Santa Ono said in a release that the university has begun meeting with the RCMP about their relationship, with UBCO having inked a memorandum of understanding with Mounties earlier this year.
Ono added that RCMP and Campus Security members will undergo training, but UBC has little jurisdiction over the RCMP despite RCMP training being one of Ono’s anti-racism commitments.
How campus security could change
Community members contemplate what exactly a reformed security presence on campus could look like, in addition to distilling the UBC–RCMP relationship.
Both Menzies and Odhiambo acknowledged that there are instances where Campus Security is needed, but suggested that the unit diversify its staff as a first step.
However, Menzies added that a broader form of peacekeeping is required to make sure people obey the law. But the issue lies in the history of colonial violence within the RCMP and with officers carrying lethal weaponry. In the case of police wellness checks like Mona Wang’s, he said that an RCMP presence could possibly escalate the situation.
“When you go to help somebody who's in mental distress, we shouldn't be sending people with guns to meet that person's needs. That is just not a human thing to do.”
UBC has a pre-existing discrimination policy, SC7, that covers all of campus, including Campus Security. The current review will further consider race in their examination of the unit’s implicit bias policies, according to a scope document.
When asked what use-of-force and racial bias policies Campus Security had in July, Mojdehi emailed a copy of the department’s three-page force policy but didn’t mention any implicit bias policies. The policy said it was due for review in 2017, but the university said in July that this was the most up to date policy. However, he noted that Campus Security is bound by all university policies including policy SC7 on discrimination.
UBC said in December that the scope of the current review would cover use of force and bias policies, with the goal of providing recommendations “to eliminate bias.” The review will consist of document reviews, examinations of a “representative” sample of incidents over the past two years, interviews with Campus Security leaders at both UBC campuses, interviews with “campus partners and community stakeholders” and a call for written comments.
“The purpose of the review is to examine policies and practices for systemic bias and institutional racism, and to align the goals and mission of Campus Security with the University’s stated commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion,” the scope of the review reads.
Still, campus security units should listen to community needs, according to Patton. “We never would have thought of using the term ‘implicit bias’ ten years ago, but now we recognize that there are some issues and we’ve got to train and learn,” she said.
Both Menzies and Odhiambo agree that the experiences of Black and Indigenous peoples must be considered as those most impacted by systemic racism in policing, lest incidents of racial discrimination continue to occur.
“I urge the university to look more into these situations because I believe that Black people and people of colour are commonly the targets of these attacks or violent instances,” said Odhiambo.
“I believe that they should be able to feel safe on campus, just like any other students.”