Civil lawsuit filed in alleged racial profiling incident at Vancouver Walmart
VANCOUVER -- A lawsuit filed in British Columbia Supreme Court this week accuses Vancouver police officers of wrongful arrest, excessive force and violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and seeks damages from the officers, the City of Vancouver, Walmart and the Walmart employee whose alleged racial profiling set the incident in motion.
The notice of civil claim filed on behalf of plaintiffs Shane Robertson and Margaret Deneault on Wednesday stems from an incident that occurred on Mother's Day in 2019 and was partially caught on camera.
CTV News Vancouver reported on the incident in June of this year, after Deneault came forward in hopes that her case can shed light on the international discussion about racism in policing that was sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
None of the allegations in Deneault and Robertson's lawsuit has been proven in court.
The claim describes Deneault and Robertson, who is her son, purchasing some patio furniture and food at the Walmart Supercentre on Grandview Highway in East Vancouver. The pair are said to have been shopping with Deneault's niece and Robertson's eight-year-old son.
After paying for their items, the family was leaving the store, with Robertson walking about 10 metres in front of the rest of the group. The lawsuit alleges that a Walmart employee "confronted Robertson and accused him of theft, without the courtesy of asking Robertson or Deneault or any other member of their family for proof of purchase."
According to the claim, Robertson said he had paid for the items and proceeded to leave the store. At that point, the Walmart employee or someone else from the store called police "and falsely reported that the plaintiffs had committed theft and/or assault," the claim states.
When police arrived, the lawsuit says, they didn't ask the family if they had a receipt for their items or engage them in discussion.
"Instead, without lawful cause and without informing him of the reason for his arrest and/or detention, the VPD members tackled Robertson to the ground and restrained Robertson by forcefully putting their knees on the back of his head, neck and legs," the lawsuit says.
The claim describes Robertson repeatedly telling officers that he's not resisting arrest, while two officers strike him repeatedly in the back, legs and head with fists and knees.
The document also describes police forcibly removing Deneault from the driver's seat of her vehicle and arresting her, without describing the reason for the arrest.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants' actions caused the plaintiffs psychological harms in addition to physical ones. It describes both Robertson and Deneault as suffering trauma and humiliation as a result of the incident. It also alleges that the incident has increased the risk of Deneault losing custody of Robertson's son to the Ministry of Child and Family Development.
Both Robertson and Deneault are Indigenous, and the claim alleges the Walmart employee who stopped them did so because of Robertson's race and appearance, rather than any reasonable suspicion.
None of the defendants has yet filed a response to the claim in court. However, when CTV News reported on the incident in June, Vancouver police spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin said in a statement that officers were called to the scene to investigate an assault.
Visintin said the call indicated that a man had spit at a loss prevention officer and assaulted another one.
“The suspect was very confrontational," Visintin said in June. "He refused to co-operate with the investigation and refused to listen or follow direction from members. Members attempted to handcuff him to prevent the aggression from escalating and to arrest him for the alleged assaults on the two store staff members.”
The VPD didn’t mention Denault’s arrest in its first statement on the matter. CTV News asked about that, and in a second statement, Visintin said, “Officers repeatedly told the mother they needed to speak to her son to investigate the assault. In order to be able to continue their investigation, officers temporarily placed the mother in handcuffs, as she was obstructing them from the investigation.”
After the melee, no charges were laid, Visintin says. “The security staff decided not to participate in pursuing charges.”
The Office of the Police Complaints Commission, which oversees municipal police discipline in the province, is investigating the incident.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Jon Woodward