The chief of the Vancouver Police Department has apologized to retired B.C. Supreme Court justice Selwyn Romilly after he was wrongfully handcuffed by police.
Police were responding Friday to reports of a man on the Vancouver Seawall who was punching and kicking people at random.
Police believed Romilly, the first Black judge elevated to B.C.’s superior court, matched the description of the suspect and placed him in handcuffs.
Romilly, who is 81, said police were looking for a “dark-skinned man in his 40s or 50s.”
He was freed a short time later. Police located and arrested another man who they believe is the assailant.
On Monday, VPD Chief Const. Adam Palmer publicly apologized to Romilly.
“I know this would have been an unsettling and even traumatic experience for anybody to go through,” he said.
Palmer said he reached out to Romilly on Saturday to apologize. He also said the responding officers apologized right away and a VPD supervisor contacted the retired judge to apologize.
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“We make mistakes, we don’t always get it right,” Palmer said.
“I have spoken with the officer involved and that officer also apologized for the circumstances on that day. Things unfold quickly in the heat of the moment and that is what happened here.”
In a statement on Saturday, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he was “appalled” by the incident.
Romilly told Global News that he doesn’t intend to file a complaint, but said the incident has made clear that officers still need better training.
The incident, he added, highlights the position racialized people find themselves in when confronted by police: they may be in the right, but they risk escalating the situation if they protest.
“When it happens, you have to know what your rights are. But at the same time, don’t antagonize — if you start antagonizing, you may end up on the losing end,” he said.
“Put your hands behind your back, you get manacled, embarrassed. But you start fighting and all that other stuff, there are all kinds of other charges. Before you know it, you’re in custody and what have you. It’s a really slippery slope.
“How do you really explain that to Black kids?”
— With files from Simon Little