Police discipline authority finds officers committed professional misconduct; Heiltsuk Nation invites officers to visit Bella Bella to participate in apology ceremony
RETIRED judge Brian Neal, Q.C., acting as a discipline authority for the Office of the Police Commissioner, has decided that Vancouver Police Department officers committed professional misconduct by recklessly arresting and handcuffing Maxwell Johnson and his 12-year-old granddaughter on December 20, 2019, while the two were trying to open a bank account for her at the Bank of Montreal.
Johnson and his granddaughter – members of the Heiltsuk First Nation – filed a complaint with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and the BC Human Rights Tribunal. They also filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal against the Bank of Montreal, which called the police.
On March 18, Neal decided the officers had committed professional misconduct by recklessly arresting and handcuffing Johnson and his granddaughter. He found that the granddaughter and grandfather presented no risk to the safety of any person and provided no concern for flight or unpredictability.
Neal also found that the officers acted recklessly and without any reflection, assumed fraud without sufficient information, did not take time to exercise judgment to assess if anyone was at risk, and assumed that handcuffing was appropriate without good and sufficient cause.
“I have found that the officers’ actions in arresting and handcuffing the parties was undertaken without reasonable and probable grounds. I have found that no reasonable police officer standing in the shoes of the two officers could support such actions based on suspicion alone. Furthermore, I have found that such actions demonstrated serious, blameworthy conduct contrary to section 77 of the Police Act,” wrote Neal in his decision.
A copy of the decision is available here: http://www.heiltsuknation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Final-jan-28_Redacted-v2_Redacted.pdf
The tribunal ordered the officers be suspended for several days, that they complete intensive, immersive Indigenous cultural sensitivity training, and that they complete re-training on de-escalation skills, risk assessment, and power of arrest. The tribunal also ordered the officers to provide a written apology and offer to meet to listen to concerns and give an oral apology.
“We are inviting the officers to travel to Bella Bella to take part in an apology ceremony with Max, his granddaughter, and our community,” said Marilyn Slett, elected Chief of the Heiltsuk Nation. “This story has become a symbol of the fight against systemic racism, and we are committed to working with the officers to make broader change and ensure this never happens again.”
The decision does not decide the two outstanding human rights complaints against the VPD and the Bank of Montreal, and the officers have not yet admitted discrimination. But the decision contradicts the original position taken by VPD Chief Constable Adam Palmer that the officers engaged in “standard operating procedure.” The tribunal noted in particular that handcuffing Max’s granddaughter was inexcusable, and that the conduct confirmed concerns about police actions involving Indigenous people.