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Nova Scotia

Vancouver police chief’s gift rejected at tense Indigenous ceremony

BELLA BELLA, BC – Tension reached a high during a trauma healing ceremony when a hereditary chief walked across sand-covered ground and returned the gift he received from Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer.

BELLA BELLA, BC – Tension reached a high during a trauma healing ceremony when a hereditary chief walked across sand-covered ground and returned the gift he received from Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer.

Police attendance at the ceremony in Bella Bella on BC’s remote central coast was one of several conditions to the resolution of a human rights complaint against the Vancouver Police Board of Maxwell Johnson, who was wrongly arrested in 2019 and was with his then 12-year-old son in handcuffed. old granddaughter.

But the absence of the two police officers, who arrested the couple after they tried to open a bank account, at Monday’s ceremony sparked a fresh round of systemic racism allegations against the Vancouver Police Department, which threatens to deadlock the reconciliation process .

“My question is, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ Hereditary Chief Frank Brown said during the five-hour ceremony Monday night at the Heiltsuk First Nation Great House.

“That’s my question for you,” Brown said, gesturing toward the Vancouver Police Board members and Chief Palmer. “With all due respect, I cannot accept this gift.”

Applause erupted as Brown returned a gift bag to Palmer.

Two chairs with the names of Vancouver officers Canon Wong and Mitchel Tong stood empty under the seated police delegation of about 20 members.

The board said in a press release Monday that the human rights complaint filed by Johnson was against the board, not the individual officers.

This distinction did not reassure those at the ceremony.

“We have to do better,” Brown said. “We have the opportunity to do better. The province, the First Nations, the indigenous people, the country and the world are watching us. How Canada and how a city treats its indigenous people will be a powerful symbol, a reflection of what we are committed to.”

A dozen hereditary chiefs, several community leaders, and Heiltsuk chief elect Marilyn Slett all spoke during the ceremony and expressed disappointment that the two officers had not attended the gathering.

Several chiefs focused on comments made last summer by Palmer, a former president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, that there is no systemic racism in policing in Canada.

They cited Johnson’s case as an example of racism, while some bosses also recounted their own troubling encounters with police.

“The ugly face of racism in Vancouver has been lit by the Vancouver Metropolitan Police,” Brown said. “To say racism doesn’t exist is not true.”

Palmer didn’t speak during the ceremony, but he was seen talking to Johnson at the end, and at one point the couple shook hands.

Johnson, whose knees visibly trembled at times during the ceremony, said the absence of the two officers meant he, his family and his community could not yet experience a full healing from the trauma sustained.

He said he spoke directly to the police department and asked them to ask the two officers to come over to Bella Bella and complete the healing circle.

“If you could get that message across to them,” Johnson said. “For us, it’s all about forgiveness. I really, really wish they could come so we could all graduate.”

Johnson held up the artworks he intended to give away during the ceremony but said he would have to wait for officials to come to his community to complete the healing process.

Heiltsuk First Nation replaced the apology event with an “uplifting ceremony” for Johnson and his family when it became clear the two arresting officers had failed to show up.

The settlement agreement released last month between Johnson and the Vancouver Police Board included the board’s acknowledgment that the two officers’ conduct violated the BC Human Rights Code “by discriminating against the complainants on the basis of their Indigenous identity, race and descent.”

It included an undisclosed financial award for Johnson and the development of a plan to improve police training on anti-Indigenous racism and “cultural humility.”

The settlement also included a $100,000 payment to Heiltsuk Tribal Council’s Restorative Justice Department to cover a year of community programs for at-risk youth, including young women experiencing anxiety from trauma.

BC Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender, who attended the Bella Bella ceremony, said her office will oversee police training on anti-Indigenous racism initiatives for the next two years.

“My role as Human Rights Commissioner in this agreement is to act as an independent reviewer for the systemically important components of the agreement,” she said in an interview.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 25, 2022.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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