Arresting police officers won’t attend B.C. First Nation apology ceremony

The “apology ceremony” is part of a settlement reached with the victims

Maxwell Johnson (right), with his granddaughter, was accused of fraud and handcuffed outside a Vancouver branch of the Bank of Montreal after using his status card as identification. Photo: APTN file

Two Vancouver police officers who wrongly detained and handcuffed a Heiltsuk man and his then-12-year-old granddaughter will not be attending a First Nation ceremony.

A statement from the Vancouver Police Board says it is the respondent in the human rights case launched by Maxwell Johnson of the Heiltsuk Nation, not the individual constables.

The nation had expected the two officers to take part in an apology ceremony to be held in Bella Bella on B.C.’s central coast, saying in a statement a traditional ceremony can’t be carried out unless all those who caused harm are present.

Now, Heiltsuk is holding an “uplifting ceremony” instead.

It says the absence of constables Canon Wong and Mitchel Tong would be another hurtful chapter in Johnson’s long journey to address the discrimination he and his granddaughter faced.

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Johnson, an artist and carver, launched the human rights complaint after a Bank of Montreal employee called police under the mistaken assumption that Johnson and his granddaughter’s Indian status cards were fake, setting off the public arrest in December 2019.

A settlement of the complaint included participation in the apology ceremony, an undisclosed financial award to Johnson, and the development of a plan to improve police training on anti-Indigenous racism and “cultural humility.”

The board statement says members of the board and the Vancouver Police Department who will be in attendance represent its commitment to stand together with the First Nation against discrimination.

“We hope assumptions are not made regarding the constables’ decision not to be at the ceremony. The board will not let this detract from the bigger picture, or our willingness to collaborate and implement change,” the statement says.

The settlement agreement released last month between the board and Johnson says the board admits that the conduct of the two constables contravened the B.C. Human Rights Code “by discriminating against the complainants because of their Indigenous identity, race and ancestry.”

The officers

The agreement says it expected the officers to attend the ceremony.

“The board shall exercise best efforts to ensure constables Wong and Tong attend the ceremony as part of the board’s delegation, to make an in-person apology at the ceremony.”

The settlement also included a $100,000 payment to the Heiltsuk Tribal Council’s Restorative Justice Department to cover one year of community programming for at risk youth, including young women who suffer from anxiety due to trauma.

Johnson’s granddaughter, Tori-Anne, told a news conference last month that she hoped the story of her arrest would encourage more people to stand up against injustice and discrimination.

The nation says the ceremony is a prerequisite for true reconciliation and is intended to be an uplifting experience for everyone.

“The apology ceremony is also to deliver a message of relationship rebuilding between police and First Nations, following a traumatic incident,” the nation says.