Vancouver police claimed that there was no discrimination in a late-night arrest of a 19-year-old Indigenous male on July 15, 2016.
But his mother, Deborah Campbell, who was blocked from seeing the event, has succeeded in her human rights complaint against the Vancouver police board.
She's been awarded $20,000 to compensate for injury to her dignity, feelings, and self-respect. In addition, the board was ordered to pay $1,500 to compensate for expenses related to what happened.
Campbell was walking her two dogs when she saw police stopping her son.
"The arrest took around 20 minutes, during which time she was roughly and physically separated from her son and blocked from witnessing his arrest," B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Devyn Cousineau wrote in a 51-page ruling. "Her questions about what was happening went largely unanswered, and she was warned that her own behaviour could justify a charge of obstruction of justice."
The Union of B.C. Indian Chief was an intervener, bringing forward arguments about how the context of the relationship between Indigenous people and police in B.C. should be taken into consideration.
There was a lot of shouting when the son was arrested, prompting one of the officers to call for backup. A crowd showed up and one officer believed that Campbell was encouraging people to record on their phones what was happening.
Cousineau, however, ruled that the officer "seriously misinterpreted" her behaviour, concluding that she was not encouraging people to film the arrest.
"She was not trying to incite a crowd—she was single-mindedly focused on the arrest of her son and finding out as much as she could about what was happening to him," Cousineau wrote. "She was not 'erratic'—she was scared."
Campbell testified that the officers treated her like she was stupid and that they refused to give her an incident number and their badge numbers. The officers denied doing this.
"I find that Ms. Campbell did ask the officers for badge numbers and they did not answer her," Cousineau concluded. "I do not find that this was a deliberate refusal, but rather that the officers were tuning her out and ignoring her. This is consistent with their general attitude towards Ms. Campbell, which was that she was an annoyance.
"Ms. Campbell used eyeliner from her purse to write badge numbers down as best she could."
The ruling pointed out that the only formal training that officers received from the police board about policing Indigenous people was a half-day course in 2015.
"They had heard of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report, but only through the media and only to the extent of understanding that it was a report about missing and murdered Indigenous women," Cousineau wrote. "Most of the officers were generally aware that there may be issues around overrepresentation of indigenous people in the criminal justice system, or even feelings of animosity by some Indigenous people towards the police.
"There was some awareness of historical wrongs," Cousineau continued. "However, they each said that they had not encountered that in their daily work. I find this unlikely, given that they all had significant experience policing in neighbourhoods with high Indigenous populations, including Ms. Campbell's. In my view, it is more likely that they are not trained to understand or recognize problematic features of the relationship between police and Indigenous people, or their role in that"
Despite the generally critical evaluation of the Vancouver Police Department's lack of education for officers, Cousineau praised efforts by the diversity and Indigenous relations section to improve the relationship.
Cousineau also acknowledged the that tribunal is rooted in a "colonial model of justice" and that its "concepts of rights that are distinct from, and may be antithetical to, Indigenous values and methods of dispute resolution".
Campbell alleged that the adverse treatment meted out to her arose from her identity as an Indigenous mother.
Cousineau rejected the police board's argument that this could not be advanced because she had abandoned a claim of discrimination on the basis of her family status.
"I have no hope of understanding the events in this complaint if I attempt to ignore Ms. Campbell's identity as a woman and a mother," Cousineau stated in the ruling. "It is a highly relevant contextual factor which cannot be parsed out of Ms. Campbell's existence."