Heiltsuk man and granddaughter settle with VPD over BMO handcuffing

Sep 29 2022, 5:55 pm

The Indigenous BC man who was handcuffed by police along with his 12-year-old granddaughter at a bank in downtown Vancouver reached a settlement with police this week over the treatment.

The Vancouver Police Department will pay an undisclosed amount in damages to Heiltsuk Nation member Maxwell Johnson, pay $100,000 to the Nation’s restorative justice department, and undergo a two-year policy-making process to fight systemic racism — supervised by the BC Human Rights Commissioner.

“While my family is still in a healing process, we are committed to reconciliation and working with the police board to fight systemic racism, and make sure no one else has to experience what we went through,” Johnson said in a statement. “With today’s agreement, we can truly begin to heal and move forward.”

Johnson was visiting the Burrard branch of the Bank of Montreal with his granddaughter in December 2019 when a bank employee called 911 because they suspected the pair’s status cards were fake.

Johnson and his pre-teen granddaughter were arrested and handcuffed by police, in an incident the pair has described as traumatic.

Following the incident, Johnson has been involved in a three-year human rights complaint. Earlier this year Johnson settled with BMO and this week’s settlement with police concludes the legal saga.

“The settlement reflects an understanding that the discriminatory conduct was symptomatic of more systemic issues relating to how police view and treat Indigenous peoples,” the Heiltsuk Nation said in a statement.

The two police officers who arrested Johnson and his granddaughter were found to have acted recklessly and oppressively and were placed on leave over the incident.

The judge overseeing the discipline proceeding said the officers breached their professional code of conduct when they arrested the pair without sufficient cause and that handcuffs were an unnecessary use of force — especially on a 12-year-old girl. The incident prompted the Vancouver Police Department to change its handcuffing policy.

The VPD’s $100,000 payment to the Heiltsuk Nation will fund one year of community programming for at-risk young women, including young women who suffer anxiety due to traumatic incidents.

In addition, VPD will pay $20,000 to the Union of BC Indian Chiefs for their expenses related to preparing expert evidence.

UBCIC and the Heiltsuk Nation will work with VPD over the next two years to improve police training on anti-Indigenous racism, including matters related to Indigenous status cards. The police board must also publish an annual report on its website about the number and nature of complaints of treatment of Indigenous people, and how they were addressed.

To conclude the legal proceedings, an apology ceremony will be held at the Heiltsuk Nation’s Big House in Bella Bella on October 24. Johnson is an artist, and he’ll gift a piece of his work to the police board following their formal apology.

“Today is an incredible victory against systemic racism. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Max and his granddaughter for their tireless pursuit of justice,” Heiltsuk Nation Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett said.

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