VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A local community advocate says despite what the chief of the Vancouver Police Department might say, there’s no doubt systemic racism is still a problem within the VPD and policing in general.
Dr. June Francis, chair of Hogan’s Alley Society, spoke with NEWS 1130 Monday after Chief Const. Adam Palmer commented about the wrongful detention of B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice.
Last year, Palmer said systemic racism wasn’t evident in Canadian policing. When asked if Friday’s event changes how he views that, he said simply, “No, it doesn’t.”
He said it was a “dynamic, urgent call” and “police officers are human beings.”
“We make mistakes. We don’t always get it right,” Palmer said.
On Friday, retired Justice Selwyn Romilly, who’s Black and 81 years old, was temporarily handcuffed on the seawall by VPD officers looking for a man in his 40s who was causing a disturbance.
Palmer said “things unfold quickly in the heat of the moment, and that is what happened here.”
After hearing Palmer’s comments, Francis said she was taken aback.
“I am stunned because systemic racism is embedded in an institution that was designed for systemic racism,” she said.
Francis adds Friday’s detention of a well-respected judge is not only a humiliatingly experience for him.
“When you are held by authorities against your will and put in handcuffs, that is violent. And if this happens to a man like that — no threat whatsoever to anybody — what is going to happen when we confront situations where there may be a potential for violence?” she asked.
Palmer issued a public apology to Romilly on Monday.
“I know this would have been an unsettling, even traumatic, experience for anybody to go through,” he said, noting that he had already personally apologized to Romilly, as had the officers involved.
"I know this would have been an unsettling and even traumatic experience," @VancouverPD is apologizing after mistakingly arresting Selwyn Romilly, a Black retired Supreme Court judge, on the seawall Friday. @CityNewsVAN @NEWS1130 pic.twitter.com/zm2WyqVolU
— Ashley Burr (@AshleyBurr_) May 17, 2021
Francis doesn’t accept the police chief’s comments that it was simply a mistake.
“Absolutely not. This is part of the ongoing way of minimizing the systemic nature and therefore, defending against making any change. The notion that there are a few bad apples –absolutely not. It is the tree that is producing these apples. This is not an isolated incident,” she said.
On Monday, Vancouver’s mayor said the Police Board will be meeting as soon as possible to talk about Romilly’s wrongful detention.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart says what happened was unacceptable.
“I think that our colonial past has not gone away. There’s unequal distribution of justice across our society, whether it’s in the court systems or in city hall, or in the VPD. And so it is incumbent upon us to do everything we can, so these are the conversations we’ll be having at the Police Board at the nearest opportunity,” Stewart said.
Francis says she’s pleased Stewart has acknowledged systemic racism remains a problem, but is not convinced the Police Board he chairs will make significant changes anytime soon.
She says every Black man she knows — including doctors and lawyers — has experienced something similar.
Romilly has told NEWS 1130 he’s not going to file a formal complaint against police because the issue has gotten enough attention already. Francis, who is also an SFU professor, says it doesn’t matter if a complaint is filed.
“We already have the facts we need to demand — there is a reform that’s needed — a deep reform. We have ideas about how to re-imagine the police force. We need to think about public safety more broadly. They definitely have overstepped their place in our society and they are deeply rooted in systemic racism. We know what happened to him and we have an obligation to defend him — and all of us.”
With files from Monika Gul and Hana Mae Nassar