Indigenous mother, son launch lawsuit over 2019 arrest at Vancouver Walmart

VANCOUVER — An Indigenous mother and son have launched a lawsuit against the Vancouver Police Department, the City of Vancouver and Walmart over an arrest on Mother’s Day last year.

A statement of claim filed this week in B.C. Supreme Court says officers used excessive force and unlawfully arrested Shane Robertson and Margaret Deneault after they left a Vancouver Walmart store.

The lawsuit alleges a security guard accused Robertson of stealing, he denied it and the family left the store.

It says while they loaded their vehicle, six Vancouver police officers arrived, tackled Robertson to the ground and restrained him by putting their knees on the back of his head, neck and legs.

The lawsuit says Robertson wasn’t resisting but was repeatedly punched while he was restrained.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and no statements of defence have yet been filed.

Vancouver police spokesman Sgt. Aaron Roed said in a statement that police were called to the Walmart for reports of an assault in progress. The caller told dispatchers that a man spat on a store security guard, he said.

After police arrived, Roed said Robertson refused to listen or co-operate with officers, and also shouted profanities.

The suspect was taken to jail for breach of peace, and Roed said the man was later apologetic about his behaviour.

Robertson was banned from shopping at any Walmart in Canada, the lawsuit says.

Neither Robertson nor his mother were charged in connection to the allegations.

Robertson’s lawsuit alleges he received a concussion, broken ribs, bruising, cuts, sprains and other soft-tissue damage.

It asks for general, special, aggravated and punitive damages.

The statement says Deneault was also pulled from her vehicle, put in handcuffs and told she was under arrest.

“The (police) members then took statements from both Deneault and Robertson, who advised that they had paid for all their items and showed (police) their receipt,” the court statement says.

The pair were questioned and ultimately released, although the lawyer representing the pair said in an interview that Robertson was unlawfully held for several hours.

Toby Rauch-Davis said the lawsuit is about police brutality.

“No crime had been committed, my clients had receipts and hadn’t stolen anything. And really the police just came in, beat Mr. Robertson, arrested him in broad daylight in front of dozens of witnesses and then decided to ask questions about what happened.”

A video of Robertson’s arrest released by the law firm shows two police officers and a person in plain clothes on top of the man on the ground when another male officer enters the frame and is seen kneeing the man in the back.

The bystander taking the video can be heard shouting, “Why are you hitting him?”

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner has started an investigation into the arrest, said Andrea Spindler, its deputy commissioner. Investigations are required to be completed in six months.

A spokeswoman for Walmart Canada said the company won’t comment on matters before the court, but respect is a core value of its work.

“We do not tolerate any behaviour which contradicts this value, including racism and discrimination,” said Felicia Feder, the manager of corporate affairs, in a statement.

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