Vancouver police use of force against Indigenous pipeline protester was lawful: review

A Vancouver police officer who pulled an Indigenous protester’s braid while forcefully removing them from a building acted lawfully, a review found. But training on how to account for “items of cultural significance” in use of force situations is being recommended.

A report coming to the Vancouver Police Board Thursday outlines the circumstances prompting the complaint, the findings of the review by the province’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and the recommendations to the VPD.

On Feb. 19, 2021, a group called Braided Warriors occupied the downtown lobby of a building where Trans Mountain pipeline insurer AIG has its offices. Video posted to social media showed the “forceful removal” of several demonstrators “including one officer who pulled the braid of an Indigenous person,” the review of the complaint says.

The review was launched the next month and concluded in January of 2022. Commissioner Clayton Pecknold sent the findings – based on an investigation conducted by Metro Vancouver Transit Police – to the Vancouver Police Board in a letter dated April 25.

“The respondent member’s use of force in pulling the Indigenous person’s braid was lawful and in accordance with authorities, training, and policy,” Pecknold wrote.

“The respondent member’s evidence was that he was not aware of the cultural significance of the braid and therefore did not consider its significance when he chose to grab the Indigenous person’s braid as a means of removing the individual from the building.”

It was that finding that prompted the recommendation that the department review its training, policies and procedures, particularly but not exclusively when it comes to use of force.

“It is apparent that the respondent member’s lack of training and understanding with respect to items of cultural significance in use of force situations was a factor in the conduct that was the subject of this investigation,” Pecknold continued.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report contains multiple accounts from residential school survivors who described having their long, braided hair cut upon arrival, describing it as one of the ways those institutions practiced cultural genocide by trying to erase their identity. 

“The assault on Aboriginal identity usually began the moment the child took the first step across the school’s threshold. Braided hair (which often had spiritual significance) was cut,” one of the commission’s reports reads.

Acting on the recommendation stemming from the review, the report coming to the police board recommends that the department report back on, among other things, the question of how cultural considerations may be incorporated into the use of force policy, “recognizing that use of force encounters are inherently unpredictable, volatile, and may necessitate discretion and unique responses.”

The incident that prompted the complaint to the OPCC was condemned by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the BC Civil Liberties Association as “horrifying” and “appalling” in a statement issued shortly after the video was posted online.

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