‘Overdue’: First Nations man detained by Vancouver police welcomes revised handcuffing policy

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Police Board make changes to handcuffing policy'
Vancouver Police Board make changes to handcuffing policy
The VPD board met today and decided that changes to the force's handcuffing practices had to change. Officers are now expected to be able to justify the use of handcuffs when dealing with suspects. This comes after two high profile cases in which an indigenous man and his 12-year-old granddaughter were handcuffed outside a bank and retired judge Selwyn Romilly, who is black, was handcuffed in a case of mistaken identity. The force will be doing additional anti-racism training beginning next month – Oct 21, 2021

Vancouver police will make permanent an interim change to its handcuffing policy, sparked by the controversial arrest of a First Nations man and his granddaughter at a local bank two years ago.

The Vancouver Police Board approved the update on Thursday and it will take effect on Friday.

It provides greater clarity on the conditions in which officers may handcuff civilians, particularly those belonging to an “equity deserving group.”

“I’m glad it’s being done and I hope it’s enforced properly,” said Maxwell Johnson, who was arrested with 12-year-old Tori-Anne at a Vancouver Bank of Montreal branch on Dec. 20, 2019.

“I think it’s overdue for First Nation people and other people of colour … I hope every Vancouver police officer abides by this new rule.”

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The policy requires handcuffing to be “objectively reasonable in all circumstances,” proportionate to risk, and necessary to fulfill a “legitimate policing objective.”

Officers must also aim to maintain “the dignity of the arrested” person wherever possible.

The Vancouver Police Board first launched a review of the department’s handcuffing protocols in January last year after Johnson and his granddaughter were handcuffed while trying to open a bank account.

Suspecting them of fraud, a BMO staffer called 911, and police handcuffed and detained the pair, who are members of the Heiltsuk First Nation in Bella Bella, B.C.

They were released at the scene when Vancouver police determined no criminal activity had taken place.

Click to play video: 'Two Vancouver officers face discipline over arrest of 12-year-old Indigenous girl and her grandfather'
Two Vancouver officers face discipline over arrest of 12-year-old Indigenous girl and her grandfather

Johnson later filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal last year, alleging race-based discrimination by the bank and racial profiling by police that led to their handcuffing and detention.

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At the time, the VPD issued a statement calling the circumstances “regrettable,” and understandably traumatic for the family.

On Thursday, police also committed to increasing anti-racism training within the service.

“If they’re going to do training like that, I think they need to be educated on residential schools and what people went through there,” Johnson told Global News.

“It shouldn’t only be just about whether to handcuff or not handcuff a First Nations person, or anybody else of colour.”

Thursday’s decision marks the first major update to the police service’s handcuffing policy since 2007.

The policy states that officers have discretion on whether to restrain a person, even when they have the lawful authority to do so.

In exercising their decision, they should consider equity, diversity, inclusion and dignity, considering factors such as medical condition, age, ability, size, and whether the person is Indigenous, racialized, or part of another “equity deserving group.”

Click to play video: 'Human rights complaint filed after Indigenous man and granddaughter handcuffed outside B.C. bank'
Human rights complaint filed after Indigenous man and granddaughter handcuffed outside B.C. bank

Johnson said he’s still waiting to hear from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal about his complaint.

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He also hasn’t heard from the province’s police watchdog, which ordered an investigation into the detention and handcuffing of him and his granddaughter.

Since the high-profile incident in 2019, he said he and his family have had their “ups and downs.”

“I have my bad days with it, and my granddaughter started getting depressed and anxiety a year after what happened to us,” he said.

Tori-Anne has sought treatment, he added and is improving.

In a written statement, the Vancouver Police Board said the revised handcuffing policy was approved as “provisional.” A final policy will be approved when the police watchdog’s investigations into the incident, and the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal complaint is resolved.

The final policy would consider any recommendations from their findings.

Heiltsuk First Nation Chief Marilyn Slett said Thursday her community, and other affected peoples should be consulted on it when the time comes.

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