‘Racialized police brutality’: Indigenous leaders decry Vancouver arrest caught on camera

Indigenous leaders say the case of a woman who an officer punched during a recent arrest is another example of systemic racism in policing.

The incident took place on New Year’s Eve at an affordable housing complex on Powell Street.

“It’s not right. It’s so contrary to what things are these days and in terms of moving forward in terms of reconciliation, in terms of building that relationship with the police department,” said Lynn White, president and CEO of ACCESS Society, the Indigenous organization that operates part of the building.

Click to play video: 'Handcuffed Indigenous woman punched by VPD officer during arrest'

Handcuffed Indigenous woman punched by VPD officer during arrest

The woman, who Global News has agreed not to identify for safety reasons, said she was the one who originally phoned police, seeking help to remove an intoxicated guest from her party.

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When officers arrived, they ultimately detained the woman, who is Indigenous.

Video shows the woman — who had called police — getting put into handcuffs in a lobby area after she kicked at an officer who was holding her wrist.

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Shortly after, with the woman lying on her stomach, the video shows the officer who was kicked unleashing a punch on the woman.

Vancouver police allege the officer punched the woman because she was twisting his finger, an allegation the woman denies.

She said she kicked at police because she had been suddenly dragged up from sitting on the floor to be handcuffed, and “just reacted.”

“I’m so much smaller than him,” she told Global News. “He’s like a grown man. And then he just like had no right to punch me for kicking him.”

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Grand Cheif Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, called the incident “another blatant act of racialized police brutality.”

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“I found the video to be totally infuriating, disgusting and heartbreaking,” he said in a statement.

Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, said the incident was disappointing in the wake of efforts to improve relations between Indigenous Peoples and the VPD.

The nation has seen its relationship with the department break down in the wake of a 2019 incident where a Heiltsuk grandfather and his 12-year-old granddaughter were handcuffed while trying to open a bank account.

The family reached a human rights settlement with the VPD, which included the two arresting officers attending an apology settlement. However, when the event occurred, the officers were absent.

“The systemic racism is deep within the department,” Slett said.

“This reform, police reform and everything we are looking at, (is) to improve and build that trust, so people, especially Indigenous women who are calling for help, will be able to trust the system.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Police, Heiltsuk relationship ‘broken’ says Human Rights Commissioner'

Vancouver Police, Heiltsuk relationship ‘broken’ says Human Rights Commissioner

Slett said police still need to improve both policies and training to prevent similar situations from happening in the future.

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Global News asked Vancouver police what changes were made following the handcuffing incident. The department did not respond to an interview request and referred instead to a 2022 report outlining its strategies for engaging communities, including Indigenous Peoples.

Meanwhile, the woman at the centre of the New Year’s Eve incident said she remains traumatized by what happened.

“I just can’t trust the cops or anything,” she said.

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