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Officers who handcuffed Heiltsuk man, granddaughter may not be attending apology ceremony: Nation

Constables Canon Wong and Mitchel Tong were expected to make apologies in Bella Bella Oct. 24
Maxwell Johnson, a Heiltsuk First Nation member who was arrested alongside his granddaughter as they were trying to open an account at the Bank of Montreal, sings and drums outside the bank’s main branch before a news conference in Vancouver, on May 5, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Two Vancouver police officers disciplined for wrongfully handcuffing a Heiltsuk grandfather and his granddaughter may not be attending the apology ceremony as expected Monday (Oct. 24).

The Heiltsuk Nation, located in Bella Bella, says a passenger list it received Sunday afternoon for a chartered plane of Vancouver Police Board delegates does not include Constables Canon Wong and Mitchel Tong.

Wong and Tong were suspended and ordered to undertake de-escalation and cultural sensitivity training in March for their part in the racial profiling and arrest of Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter Tori-Anne.

Johnson and then 12-year-old Tori-Anne were visiting a Bank of Montreal branch in Vancouver in 2019 when employees called 911 on them on suspicion that they had presented fraudulent Indigenous status cards. Wong and Tong attended and handcuffed Johnson and Tori-Anne using “unnecessary force,” according to retired judge Brian Neal’s discipline decision.

Beyond suspension and re-education, Neal’s decision called for Wong and Tong to apologize to Johnson and Tori-Anne. The constables were expected to do so in person Monday evening at a feast and apology ceremony in Bella Bella.

READ ALSO: Vancouver police officers suspended for handcuffing Indigenous man, granddaughter at BMO

In a news release Sunday, the Heiltsuk Nation said if the two constables do not in fact attend, the nation will view it “as a symptom of the larger systemic failure to acknowledge and take responsibility for systemic racism in policing.” The nation further added that its protocols do not allow for people to stand in the place of others.

“…a traditional Apology Ceremony cannot be carried out unless all of those who caused the harm are themselves present,” the nation said.

Johnson added it would be extremely hurtful to him and Tori-Anne if Wong and Tong don’t show up.

“If they don’t attend, a bigger question is why they do not feel compelled to. What does that say about the culture they are working in? It is in our culture to forgive, and it is also in our culture to take responsibility. In the absence of a full apology, the weight of that traumatic incident will remain on me and my family, and we will need to find new strength to bear it as we move forward,” Johnson said.

The apology ceremony is also part of the conditions of two separate human rights complaints settlements with BMO and the Vancouver Police Department. Members of both groups have been invited to attend.

The Heiltsuk Nation said it still hopes Wong and Tong show up and that two chairs will remain open for them.

Black Press Media has reached out to the Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Police Board to confirm whether the two constables are attending, but has not heard back as of publication.

READ ALSO: Indigenous man, granddaughter handcuffed outside B.C. BMO reach settlement with bank

READ ALSO: Heiltsuk man, granddaughter handcuffed outside Vancouver BMO reach settlement with police

About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media.
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