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Heiltsuk man, granddaughter still await full apology from Vancouver officers

Pair ‘recklessly’ arrested in 2019 at Vancouver bank, officers didn’t attend apology ceremony
Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter Tori-Anne Tweedie look on during the uplifting ceremony for Johnson and his family at the Big House in Bella Bella, B.C., on October 24, 2022. The day was meant to be an apology ceremony for the two, but that was cancelled after two Vancouver Police Department officers never showed up. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

The Heiltsuk grandfather and granddaughter who were wrongfully arrested outside a Vancouver BMO in 2019 say they have yet to receive a culturally-appropriate apology from the Vancouver police officers who handcuffed them.

Maxwell Johnson and Tori-Anne Tweedie invited the officers to an apology ceremony with their nation in Bella Bella in October 2022, but Constables Canon Wong and Mitchel Tong never showed up.

A delegation of Vancouver Police Board members and police Chief Adam Palmer were in attendance, but members of the Heiltsuk Nation explained that in their culture an apology ceremony can only be held if those who have caused harm acknowledge their wrongdoing in person. The Nation cancelled the ceremony and said it hoped the constables would agree to attend one in the future.

READ ALSO: ‘Not enough’: Heiltsuk bemoans police officers’ decision not to attend apology ceremony

Now more than one year later, with no word from the officers, Johnson and Tweedie have applied to B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner for a review of the disciplinary measures imposed on Wong and Tong. The two were suspended for several days and ordered to take training on cultural sensitivity and de-escalation back in March 2022. They were also ordered to provide an apology to the grandfather and granddaughter.

Although the constables did so in a letter, Johnson and Tweedie said they would like the police complaint commissioner to order the officers to attend a Heiltsuk apology ceremony.

“Unfortunately, it has become clear that they don’t want to make the substance of a meaningful apology. There is a hole in me right now, as my family, my people, and my culture are being disrespected and cast aside. If the constables don’t come to Bella Bella and apologize in the proper way, the hole in me, and in our community, will remain,” Johnson said in a news release Wednesday (Dec. 13).

Elected Chief Marilyn Slett said they have tried on their own over the last year to arrange another apology ceremony, by reaching out to Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim and the Vancouver Police Board, but that nothing has come of it. The Nation says this is counter to the police board’s promise to address anti-Indigenous racism, which was part of a human rights complaint settlement between the two.

“…the ongoing failure of their constables to respect Heiltsuk legal traditions and culture, and to apologize in an appropriate way, is systemic racism in action,” Slett said.

In a statement to Black Press Media, Vancouver Police Board Vice Chair Faye Wightman said they will not comment while the application is before the police complaint commissioner.

“In order to protect the integrity of the OPCC’s process, it would be inappropriate to comment.”

Johnson and then 12-year-old Tweedie were handcuffed and detained in December 2019 when employees at a Vancouver BMO called the police on them. The staff said they had concerns over Johnson’s Indian Status card and suspected him of fraud. Constables Wong and Tong arrested the two ‘recklessly’ and with ‘unnecessary force,’ according to the later discipline decision, before realizing the claims had been baseless and Johnson and Tweedie had been racially profiled.

Johnson and Tweedie settled a human rights complaint with BMO in May 2022 and a separate human rights complaint with the Vancouver Police Board in September 2022.

READ ALSO: Vancouver police officers suspended for handcuffing Indigenous man, granddaughter at BMO

About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

Hi, I'm a provincial reporter with Black Press Media, where I've worked since 2020.
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