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Vancouver police mistakenly handcuff retired B.C. Supreme Court judge

Selwyn Romilly says he was mistakenly arrested by Vancouver police officers Friday, who said he matched a suspect's description. UBC Allard School of Law

Vancouver police have apologized after officers mistakenly detained and handcuffed a well-known retired judge on Friday.

Selwyn Romilly was the first Black person named to the B.C. Supreme Court.

Romilly told Global News he was walking on the seawall when he was approached by five police officers looking for a suspect who had reportedly been yelling and screaming at people and trying to kick them.

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The officers told Romilly he matched the description of the suspect, and placed him in handcuffs for “officer safety,” he said.

The suspect was described as a 40-50-year-old dark-skinned man; Romilly is in his 80s.

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“It was a very embarrassing incident I hope doesn’t happen again,” he told Global News.

“They should know before they put anybody in handcuffs … they should at least find out who they are.”

Romilly said the department has reached out to apologize, and that he does not plan to file a complaint, but that, “they have to learn.”

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Vancouver police confirmed they were called to the English Bay area around 9:15 a.m. to reports of a man assaulting strangers, when they encountered Romilly, “who resembled the description of the suspect.”

“Given the violent nature of the incident, the man was handcuffed. He was compliant and identified himself as a retired judge,” Sgt. Steve Addison said.

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“The handcuffs were quickly removed and the man was allowed to proceed when it became obvious that he was not the suspect and had done nothing wrong.”

Romilly was born in Trinidad and Tobago and came to Vancouver to study at the University of British Columbia, where he graduated from the Peter A. Allard School of Law in 1966.

He was appointed as a judge in 1974, and in 1995 was elevated to the B.C. Supreme Court, becoming the first Black person to do so, according to the B.C. Black History Awareness Society.

The retired judge had a long and distinguished career, but is perhaps best known for presiding over the trial in the murder of Reena Virk.

— With files from Jordan Armstrong

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story described the situation as an arrest. Romilly was not formally placed under arrest, but was detained and handcuffed.

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