B.C. Indigenous leader to VPD: Racism will be met by 'every legal means possible'


A video showing Vancouver police officers handcuffing a 12-year-old Indigenous girl and her grandfather after they tried to open a bank account is a striking rebuttal of the idea that systemic racism does not exist in Canadian policing, say advocates for the family.

The footage of the much-publicized incident, which took place in 2019, was released Wednesday during a news conference in which the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs announced it had applied to intervene in a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal case against the Vancouver Police Department.

The video shows Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter Torianne being escorted by police officers out of a building and onto a busy sidewalk. The young girl, wearing a pink hoodie with her hair in a ponytail, is immediately handcuffed by an officer and then separated from her grandfather.

In a complaint filed with the human rights tribunal in November, but not yet scheduled for a hearing, Johnson says the pair was “racially profiled” when they were handcuffed after using their status cards as identification. He is seeking a public apology, compensation for injury to dignity and continuous cultural competency training for police, including in regards to systemic racism.

The complaint comes as some within the VPD, including its chief constable, continue to deny the existence of systemic racism in policing.

As Vancouver Sun columnist Dan Fumano reported earlier this week, a VPD union leader has complained to the Vancouver Police Board saying Mayor Kennedy Stewart‘s public statements about systemic racism existing in policing have created a “toxic work environment” in the department.

On Wednesday, UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillips said the union is throwing its weight behind Johnson and his granddaughter to expose racism in the VPD.

“To be clear, we’re sick and tired of meaningless apologies,” he said, calling the incident involving Johnson “disgusting.”

“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 UBCIC.

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.

Turpel-Lafond also pointed to an incident last month where several VPD officers looking for a suspect detained and handcuffed Selwyn Romilly, the first Black judge named to B.C.’s Supreme Court, as he walked on Vancouver’s seawall.