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Vancouver Police wrongly detain B.C.'s first Black Supreme Court Justice on seawall

Last Updated May 15, 2021 at 11:17 pm PDT


Apologies are coming from VPD and the mayor after officers wrongly detained B.C.'s first Black Supreme Court Justice

Selwyn Romilly, 81, says police were looking for a man causing a disturbance between 40 and 50

Romilly wants to know how a mistake like this can be made especially in the era of Black Lives Matter

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court says he was “humiliated” when the Vancouver Police wrongly detained him Friday while he was on his daily walk along the seawall.

Around 9:45 a.m. Selwyn Romilly says two police cars drove up towards him and an officer said they were looking for a man who was causing a disturbance and matched a similar description to him.

“Without much further ado, he put me in handcuffs.”

Romilly, who is 81 years old, says the police were looking for someone between 40 and 50-years-old.

He says when officers realized they had the wrong man, they apologized and removed the cuffs, but he still says it “wasn’t sufficient enough to keep me from being embarrassed.”

“I’m not sure whether race played a part in this or not. But the way I was treated, certainly was a different from the way the average white person will be treated,” Romilly says.

In a statement from the VPD, Sgt. Steve Addison explains several people phoned 9-1-1 because a man was assaulting strangers near the seawall at English Bay.

“It was reported that the suspect would appear to be walking normally, but would then suddenly start kicking, punching, and spitting at people,” Addison said.

He says officers who patrolled the area then “observed a man who resembled the description of the suspect.”

Addison confirms police briefly detained a man to investigate until he identified himself as a retired judge “when it became obvious that he was not the suspect and had done nothing wrong.”

“Given the violent nature of the incident, the man was handcuffed,” explained Addison.

Romilly says this incident shows how much the movement of “Black Lives Matter, obviously, went over their head.”

“Just recently, there’s all this stuff in the States that should have alerted the police that they have to be careful when dealing with visible minorities, especially Blacks. And in my case, they didn’t even ask me my name, asked me anything like that. They just put me in handcuffs, which I thought was reprehensible in the extreme.”

Romilly says the mayor of Vancouver and VPD reached out to apologize after. NEWS 1130 has reached out to VPD’s Chief Constable Adam Palmer for comment.

Former Attorney General Wally Oppal says what is particularly frustrating to him was that the VPD have only given what he calls a “mealy-mouthed” apology.

“This is probably an honest mistake. But why couldn’t that spokesperson … just apologize was that, that difficult,” he says. “I just found it very disappointing … apologies go a long way.

“We have an apology act in this province. And I would suggest that maybe the police ought to read.”

Oppal adds, while he can tolerate a mistake, he doesn’t understand how the police could make this mistake.

Romilly says he’s not going to file a complaint against police, saying the issue has gotten enough attention already but he thinks officers need to be better.

Romilly adds racial profiling is hard to pin down, saying he hopes the officers learn from this experience.

“With training methods … they have to make sure that they learn about how to treat minorities … I’m sure that must be part of their training program. But whatever the training program is, as it is right now it obviously isn’t sufficient.”

The VPD said later in the day officers were able to arrest a suspect “locate and arrest the correct suspect in the same area.”

That man was taken to jail.