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Vancouver Police Board told to change handcuff rules after arrest of Indigenous man

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VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Police Board is to hear a report Thursday recommending the force change its handcuffing policy after the arrest of an Indigenous man and his 12-year-old granddaughter at a bank in 2019.

The police board said it launched a review of the department's protocols when Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter were handcuffed after trying to open an account at the Bank of Montreal using their government-issued status cards.

The board report said it was later determined there was no criminal activity involved.

The report said an extensive review included an examination of all officer training relevant to Indigenous cultural competency, along with a review of the legal authorities and policy surrounding the use of restraint devices.

The new policy recommends that handcuffs be used when reasonable, proportionate to the risk, and necessary to fulfil a legitimate policing objective when the officer believes using cuffs is necessary.

"It provides direction on documentation and the safe applications on handcuffs, it specifies that officers must have the lawful authority to use a restraint, it provides legal considerations that would result in that lawful authority, and it entrenches an officer’s ability to exercise discretion," the report reads.

Johnson filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal last year alleging the bank called 911 over an identification issue because they are Indigenous, while it accuses the police of racial profiling leading to their detention and the use of handcuffs.

Johnson and the First Nation said they are both disappointed they were not consulted by the police board or force about the proposed changes.

“We would urge the board and (Vancouver Police Department) to be transparent and inclusive when making policy that impacts Indigenous peoples," Johnson and elected Chief Marilyn Slett said in a joint statement.

"In this particular case, since the handcuffing of an Indigenous grandfather and child at the Bank of Montreal was a reason to review the handcuffing policy, we would have expected that the complainants and the nation would have been given notice and engaged in the process."

The police department issued a statement after the rights case was launched saying the circumstances were "regrettable" and understandably traumatic for Johnson and his family.

The board report says the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner is still looking into the handcuff complaint and it won't finalize its policy until that ruling and the human rights tribunal case is resolved, "as there may be recommendations stemming from these processes that will need to be taken into consideration."

It says the most notable changes about the interim policy are that it gives direction on safe application of handcuffs, specifies that officers have lawful authority to use restraints and entrenches the officer's ability to exercise discretion in their use.

The Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner said in an email that a review into a discipline decision of the arresting officers' conduct was still underway and being led by a retired judge.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2021.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press

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