Nelson Police Department officers are being investigated for allegedly sharing racist comments in a chat group, according to the Office of Police Complaint Commissioner.
The Office of Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC), which is the provincial oversight body for complaints against B.C.’s 11 municipal forces, told the Nelson Star on Thursday that eight present and former members of the department are being investigated for sharing “inappropriate content and messages including alleged racist comments” in a WhatsApp chat group.
The commissioner’s office said the investigation was ordered Feb. 3 by Nelson Police Department Chief Donovan Fisher, who also confirmed the probe was underway.
“Although there may be matters that need to be addressed based on the outcome of a full investigation, I continue to have confidence in the officers of this department and their ability to serve the community,” said Fisher in a statement.
Mayor John Dooley, who is chair of the Nelson Police Board, declined to comment while the investigation is underway.
Vancouver Police Department officers are investigating the allegations on behalf of the OPCC, which is a civilian-run organization.
The 125-year-old Nelson Police Department (NPD) typically has 20 full-time members.
The investigation follows a 2021 report by the B.C. Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, which included arrest data from NPD that suggested Black and Indigenous people were more likely to be arrested than white people.
Between 2019 and 2020, self-identifying Indigenous people were involved in 10.3 per cent of arrests despite only representing 5.4 per cent of Nelson’s population. Black residents, meanwhile, account for just 0.7 per cent of the city’s population but were involved in 1.5 per cent of all arrests during that timespan.
Dr. Shelina Musaji of the West Kootenay People For Racial Justice, which has advocated for changes to how Black, Indigenous and people of colour are policed in Nelson, said the allegations would be disappointing if proven true.
“You hate to have this proof to force change, but perhaps evidence like this will make our leaders see the truth of what’s actually happening so that changes might be forced upon systems and organizations.”
In 2019 the OPCC found two Nelson police officers guilty of misconduct, including one who was reprimanded for using a derogatory term referring to a female officer as well as multiple incidents of sexual harassment of male coworkers.
The latest investigation comes after an all-party committee of MLAs released 11 recommended changes in April to the provincial Police Act, which was prompted by calls to address systemic racism in B.C. law enforcement.