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Indigenous man, granddaughter who were wrongly handcuffed reach settlement with Vancouver police


A settlement has been reached in a human rights complaint filed by an Indigenous man and his granddaughter who were handcuffed by police during a 2019 incident at a Vancouver bank.

The settlement, announced Wednesday, includes damages, a community investment and a "two-year collaborative policy-making process to fight systemic racism."

Maxwell Johnson filed a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal complaint against the Vancouver Police Board in 2019 over racial profiling and wrongful detention.

In December of that year, Johnson and his then-12-year-old granddaughter went to open a bank account at the BMO on Burrard Street. However, after suspecting them of fraud because they were using Indian Status Cards as identification, a BMO employee called 911.

Two police officers responded to the incident and placed the pair in handcuffs. They were eventually released and the bank later apologized.

"One of the things I keep seeing is my granddaughter standing there on that street crying while she's being handcuffed. I don't think any parent or grandparent should ever see that in their lifetime,” Johnson said with a quivering voice at a news conference to announce the settlement.

“She must have been about 20 or 30 feet away from me and all I could do was stand there and not do nothing."

Surveillance video from outside the bank that day shows police leading the pair and putting the handcuffs on them as onlookers watch on the busy downtown sidewalk.

At the news conference, Torianne, Johnson’s now-15-year-old granddaughter, spoke publicly about the incident for the first time.

"I'm still healing from that day. I want to tell everyone that Indigenous people experience discrimination, including children like me. From when we are kids, we understand that people treat us differently,” she said. "I also want to tell everyone, especially Indigenous kids, to be strong and speak out when they face discrimination."

As part of the agreement, the Vancouver Police Board admitted the conduct of officers discriminated against Johnson and his granddaughter based on their Indigenous identities.

"The board recognizes the significance of the settlement we have reached with Mr. Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter," a statement from the police board said.

"We are looking forward to this opportunity to work in partnership with the groups involved by reviewing and improving a range of culturally sensitive and relevant practices and policies, in particular those focused on Indigenous people … It is our sincere goal to create a more meaningful relationship with Indigenous communities, and we believe the terms of this settlement will go a long way in furthering this goal."

The agreement included confidential damages awarded to Johnson and his family. As well, $100,000 will be given to Heiltsuk First Nation's restorative justice department to be used on programming for at-risk girls.

The police board is also tasked with creating a position for an anti-Indigenous-racism office or officer to deal with future discrimination complaints brought forward against the VPD by Indigenous people.

B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner will monitor progress on the commitments in the settlement.

“As B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner, my role in this audit is to review and report on the parties’ compliance with the terms of the agreement related to systemic change in the police force, including the Vancouver Police Board’s commitment to take certain steps such as improving training for officers and improving accessibility of complaint mechanisms for Indigenous complainants.” Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender said in a statement.

Heiltsuk Tribal Council Chief Marilyn Slett is optimistic that some of the commitments made by the police board will have a positive impact on the community, particularly the funding for programming for at-risk girls.

“That will mentor and give confidence to young women in our community that have faced trauma in their lives,” said Slett. “There’s so much obstacles that our young people face but there’s so much strength in our community and these programs draw on the strength of our people.”

Members of the police board will also apologize at a special ceremony in the big house in Johnson and Torianne’s home community of Bella Bella next month.

"We hope it's the beginning of addressing the systemic discrimination and racism within law enforcement,” said Slett.

The Vancouver Police Department, which is separate from the civilian police board that agreed to the settlement, declined an interview request and told CTV News to direct all future inquiries to the Heiltsuk Nation.

It’s not clear if VPD Chief Constable Adam Palmer – who has previously said systemic racism does not exist in Canadian policing – or any other actual police officers will attend the ceremony in Bella Bella.

If only civilian members of the police board make the trip and participate in the apology, that could raise questions about whether VPD brass is actually committed to the changes set out in the settlement agreement. Top Stories

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