Rights tribunal orders Vancouver police to get training on Indigenous history

VANCOUVER — A British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal says Vancouver police officers discriminated against an Indigenous mother and has ordered the police board to pay compensation and train its officer about the legacies of colonialism.

The ruling says when Deborah Campbell asked questions during her 19-year-old son’s arrest in 2016, she was “roughly and physically separated from him” and warned she could be arrested for obstructing justice.

The police board denied during a hearing that its officers discriminated, saying the woman was interfering with their ability to secure the scene, while the officers said she was “escorted” away from the arrest in disputing how rough her removal was.

Tribunal member Devyn Cousineau ruled police failed to account for the long history of colonialism and historical trauma on Indigenous Peoples, including the state’s intervention involving their children.

She ordered the board pay Campbell $21,500 for costs and injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect.

The police board has also been given a year to train its officers who deal with Indigenous people to minimize the effects of stereotypes and to address Indigenous needs during police encounters with the legacy of colonialism in mind.

Cousineau says in the ruling issued Thursday that Indigenous people have a troubled relationship with police and don’t trust them, which the Vancouver Police Department spelled out in its own report, Breaking Barriers Building Bridges, released last year.

“Ms. Campbell immediately situated the encounter in a historical and present-day context which caused her to be afraid for her son’s safety and perceive the police officers to be acting based on prejudice,” the ruling says.

Cousineau says the officers were poorly equipped to meet Campbell’s specific needs as an Indigenous mother and that they interpreted her conduct through the lens of suspicion and stereotype, responding in disproportionate ways.

“As a result, Ms. Campbell was rendered powerless and small, and prevented from ensuring her son’s safety,” she says, concluding the police discriminated against the woman on the basis of her race, colour and ancestry.

She said the only training the officers received about policing Indigenous people was a half day course in 2015 and three of the officers involved in the incident had never heard of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Because of the deep level on which stereotyping and bias operate, there must be an active strategy for resisting it. Here, there was none.”

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