UBCIC moves to intervene in human rights case against Vancouver police


The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) is making a move to intervene in a case against the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) that made headlines across the country in 2019.

It comes after security camera footage was released to the public showing Heiltsuk grandfather Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter being detained by VPD outside a Bank of Montreal (BMO) branch.

“So that we can be sure that the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has all of the information that might be helpful for them to understand the situation and the level of concerns the chiefs of British Columbia have and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs has about this situation,” said lawyer and advocate Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond on behalf of the UBCIC.

The footage shows officers putting handcuffs on Johnson and his 12-year-old granddaughter on a busy Vancouver street.

In 2019, VPD responded to a 911 call from a BMO branch where Johnson and his granddaughter were suspected of committing fraud over the use of an Indian Status Card in an attempt to open the girl’s first bank account.

In an online news conference Thursday, Johnson said the past two years have been hard, but they will move forward with his fight to create change within the VPD.

“Deep down in my heart, I know this is something that needs to be done not only for my family but my community and other First Nations people and other people of colour,” he shared. “ I just want to thank everybody for their outgoing support. I really appreciate it, thank you.”

Last year, Johnson and his granddaughter filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal against the Vancouver police alleging they were racially profiled, which led to their detainment.

In early 2021, Vancouver Police Department responded, denying any discrimination.

APTN News reached out to police but they said there wouldn’t be any comments given the incident being under review.

“Unfortunately, I cannot comment beyond what has previously been said about this incident as the OPCC process is still underway,” said a spokesperson.

“We understand that the investigation and decision have been submitted to the OPCC for their final review.”

UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip had fiery words over the treatment of Johnson and his granddaughter.

Their leadership is calling for change from the VPD in the treatment of all people of colour.

“I totally condemn the VPD; they have a long record of racism, abuse to people of colour, not defending the fundamental human rights of people of colour,” he said.

Johnson and his granddaughter’s home community, the Heiltsuk Nation leaders, support them in their human rights fight.

Heiltsuk Tribal Council Chief Councillor, Marilyn Slett, highlighted the racism Indigenous people face.

“We as Indigenous people, the stories that are being shared by everyone, none of us are exempt to what happens to us as Indigenous people,  she shared.  “Being followed in grocery stores, the extreme measures being handcuffed for opening up a bank account, to not being served in a restaurant this still happens. “

They also shared a Strong as Cedar campaign, raising awareness about fighting racism and highlighting their story and case.

“We don’t agree with the statement that (racism) doesn’t exist in Vancouver Police Department; this is why we are here today to stand up against that and do everything we can to stop it and make those changes that need to be made.”

Video Journalist / Kitimat Village, B.C.

Lee is a video journalist with APTN News, who shoots, reports and edits stories out of northern British Columbia. As a member of the Haisla Nation, Lee is proud to call Kitimat Village home again after living on Vancouver Island for 18 years. He has a passion for storytelling and looks forward to sharing stories through the lens of First Nations people.