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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Chapnick

The True North: Campbell v. Vancouver Police

On July 1, 2016, partygoers gathered in downtown Vancouver for annual “Canada Day” celebrations. Festivities included a day-long concert event, “birthday” fireworks, a “massive boat party,” and a parade that was said to “recognize diversity, multiculturalism and the special bond that connects all Canadians.” Crowds of thousands filled the city’s streets to revel in a Canadian story marked by notions of freedom, justice, equality, and human rights.

Two weeks later, however, across town, a different Canadian story unfolded, involving an Indigenous mother, Deborah Campbell:

Late at night on July 15, 2016, [Ms. Campbell] was out walking her two dogs when she witnessed police stop and arrest her 19-year-old son. The arrest took around 20 minutes, during which time she was roughly and physically separated from her son and blocked from witnessing his arrest. Her questions about what was happening went largely unanswered, and she was warned that her own behaviour could justify a charge for obstruction of justice.

Ms. Campbell was traumatized and humiliated by her interaction with the Vancouver Police Department. She connected the event “to the experience that Indigenous people have had in Canada over the past 500 years" a true story “of colonialism and cultural genocide” that was subsequently canvassed and confirmed by the BC Human Rights Tribunal in its 2019 decision regarding a complaint filed by Ms. Campbell against the VPD.

As a result of Ms. Campbell’s efforts – brilliantly supported by Myrna McCallum and Amber Prince, and alongside the Union of BC Indian Chiefs – the Tribunal also acknowledged the problematic nature of its own system of “justice” and dispute resolution. As Ms. Campbell’s lawyers stated – and the Tribunal accepted:

… Ms. Campbell doesn’t have the option to access an Indigenous justice system. Her only avenue for redress is to submit herself to this colonial process, a system that has been imposed on her that she did not consent to and that she should have no reason to trust …

Ms. Campbell succeeded in her human rights complaint. Since there is no “massive boat party” this year, I’m going to use some of what’s left of this “Canada Day” to re-read the Tribunal’s decision in her case. If you're interested, you can, too, here.

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