A Rose by Any Other Name
Well-Being Checks, a New Manifestation of Discriminatory Policing?
Citizens and advocacy groups across Canada have called for an end to street checks, a practice that involves the police stopping and questioning people on the street, absent grounds for arrest or detention, to collect identifying information. Across jurisdictions, the data reveals that street checks disproportionately target Black, Indigenous, and other racialized and marginalized persons. Police departments have historically justified these racial disparities by framing street checks as a proactive policing tool, but in recent years, the rhetoric around street checks has shifted. Now, street checks are a way for officers to check in on the “well-being” of marginalized community members. In Vancouver, the VPD has framed this practice as promoting a social good, but this article contends that well-being checks are another manifestation of arbitrary street checks. This article first examines how street checks and the discourse surrounding them have evolved in Toronto, leading to the current moment, where departments face mounting pressure to justify racial disparities in their data. Next, this article shifts its focus to the Downtown East Side (DTES) of Vancouver, where police are facing a similar public reckoning, and have responded with one specific, novel justification: street checks are justifiable as a proactive policing tool that protects the interests of society’s most vulnerable. This article concludes by arguing that well-being checks may function as a new manifestation of discriminatory policing, one that responds to a specific history and context but duplicates the experience of an arbitrary street check.
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