Review critical of arrest of Indigenous man and granddaughter in opening bank account

VANCOUVER — A retired judge who led a disciplinary hearing against two police officers has found they “demonstrated serious, blameworthy conduct” when they “recklessly” arrested an Indigenous man and his granddaughter who were trying to open a bank account in Vancouver.

In his 69-page decision, Brian Neal writes that Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter, who is a minor, endured a “disturbing and profoundly disrespectful series of events” as they were held and handcuffed on a busy street in front of the bank.

Neal says he “substantiated” two allegations of misconduct against the constables who made the arrests. The report says Johnson and his granddaughter were arrested without good and sufficient cause, and that unnecessary force was used by applying the handcuffs.

Neal’s decision is dated Jan. 28 and was released Wednesday by the Heiltsuk First Nation, of which Johnson and his granddaughter are members.

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner ordered the independent review after an initial investigation by Delta police found disciplinary action against the officers was not warranted.

In an emailed statement, deputy police complaint commissioner Andrea Spindler says that on March 17, Neal imposed a period of suspension, retraining and ordered the officers to issue an apology

It says the officers and the complainants have a right to request a review if they are dissatisfied with the decision and the timeframe for such a request to the commissioner has not yet expired. As a result, the statement says this matter has not been concluded by the commissioner.

A lawyer for the officers could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Vancouver Police Department said in a statement it respects the decision and referred specific questions to the commissioner’s office, adding that because there is a human rights complaint underway in the case it would be “inappropriate to comment further.”

Johnson and his granddaughter travelled from Bella Bella in December 2019 to open an account but were detained and handcuffed after presenting their Indigenous status cards at the Bank of Montreal in downtown Vancouver. The review says Johnson was a long-standing client of the bank.

The two officers who responded to a call from bank employees detained Johnson and his granddaughter without reasonable grounds, says Neal’s report.

“No reasonable police officer standing in the shoes of the two officers could support such actions based on suspicion alone,” he wrote.

“This decision has also found that the cultural safety needs of Mr. Maxwell and his granddaughter, Indigenous persons who found themselves under scrutiny by police, were simply not considered by the officers in question. In the result, two vulnerable persons of Indigenous heritage were exposed to unnecessary trauma and fear, and left with a serious perception of unfairness in their treatment at the hands of police.”

The report says the adjudicator wants to hear from both sides about corrective measures.

Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation, said it has invited the officers to Bella Bella to participate in an apology ceremony with Johnson and his granddaughter.

“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,” Slett said.

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