Private security guards in B.C.
are assuming illegal powers

Meanwhile police and other authorities
look the other way, or even assist them

Among the disturbing news resulting from the Peace region pipeline bombings are reports that private security guards have been shining lights in the windows of people’s homes and pulling people over for interrogation on public roads. Those actions are illegal. But they seem to be part of an ongoing trend that’s tolerated, and even abetted, by the police and higher authorities.

Even in light of the bombings this is an extremely serious matter. Private security guards in B.C. have no more rights or powers than anyone else. British Columbians should be concerned. So should the police, the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and the Solicitor General.

My own experience provides one example of what private security can get away with. Two security guards ordered me to leave a public street under threat of violence. As I was writing down one of their licence plate numbers they grabbed me, handcuffed me, shoved me to the ground, tried to push my face into the pavement and forced me to kneel in a painful Gitmo stress position. Three Vancouver police constables who showed up supported the security guards entirely, despite their thuggish demeanour and the vague, contradictory excuses they gave for their actions.

Vancouver Police Professional Standards went on to support the three police constables.

The VPD rationale is an expedient but dangerous interpretation of Section 494 of the Criminal Code. The VPD claim this gives security guards the right to handcuff and detain people on a public street. Section 494 does allow a citizen’s arrest on public property when a crime is being committed or someone is fleeing the scene of a crime. But vague, contradictory allegations don’t nearly justify a citizen’s arrest, let alone the use of handcuffs and violence.

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner interprets Section 494 exactly the same way as the VPD.

The OPCC also supported the Vancouver police in another disturbing action. The three police officers forced me to give my name, address and birth date to the two security guards who had just handcuffed and assaulted me. The OPCC brushed this aside by saying it’s not specifically “a disciplinary default under the Code of Conduct Regulations.” But it is a violation of Section 1 of B.C.’s Privacy Act.

And a fairly common violation, it turns out. A November 2008 report from the Pivot Legal Society relates how some VPD officers give people’s names and birth dates to security guards. The security guards then record the details in their employer’s database.

The same report finds that “private security guards routinely overstep the bounds of their authority on public property” and that “private security guards use force illegally.”

The Solicitor General’s department supposedly regulates security guards. But I’ve twice found that when a complaint is made the ministry will not follow up with the complainant. So the public has no way of knowing how a complaint was handled.

At any rate the Solicitor General has given security guards the widest possible loophole. What regulation there is applies only to licensed security guards. There’s nothing to stop a company from using unlicensed security guards.

Licensed security guards, for example, aren’t allowed to carry handcuffs, let alone use them. Unlicensed security guards can carry and use handcuffs.

Obviously something needs to be fixed. But there’s no indication the Solicitor General has any such plans.

Moreover, legislation doesn’t mean a thing if it’s not enforced. If police in Vancouver, the Peace region and likely elsewhere won’t enforce existing laws against security guards, they can act with impunity. Vancouver police are further enhancing the unlegislated powers of security guards by giving them confidential information. As a result, British Columbians might already be getting used to a sort of usage creep in which security guards increasingly exercise powers they don’t legally have.

As it stands now, it will probably take a number of lawsuits to reverse the trend.

Or maybe international attention. With the Olympics on its way, we’re being told to accept extraordinary disruptions to our day-to-day lives. It’s not hard to imagine security guards taking on wider powers — powers that are unlegislated but condoned by their employers, the police and the provincial authorities that oversee police and security guards.

Maybe the tipping point will come when international media talk about swaggering goons pulling people over for interrogation on B.C.’s public roads, or handcuffing and assaulting people who fail to leave a public area fast enough.

Those actions can’t happen? They already are happening.

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