Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why don’t the police arrest people for open drug use?
A: Police have the statutory authority to arrest for possession of a drug listed in the Controlled Drug and Substances Act. To arrest anyone, the police must have “Reasonable and Probable Grounds”. This requires more than suspicion. The arresting officer must be able to articulate the grounds for arrest. There must also be “Public Interest” to arrest. This is defined in the Criminal Code as the need to identify, seize evidence and/or stop the continuation of the offence.
Case law has determined that in Canada, past possession of drugs is not indicative of possession. This means that the police cannot arrest someone for drug possession if they have a used needle or if they have just injected or smoked a drug, unless the police have other grounds to believe that they still have a quantity of drugs in their possession. The fact that they just used drugs only proves that they had drugs, not that they have any now. The police cannot arrest someone for having drugs in their body.
Police enforcement actions around drugs are mostly focussed on targeting drug dealers rather than users.
Q: Why don’t the police arrest people loitering in our parks?
A: Loitering is not illegal. People have the right to sit on a bench or sidewalk as long as they are not interfering with traffic flow into a business, or on a street.
Causing a disturbance is illegal and the police can arrest for that. It can include obstructing people in public, fighting, screaming, shouting, swearing or being drunk. The police cannot be disturbed – it must be clear that citizens are being disturbed by the behaviour. Police only have the power to arrest a person causing a disturbance as they are committing the act. The police cannot arrest after the fact, even if multiple people witnessed the incident.
Q: What offences can the police arrest people for?
A: The Safe Streets Act prohibits anyone from asking for money; near a bank machine, bus stop, in a parking lot, on a street, or too close to the entrance to a business. With this legislation, police only have the power to arrest if the person is found committing the act.
Mischief is destroying property, obstructing, interrupting or interfering with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property. Police do not need to witness the offence to arrest for Mischief; with this offence police grounds for arrest can be formulated based on witness accounts or other evidence.
Possession of Property Obtained by Crime (PSP) is illegal. Police must be able to have reasonable and probable grounds to believe an item is stolen. This can be difficult to prove when items do not have serial numbers, or when serial numbers are not recorded or reported to the police. To charge someone with PSP, the police must be able to prove that the owner had control over the object, and knowledge that the item was stolen. Proving knowledge can be difficult when items are bartered amongst, or given to homeless persons on a regular basis. If there is a certain stolen item that is regularly recovered by police, and the owners have previously advised that they will not give a statement, or attend court, if the police arrest for PSP, it could be viewed as an abuse of process as the police knew they would never be able to gather sufficient information to support a charge.
Q: Who lays charges after an arrest?
A: Police do not lay charges in the Province of British Columbia. Police submit the information gathered in their investigation to Crown Counsel who decide upon charge approval.
Police response is not focussed solely on enforcement, but on engagement with partners in mental health, social and housing to attempt to identify solutions to community issues.