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B.C. liberties group says police mistreating pro-Palestinian protesters

Group filing complaint after it says Vancouver officers violently arrested demonstrators in May

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association says it will be filing a complaint with the Vancouver Police Department over its officers' treatment and arrest of pro-Palestinian demonstrators last month. 

Around 100 of those demonstrators gathered at a section of railway lines in East Vancouver on May 31 to lay 303 sets of children's clothing on the tracks. The group says it was holding vigil for the thousands of Palestinian children who have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its retaliation to the Oct. 7, 2023 Hamas attacks. 

The Vancouver Police Department says it moved in to clear the group that afternoon because they had been obstructing the Canadian National Railway lines for several hours. Video posted to social media from scene shows how chaos soon broke out between the two groups, with officers taking numerous people to the ground to handcuff them. 

In the end, police arrested 14 people for mischief and obstruction. 

VPD Media Relations Officer Tania Visintin told Black Press Media they gave the demonstrators ample time to leave and that "no force would have been required had the protesters just complied." She said the demonstrators were "pushing and shoving" and that their "hostile dynamics " dictated the level of force used by police.

The demonstrators, on the other hand, say the officers were unnecessarily violent and that community members were punched, kicked, pepper-sprayed, choked and strangled. The group says dozens of them left with injuries, including a pregnant woman. 

“While all we did was stand, officers did not use any de-escalation," community member Sukhi Gill recalled at a press conference outside the VPD headquarters on Tuesday (June 18). 

 
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Pro-Palestinian community member Sukhi Gill speaks at a press conference outside of the Vancouver Police Department headquarters on June 18, 2024. Jane Skrypnek/Black Press Media

Community members and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) held the gathering to condemn VPD's actions and announce that they will be filing an official complaint with the department's civilian oversight board over the level of violence the group says was used against them on May 31. They are also calling for the department to drop any action against the 14 people who were arrested. 

Visintin told Black Press Media the department hasn't yet recommended any charges to Crown counsel, but that they will be soon. 

Meghan McDermott, a policy director with BCCLA, said Tuesday that her association is concerned about a growing pattern of disproportionate police surveillance at pro-Palestinian gatherings. She said there have been numerous such demonstrations in Vancouver where police have been filming using phones and drones, and that the BCCLA is worried about what that footage may be getting used for. 

“Protesters asking for ceasefires and arms embargoes are not terrorists by any stretch of the imagination. These are people using baby clothes to express their grief and to call attention to Canada's foreign policy that they oppose.”

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B.C. Civil Liberties Association policy director Meghan McDermott speaks at a press conference outside of the Vancouver Police Department headquarters on June 18, 2024. Jane Skrypnek/Black Press Media

Black Press Media asked VPD about its surveillance at pro-Palestinian events but did not hear back as of publication. About a dozen officers were on scene at the press conference on Tuesday, at least one of whom was filming the event. 

Although not present, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs also expressed concern on Tuesday about police actions. UBCIC's president, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, said in a statement that they stand behind all victims of police brutality. 

"Videos from the day show VPD officers acted with excessive force and disregard for the safety and human rights of peaceful people, including Indigenous Peoples holding a sacred fire. We demand an end to the tremendous historical and ongoing harm of police violence that disproportionately targets Indigenous people and people of colour, rooted in colonial violence."

VPD maintains that it used reasonable force.



About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

Hi, I'm a provincial reporter with Black Press Media, where I've worked since 2020.
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