The Unintended Race-Based Consequences of ICBC’s Insurance Changes

Last year, changes came into effect with ICBC policies that now require a vehicle owner to list on the insurance policy the other individuals who will drive the vehicle. As most British Columbians are now aware, your insurance rates are directly impacted by the insurance history of the other people that you list.

But the flip side of this is that if you loan your vehicle to someone not listed on the policy, you may be in a situation where the vehicle is uninsured as your coverage will not extend to the unlisted drivers. There are exceptions to this rule, but that can be the case.

The consequence of this is not just that you have to pay more for your insurance. Rather, this gives the police greater authority to conduct arbitrary traffic stops of vehicles. Which also gives the police greater authority to target and harass people of colour.

Look at it this way.

Police in British Columbia are lawfully entitled to stop any vehicle at random to check licensing, sobriety, fitness to drive, and insurance coverage. The random traffic stops for sobriety, fitness, and licensing are generally more difficult to challenge. However, the officer must be bona fide in his or her intention to stop the vehicle for this purpose.

When it comes to random traffic stops for insurance, the rules are a little more constraining. The officer has to have some reason to believe the vehicle is uninsured. For example, a search of the vehicle needs to show that the insurance has lapsed or that there may be some problem with it. If the officer doesn’t take steps to confirm the insurance status through the police computer, there was often an ample basis to challenge the stop.

Enter the ICBC changes.

I have already seen cases where the police conduct random traffic stops of vehicles to check whether the driver is insured because the person they observe driving does not match the physical description of the driver listed on the policy.

This means that police can conduct random, race-based traffic stops under the faulty premise of wanting to ensure the driver is insured. And the basis for these stops has been and will continue to be the mere physical description of the driver, including the colour of their skin.

Imagine this scenario. A person with a very caucasian name like James Stewart is listed as the owner of the vehicle police are following. Police see the driver wearing a turban and sporting a beard. They see the driver has brown skin. Police decide to stop the vehicle to verify whether the person who does not physically appear to be James Stewart is insured.

Maybe in that situation you could justify the stop in your mind because the differences are obvious. But remember… my last name is Lee and I am not of Asian descent.

And last names do not always reveal the skin colour of the person. What if I told you that James Stewart was adopted by a caucasian family but brought up with his Punjabi traditions? Or that his mother is a practicing Sikh and raised him in those traditions, while his father is caucasian.

This is wrong. And these situations are not unimaginable. They are happening every day across the Province of British Columbia.

ICBC’s changes were supposed to put out the financial dumpster fire that has been created by mismanagement of the corporation. But instead they have simply added fuel to a bigger and more insidious dumpster fire: the one that allows police to abuse their discretionary powers to disproportionately target individuals of colour.

Nothing has changed in ICBC’s computer system accessible by police to stop race-based profiling under the guise of an insurance check. The law does not function to prohibit this, by adapting the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act to prevent police from stopping vehicles solely because the physical descriptor of the driver does not match that of the owner. Rather, the law has adapted to implicitly authorize more police to conduct more traffic stops of people of colour.

Something needs to change here. As we understand and acknowledge more that police disproportionately target non-white individuals, we need to create a legal structure that prevents this type of targeting in the first place, rather than one that only increases it.

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