The Vancouver Police Board has been ordered to pay an Indigenous mother $20,000 for discriminating against her when she witnessed officer’s arresting her son, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ruled.
The 52-page decision by the tribunal, released Thursday, stems from an incident in the late evening of July 15, 2016, when Deborah Campbell saw police arresting her 19-year-old son while she was walking her two dogs near her Vancouver home.
The officers accused her son, as well as a female friend with him, that they had been involved in an assault earlier that night.
But when Campbell tried to find out why the officers were arresting her son she was ignored, tribunal member Devyn Cousineau ruled, and treated as “an annoyance and an ‘erratic, uncooperative’ woman rather than a mother with legitimate concerns about her son.”
A neighbour who spoke as a witness during the four-day tribunal hearing described the scene as chaotic and loud. At one point, officers threatened to arrest Campbell for obstruction and told her to go home. She was also physically separated from her son and blocked from witnessing his arrest.
Police released Campbell’s son a few hours later because they had no basis to hold him, the tribunal heard.
In her claim, Campbell called the treatment by police traumatic and accused the officers of discriminating against her on the basis of her race, colour and ancestry.
The Vancouver Police Board, which handles claims made against the police detachment, denied that the actions of the three officers involved in the arrest were discriminatory and instead measured and appropriate.
But Cousineau disagreed and instead ruled that the officers held a subconscious bias based on stereotypes associated with Campbell being Indigenous, including that she was “suspicious [and] possibly criminal.”
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, which acted as an intervenor in the case, presented evidence which provided context on the historic mistreatment of Indigenous people by authorities, according to the tribunal decision.
In the ruling, Cousineau said that many Indigenous parents have cause to fear any authority, including police, when it involves their children.
“In short, the Canadian state has historically, and persistently, interfered with the ability of Indigenous parents to ensure their children’s safety,” Cousineau said. “Indigenous parents have good reason to be fearful when they perceive their children at risk of harm at the hands of the state.”
The tribunal heard that the three officers had little knowledge of issues faced by Indigenous people, including that they did not know what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was and had very little knowledge about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls report.
The officers also told the tribunal that the only Indigenous-related training they had was a half-day workshop on cultural awareness in 2015.
Cousineau called this “insufficient,” adding that the lack of preparedness and training laid the groundwork for the discrimination Campbell faced.
In addition to paying damages, the tribunal also ordered for the Vancouver Police Department to design new training within the next year that has a focus on minimizing the impacts of Indigenous stereotypes through policing. The training must recur annually for five years.