British Columbia

Vancouver police, mayor apologize for wrongly handcuffing and detaining retired Black judge

Vancouver police have apologized after officers wrongly detained and handcuffed an 81-year-old retired Black judge during his morning walk on the seawall while searching for a suspect described as dark-skinned and decades younger.

Selwyn Romilly, 81, was mistaken for assault suspect estimated to be 40-50 years old

Selwyn Romilly, shown here in 2019, was the first Black judge appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court. (Peter A. Allard School of Law/YouTube)

The mayor of Vancouver says he is "appalled" that police officers wrongfully detained and handcuffed a retired British Columbia Supreme Court justice out for a walk on Friday morning.

Kennedy Stewart said in a statement he reached out to apologize to Justice Selwyn Romilly, 81, the first Black person appointed to the court.

Romilly said he was walking around Stanley Park during his morning walk on Friday when two police vehicles pulled up nearby and about five officers approached him. He said all five appeared to be white and were significantly taller than his five feet, eight inches.

"They said that they got a complaint about someone fitting my description, and before I could say anything, they told me to put my hands behind my back and they shackled me with handcuffs," he told CBC News.

"I have no gun, I don't have anything in my hand or my person. And here you have — at 9:45 a.m., near to Third Beach where you have lots of people — you have a Black guy ... shackled in handcuffs and people passing by. I found that most embarrassing."

He said he told the officers he was a retired judge, and they released him from the handcuffs after about a minute.

Police apologize

Vancouver police have apologized.

Sgt. Steve Addison said in a statement officers were dispatched around 9:15 a.m. following reports of a man kicking, punching and spitting at people along the seawall near English Bay.

He said officers patrolling the area noticed a man resembling the description of the suspect and "briefly detained him to investigate," handcuffing him given the violent nature of the reported incidents.

Addison said the man was compliant and identified himself as a retired judge, and the handcuffs were "quickly removed." He said a patrol supervisor has since offered an apology.

"The man was allowed to proceed when it became obvious that he was not the suspect and had done nothing wrong," Addison said.

Addison said the suspect was described as a "dark-skinned man" around 40 to 50 years old — decades younger than Romilly, who finished law school at the University of British Columbia in 1966.

The correct suspect was taken to jail after officers found him around the same time in the same area, Addison said.

'You would think that we're past that stage'

Stewart said he has contacted the police department's chief and board members, and the board will review the incident.

"All of our institutions are based on colonialism and as such, are systemically racist," including the city and police department, he said.

Romilly, who was born in Trinidad, was the first Black judge appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court. He was also the fourth Black student to attend law school at the University of British Columbia, according to the university.

"You would think that we're past that stage in Canada," he said of the arrest.

Romilly said two senior officers have reached out to apologize, and he doesn't plan to file a complaint.

But he still hopes the police department makes some changes.

"They have to be very vigilant when they train young white police officers for dealing with minorities," Romilly said.

"I hate to say that this is a case where I was targeted because I was walking while Black, but you kind of wonder why those handcuffs were placed on me at such an early stage."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

With files from Bethany Lindsay

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