Vancouver police, First Nation ties have 'broken down' since settlement: review

VANCOUVER — A review of a "landmark" agreement between Vancouver Police and a B.C. First Nation says the relationship has "broken down" and the way to move forward is to respect the nation’s laws.

B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender says in her review that agreement between the police board, the family of Maxwell Johnson and the Heiltsuk Nation showed "significant shortcomings" in implementing the deal reached in 2022.

The agreement came after police wrongly detained Johnson, a Heiltsuk Nation artist, and his then−12−year−old granddaughter, who were both handcuffed by police after they tried to open an account for the girl at a Vancouver bank.

The nation cancelled an apology ceremony in October 2022 after the arresting officers failed to show up, which Johnson said limited the community’s ability to heal from the incident.

Govender, who was named as a third−party reviewer in the settlement, says the relationship between the Heiltsuk Nation and the Vancouver Police Board "must be repaired" in order for the settlement’s implementation to move forward.

The Heiltsuk says in a statement that it agrees with Govender’s assessment that the situation has stalled the "critical anti−racist policing reform work" under the agreement.

The agreement included an admission by the police board that its officers contravened the Human Rights Code, as well as a $100,000 payment to the Heiltsuk Tribal Council and an undisclosed award to Johnson.

Govender says she is urging the parties to recommit to the promise of a landmark agreement and to move forward in a way that respects Heiltsuk law.

"The relationship between the parties is fundamental to the execution of the agreement, as proceeding with the enumerated changes to policing in isolation from the nation risks perpetuating the very racism it seeks to address," Govender says in the report.

"However, the relationship between the parties seems to have broken down … If we are truly committed to reconciliation and decolonization, this is not an opportunity we can afford to waste."

The settlement agreement said it expected the two officers involved to attend the 2022 ceremony but it wasn’t mandatory, and instead it committed the police board to "ensure best efforts" that the officers attend.

The Vancouver Police Board said at the time of the ceremony that the board was the respondent in the human rights case launched by Johnson, not the constables.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2024.

The Canadian Press