Heiltsuk leaders reject Vancouver police apology after officers in bank arrest fail to attend ceremony

Nearly 20 senior Vancouver police officers and members of the police council, including Sheriff Adam Palmer, brought gifts to host an apology party in the Bella Bella community of the Heiltsuk Nation.

But the gifts and apologies were declined.

National leaders expect two Vancouver Police Department (VPD) officers who arrested Heiltsuk man Maxwell Johnson and his niece in 2019 to attend the ceremony to apologize in person.

Both did not appear.

“We are deeply saddened and traumatized by this decision of those two men because it is their decision and no one else’s,” said Heiltsuk frontman Kelly Brown.

“Heiltsuk Nation has extended multiple invitations to Mitchel Tong and Canon Wong.”

Palmer told CBC News that officers were unable to attend for personal reasons.

Johnson, who was handcuffed outside a downtown Vancouver branch of the Bank of Montreal in December 2019 with his 12-year-old niece after employees called police while he was trying to set up a bank account. bank account for her, also expressed frustration and anger at the officers’ absence.

He said he would not be able to heal until he received a direct apology from the officers.

“It’s been very painful for the last three years,” he said.

‘I can’t accept this gift’

While the apology party did not take place, Heiltsuk leaders held a ceremony to encourage the Johnson family to help them heal after the incident.

Members and police officers witnessed the event, along with about 150 guests and several reporters.

In speeches at the ceremony, Heiltsuk leaders condemned Palmer for previously refused that the officers who arrested Johnson and his niece were racist.

“I heard that the Vancouver sheriff said there was no racism in that police department, but this [human rights] The court found that yes,” said hereditary director Frank Brown.

Referring to the handcuffing of Johnson and his niece, he added: “The light has been on the ugly face of racism in Vancouver by Vancouver city police.”

Brown then crossed the floor to where Palmer was sitting with other police officials and returned a banquet bowl that the VPD had given to hereditary chiefs.

“With all due respect, I cannot accept this gift,” Brown said to applause from the big house.

Although very emotional, Palmer told reporters he thought it was a thoughtful ceremony.

“Tonight’s ceremony is very powerful and impactful and we want to move forward in a positive direction with the Heiltsuk Nation, which is what they want to do and what we want to do,” he told reporters.

Palmer also told CBC News that he would be discussing with Heiltsuk to review arrangements to bring the two officers to Bella Bella to issue a direct apology.

“It’s something that we’re going to work with our union and with the officers and we’ll see if we can find a solution to that.”

‘We have to close down’

As part of the uplifting ceremony, Johnson, his niece and son, who witnessed the scene of handcuffs, were dusted with cedar flowers and said the ceremony would help ease their pain. this event.

An indigenous man and a teenage girl in traditional clothing stand in the middle of a small crowd in front of indigenous artwork.
Maxwell Johnson and granddaughter take part in a ceremony in Bella Bella, BC (Angela Sterritt / CBC)

Johnson said he wants to provide prints of his artwork to the VPD but will wait until the two officers decide to go see the community in person.

“If any of you can tell them I really wish they could come over so we can all shut down,” he said.

“It’s part of our culture, we have to have closure,” he said.

“We’re not done yet, we need that forgiveness.”


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