British Columbia

VPD moves to change handcuffing policy in response to Indigenous man and granddaughter detained at BMO

The Vancouver Police Board is seeking approval for changes to its handcuffing policy which include instructing officers to seek to maintain the dignity of the arrested, detained, or apprehended person and take the person's Indigeneity, race and age into consideration when doing so.

Maxwell Johnson and the Heiltsuk Nation say they were not consulted on proposed policy change

Maxwell Johnson was trying to open an account for his granddaughter so he could transfer her money while she was on the road for basketball games. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Vancouver Police Board has revised its handcuffing policy which will now be reviewed by an external independent party, according to an agenda for a board meeting set to take place on Thursday. 

The document states that following the VPD's handcuffing of an Indigenous man and his 12-year old granddaughter, the board examined  "all VPD training relevant to Indigenous cultural competency, along with a review of the legal authorities and policy surrounding the use of restraint devices."

In June 2021, the board says it received a second complaint regarding handcuffing. In late May, the VPD wrongly handcuffed and detained a retired Black judge. The police chief and the mayor both apologized.

The interim policy to be reviewed Thursday states, "being placed in handcuffs by a police officer can be a deeply stressful event. Members should, where practicable, seek to maintain the dignity of the arrested, detained, or apprehended person and take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances."

A summary of the VPD's development of the policy says officers should exercise discretion and consider age, Indigeneity, race and disability before they restrain a person, even when the lawful authority to restrain exists.

Maxwell Johnson, the Heiltsuk man who was detained in front of a busy downtown Vancouver BMO branch, along with his granddaughter while he was trying to open her first account, says he was unaware of the policy changes.

Watch | Maxwell Johnson and his 12-year-old granddaughter are placed in handcuffs:

VPD officers handcuff Heiltsuk man and 12-year-old granddaughter outside bank

6 months ago
2:42
Maxwell Johnson and his 12-year-old granddaughter are handcuffed by Vancouver police officers on a busy street outside a BMO branch in Vancouver after the pair tried to open her first bank account using government-approved Indian Status cards. 2:42

In a statement, the Heiltsuk Nation and Maxwell Johnson said they were disappointed "by the secret and exclusionary process that the Vancouver Police Board has carried out to consider a new handcuffing policy."

"This type of colonial top-down decision making does not support reconciliation," the statement read.

"The nation and Maxwell Johnson were kept in the dark about this policy review until today (Oct. 20) when we were told there is a public meeting tomorrow."

Johnson filed a human rights complaint against BMO and the Vancouver Police Department in the fall of 2020.

'We have a long way to go': mayor

Police Board Chair and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says the new policy is a start.

"The first step is to admit that there is a problem, but it's going to take a lot to make sure everyone in the city feels confident that they are being treated fairly when it comes to policing," he said.

"We have a long way to go," Stewart added. "I am happy that the board issued a statement admitting their systemic racism within the board and within the VPD," he said.

In a news conference on Wednesday, the VPD said it was not able to comment on the matter.

The agenda going before the board on Thursday says the new policy could be subject to potential revision based on any changes that may stem from the conduct investigation and human rights case.

It also stated that a VPD member who uses force while on duty, is legally responsible for that force and that "a member cannot view handcuffing someone who is under arrest, detained, or apprehended as a routine action" and must substantially believe that the handcuffing is necessary.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt's news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column 'Reconcile This' tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C. Have a story idea? angela.sterritt@cbc.ca

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