The two Vancouver police officers who handcuffed and detained an Indigenous man and his granddaughter when they tried to open a bank account may no longer be attending an apology ceremony Monday, according to Heiltsuk First Nation.
The apology ceremony is one component of what was described as a “ground-breaking” settlement of Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter Torianne’s 2019 human rights complaint. The Heiltsuk First Nation will be hosting the Vancouver Police Board whose members will formally apologize to Johnson and his family on their territory. The possible absence of the two officers is being described as “extremely hurtful.”
A statement issued Sunday by the nation says the names of the two constables are not on a passenger list of the delegation travelling to Bella Bella. Cultural protocol, a spokesperson explains, does not allow for others to stand in as representatives for the officers.
“Traditional Apology Ceremony cannot be carried out unless all of those who caused the harm are themselves present,” the online statement says.
“The Heiltsuk Nation and Maxwell Johnson would view the constables’ potential non-attendance as a symptom of the larger systemic failure to acknowledge and take responsibility for systemic racism in policing.”
The Vancouver Police Board has admitted the officers’ conduct discriminated against Johnson and his granddaughter based on their Indigenous identities.
A review by a retired judge, ordered by B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, found that Constables Canon Wong and Mitchel Tong committed misconduct after they were called to the downtown Vancouver Bank of Montreal branch. Each officer was found to have committed two counts of abuse of authority. First, by removing Johnson and Torianne from the bank “without reasonable cause” and “recklessly arresting” them. Second, by “recklessly using unnecessary force” by putting them both in handcuffs.
“This decision has also found that the cultural safety needs of Mr. Maxwell and his granddaughter, Indigenous persons who found themselves under scrutiny by police, were simply not considered by the officers in question. In the result, two vulnerable persons of Indigenous heritage were exposed to unnecessary trauma and fear, and left with a serious perception of unfairness in their treatment at the hands of police,” Brian Neal, Q.C wrote.
In addition to short, unpaid suspensions and mandatory training, each officer was ordered to issue a written apology. Further, they were directed by the disciplinary authority to offer to meet Johnson and Torianne in person to offer oral apologies “at a time and in a manner agreeable to the parties.”
The nation says the hope is that the two officers will attend on Monday and that seats at the ceremony and space on the agenda will be reserved for them.
Johnson said the possibility of the two officers not attending raises bigger questions about accountability and will leave the painful episode unresolved for him and his family.
“It will be extremely hurtful to me and my family if the VPD constables do not attend our ceremony tomorrow. We were looking forward to coming full circle with them and putting this behind us,” he wrote in a statement.
“If they don’t attend, a bigger question is why they do not feel compelled to. What does that say about the culture they are working in? It is in our culture to forgive, and it is also in our culture to take responsibility. In the absence of a full apology, the weight of that traumatic incident will remain on me and my family, and we will need to find new strength to bear it as we move forward.”
CTV News Vancouver has asked both the Vancouver Police Board and the Vancouver Police Department for comment. This story will be updated if a response is received.
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