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'It's appalling': Indigenous protesters, advocates condemn Vancouver police for arrests

Last Updated Feb 23, 2021 at 10:12 am PDT


One of four Indigenous youth arrested Friday describes how he was treated by police

Several groups have demanded charges be dropped, calling the conduct of the VPD violent and appalling

Vancouver police say the youth were not protesting but were engaged in 'unlawful' behaviour

VANCOUVER (CityNews) — One of the Indigenous youth arrested at a protest Friday says he was slammed to the ground, dragged across the glass-strewn floor by his wrist, and concussed when his head was slammed into the wall of the police van by officers.

Braided Warriors began occupying the lobbies of downtown buildings where companies which insure the TransMountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX) have their offices last Wednesday.

While police established a heavy presence on the first two days, no arrests were made or threatened. On Friday, Vancouver police officers moved in on the lobby of the BMO building, and ultimately arrested four people.

Twenty-two-year-old Corvin Mack says he was one of them.

“The actions were all the same in nature, we were holding ceremony on the inside of the building while protesting on the outside of it — all peacefully,” he says.

“This time around, they came in with numbers of police officers almost doubling ours, roughly somewhere in like the range of 70 overall. They came up and without any warning of arrest, immediately threw one of our youth down, arrested her, and then threw one of our elders on the ground repeatedly — at least three different times.”

Scenes captured and shared on social media show protesters being shoved, yanked out of the building by their hair, and thrown to the ground. A spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department has said the videos “do not provide complete context,” and that occupants of the building “expressed concern for their safety.” However, the video and conduct of the officers are being reviewed by the Professional Standards Section.

“The appropriate review of the officer’s actions will occur, however it’s important to remember that the 30-second clip fails to show what happened leading up to that interaction and what happened after.,” according to Const. Tania Visintin.

But Mack says characterizing protestors as the aggressors is untrue, saying he and others were coming to the defense of an elder.

“I was defending our elder, I was holding the line down while they were pushing against us. At some point they started to break apart our line, they threw me on the ground, put a knee on my back, and they started dragging me around,” he says.

“They would drag me by my wrist. When I wouldn’t stand instead of picking me up when they had plenty of bodies to do so, they decided instead to force pressure onto my wrist in order to move me forward. It’s obviously unnecessary, but I think it’s very telling of the historical practices of police and the way they’re utilized by the Canadian Crown in order to hold down Indigenous land defenders and those defending Indigenous rights.”

The group released a photo of injuries they say were caused by police.

“Even those that weren’t arrested ended up leaving with injuries, so the violent response went beyond even outside of what the police find notable as arrest-worthy. They were still hurt they were still thrown around onto the glass, still assaulted,” Mack says.

Mack says police in the city routinely attend protests in the city without masking any arrests, including at recent anti-mask rallies where people are flouting public health orders.

Chief Judy Wilson with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) says Indigenous protesters are subject to a disproportionate amount of arrest and force — noting arrests of Indiegnous people opposing pipelines both on Wet’su’wet’en Territory, and in Victoria as recent examples.

“I was at the Greta Thunberg rally. Hundreds and thousands of people were there, police were just standing on the side and were not violent and not treating the people who were out for climate change any different. Our Indigenous people, our youth especially are standing up in regard to climate change and they were treated differently. They were treated violently, they were treated aggressively,” she says.

“The youth were standing up and voicing their concerns about the continued impacts and the continued treatment of our people in regards to the TransMountain pipeline. Then from our understanding the youth were violently arrested. Some ended up in the hospital with concussions and medical injuries. It’s appalling.”

UBCIC is one of several organizations demanding the charges be dropped.

“Indigenous youth must not be criminalized and targeted for peacefully standing with Indigenous nations asserting their Title and Rights; this is in clear opposition to B.C.’s obligations under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. We are inspired by the action of Indigenous youth and we raise our hands to them for their actions for all our future generations,” Wilson says.

Police maintain that this protest was unlike others, because it was in and of itself “unlawful.”

“They were trespassing, they were committing mischief and they were obstructing the police officers in the lawful execution of their duties,” says Sgt. Steve Addison.

“That is why they were arrested. A number of people occupied the lobby of this privately-owned building and a number of people occupied the outside of the building. What they did was blocked from people from being able to come and go — so it became a safety risk for people.”

Harsha Walia with THe BC Civil Liberties Association, says the way police behaved in this instance needs to be put into the context of police brutality and systemic racism and understood as the legacy of colonization.

“With global movements decrying systemic racism in policing, this is a clear example of racist policing. The brutality meted out on Indigenous youth must be reviewed, the officers must be held accountable, and all charges must be dropped. We urgently need to transform the colonial disaster of policing.”