The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs has applied to intervene in a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal case against the Vancouver Police Department after an Indigenous man and his 12-year-old granddaughter were handcuffed outside a Vancouver bank in 2019 while trying to open a bank account.
The move comes as some within the VPD continue to deny the existence of systemic racism in Canadian policing.
“To be clear, we’re sick and tired of meaningless apologies,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said in a press conference Wednesday morning where video footage of the incident was released to media. “There should never be 12-year-old girls in handcuffs simply because she was with her grandfather trying to open a bank account,” he said, calling the incident “disgusting.”
Phillip said the union is throwing its weight behind the complainant Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter to expose racism within the VPD.
“The party’s over. We’re going to come after you with every legal means possible. Be so advised,” he said.
Lawyer Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said the application to intervene signifies Johnson has the “full support” of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. She said that to deny systemic racism in policing “strains credibility at the deepest level” and lawyers would be “pushing back very hard” against that statement.
In November, lawyers for Johnson announced a complaint had been filed with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in connection with the December 2019 incident at a Vancouver Bank of Montreal branch. The tribunal has not yet set a date for a hearing.
On Dec. 20, 2019, Johnson visited a Downtown Vancouver BMO to help his then 12-year-old granddaughter Tori open an account. Instead, they were questioned about their government-issued Indian status cards and police were called for what the bank believed was a fraud in progress.
Vancouver Police then handcuffed the pair and had them wait on the sidewalk outside the bank for 45 minutes before they were released. Police confirmed no crime had been committed and their identification was valid.
Johnson is a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation in Bella Bella.
After the incident, BMO said it would establish an advisory council of Indigenous leaders from across the country. The bank’s CEO also issued an apology.
Vancouver Police said the incident involving Johnson and his granddaughter was “regrettable and, understandably, traumatic.” The department conducted a review of its policy and operations, while B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner also investigated.
The UBCIC’s application to intervene in the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal case comes as a VPD union leader recently complained to the Vancouver police board saying Mayor Kennedy Stewart‘s public statements about systemic racism in the department have created a “toxic work environment.”
In the five-page complaint shown to Postmedia, Sgt. Blair Canning blasted Stewart while praising VPD Chief Adam Palmer for denying the existence of systemic racism in Canadian policing.
Last June, a few weeks after George Floyd’s death, while politicians, protesters, police and all kinds of institutions were grappling with questions of racial injustice, Palmer told Postmedia the suggestion of systemic racism in Canadian policing was not only untrue but “offensive.”
More to come …
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