Tori-Anne Tweedie was just 12 years old when she and her grandfather were wrongfully arrested and handcuffed in the middle of a busy Vancouver street in December of 2019.
Tweedie and her grandfather Maxwell Johnson had been visiting from their home of Bella Bella to open Tweedie her own bank account when employees called 911 on them, incorrectly citing possibly fake Indigenous status cards. When police arrived, they handcuffed the two using “unnecessary force,” according to a later disciplinary decision.
It’s an incident Mary Brown, program coordinator for the Heiltsuk Nation’s restorative justice program in Bella Bella, said could easily send a person down the wrong path.
“Can you imagine, a young girl, 12 years old, going to the city and thinking this is a wonderful next step of independence in her life, and all of a sudden bam, all of that is stripped of you and you’re in unfamiliar territory and you don’t know what’s coming next.”
Indeed, when the settlement of a human rights complaint between Johnson and the Vancouver Police Board was announced in September, Tweedie, 15, said she remained traumatized from the incident.
“From when we’re kids, we understand that people treat us differently because of what we look like. That feeling of being unwelcome can stay with us our whole lives.”
The lasting trauma is one of the reasons why part of the settlement requires that the Vancouver Police Board contribute $100,000 towards a restorative justice program for at-risk young women.
The trauma Tweedie endured hasn’t resulted with any run-ins with the law, but Brown said for other young women in the community it can.
“Our leaders and our elders in the community say that when a person gets into trouble, there’s been trauma imposed on them at some time along their life.”
Brown has been running the Heiltsuk Gvi’las Restorative Justice Department since 2000 and says in that time Bella Bella has gone from having one of the highest rates of crime per capita in B.C. to one of the lowest. The department focuses on reconnecting people with their culture and giving them a sense of belonging, identity and purpose. It also requires that the person makes amends with whoever they have harmed.
“If you look at the foundation of Heiltsuk Gvi’las laws, it’s all about being accountable. Being accountable for your actions, and being able to be responsible enough to accept that,” Brown said.
“It may not be overnight, it may take some time, but if you give them the opportunity to change and the tools to be able to do so, yeah you can find amazing things in people who are struggling.”
Brown said the department has long had a program specifically for young men, but that she hasn’t been able to secure the resources and funding for a program for young women up until now. She said she knows of at least 14 young women in the community who will benefit from the program when it gets running. They’ll get help on work and life skills, completing their high school diplomas and creating a wellness plan.
Brown said she hopes to have the new program ready by mid-November.