Vancouver Police Union breaks with tradition and endorses ABC Vancouver for municipal election

Vancouver’s Police Union is endorsing mayoral candidate Ken Sim of the ABC Vancouver party in the upcoming municipal election on Oct. 15, breaking a tradition of staying out of municipal politics.

The organization, which lobbies on behalf of over 1,000 Vancouver Police Department officers, is citing budget needs and an alleged lack of resources as its motivation for actively endorsing mayoral and councillor candidates in the upcoming polls.

In a statement, the VPU said it came to the decision to endorse Sim and his ABC Party after reviewing the various parties’ campaign platforms and holding an in-person forum on Oct. 3.

“Electing Ken Sim and an ABC majority will ensure that police and other frontline responders will have the resources they need to protect and serve Vancouverites,” VPU President Ralph Kaisers said in the statement.

Sim has committed to hiring 100 more officers if his party were to form a majority, in addition to other public safety policies like outfitting cops with bodycams.

Public safety has been a top election issue during the municipal election cycle, with Kaisers saying that Vancouver’s residents don’t feel safe in their own city.

“The VPU board and its members are committed to taking action to change that — and if it means getting political, so be it,” he said.

Despite Kaisers’ claim that the VPD is under-resourced, however, the VPD takes up the biggest portion of Vancouver’s budget, and they had the province overturn a funding freeze earlier this year.

Experts say move could break trust

Robert Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said he doesn’t like the idea of the police union playing politics. He says police have a greater moral responsibility than other workers in the public sector.

“They’re supposed to be impartial enforcers of the law,” he told CBC News. “And if that is eroded in any way — their independence is eroded because of political interference — then we’ve got a big problem.”

On The Coast6:47We explore the reasons behind the Vancouver Police Union stepping up its political influence with this municipal election

The Vancouver Police Union is getting political, perhaps more than ever before. We look at the reasons behind this and what the ramifications may be with Kimberley Brownlee, a Canada Research Chair at UBC.

Kimberley Brownlee, the Canada Research Chair in ethics and political and social philosophy at the University of British Columbia, said that police should “nudge” the government if they feel they are under-resourced, but that the union needs to be careful not to get too involved.

“If police are endorsing candidates who are not supportive of everyone, then that can have a knock-on effect for how we view police and their role in society,” she told Margaret Gallagher, guest host of CBC’s On The Coast.

‘Police out of politics’

Tonye Aganaba, a criminalization and policing campaigner with Pivot Legal Society, conceded that the VPU’s move to endorse is legal, unlike in jurisdictions like Ontario.

They said that Kaisers’ claims of not having enough officers did not line up with the situation on the ground, and that the union’s proposals to increase the budget would detract from the root causes of crime — poverty, lack of housing, and connection to community.

“Increasing the police budget is not going to help with any of that,” they said. “What it will do is continue to fill our jails with people that have a lot of problems and need help, and we won’t have the money to focus on those solutions.”

A man holds up a banner reading 'Police out of politics' in front of a stage.
Sean Orr, who was escorted out of a VPU-organized forum on Oct. 3, says there should be more civilian oversight of the VPD. (Sean Orr/Twitter)

At the VPU forum on Oct. 3, one municipal candidate was not allowed to attend — Sean Orr, from VOTE Socialist, who held up a banner that read “Police out of politics” and was escorted out of the event.

In an interview with CBC News, Orr questioned the VPU’s status as a union itself — saying it is not a member of the B.C. Federation of Labour, and that the VPD was historically used to fight against labour.

“Public safety has been on the minds of a lot of Vancouverites,” he said. “I don’t believe that the police make people feel safe, and so I feel that [the VPU] are threatened by that.”