Camera caught arrogance,
lack of accountability

Civil-rights group opposed to surveillance
posted footage as evidence

Ethan Baron, Vancouver Province, July 22, 2010

Rudeness is big cops swaggering three abreast down a crowded sidewalk. Bad policing is those officers doing it in the Downtown Eastside, where Vancouver police policy focuses heavily on building positive relationships with citizens.

So what do you call it when one of the three cops encounters a tiny disabled woman who tries to get around him, and he shoves her forcefully to the concrete? I would call it assault, and that’s a criminal offence.

And what would you call it if that officer, in spite of the incident being caught on a video that was given to the police department soon after, was still walking the Downtown Eastside beat? I would call it a disgusting display of departmental arrogance and a total lack of accountability to the public.

On June 9, three Vancouver policemen were patrolling on foot past the United We Can bottle-and-can depot, along a stretch of Hasting[s] Street sidewalk typically crowded with binners and street people.

A 26-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis limped toward them, and as happens hundreds of times daily on Vancouver’s sidewalks, the woman and the officer had to sidestep each other. She found a gap to the officer’s right and slipped past. He turned and shoved her — hard — to the sidewalk. You can tell on the video that she was already past him, because he put his hand on her back to push her.

The video came from a surveillance camera mounted outside the nearby Lux Hotel. Vancouver police said Thursday that the department’s professional-standards unit received the footage soon after the officer reported the incident to his supervisor. The professional-standards unit is investigating, police said.

Meanwhile, the officer has sent a letter of apology to the victim. “I thought at the time that you were attempting to reach for my firearm,” he wrote. Nice excuse; in fact that’s probably the only plausible reason he’d have for shoving her. But because he didn’t push her until after she’d passed him, it’s obviously not true.

Once she hit the concrete, the officers stood around for about 20 seconds, then walked off. Someone else helped the woman to her feet.

The VPD said Thursday the cop remains on the beat while the investigation is under way. Given the video clearly shows an abuse of authority and probable anger-management issues, keeping him on the job in the same neighbourhood is insulting to the victim and her community, and damaging to the goal of building bridges in the troubled slum.

Interestingly, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association — longtime opponent of the proliferation of surveillance cameras — has posted the video on its website, along with a press release condemning the incident.

“We’re not big fans of surveillance footage,” said executive director David Eby. “This time it worked out.”

The association has, of late, made frequent use of video footage to point out divergences between police statements and actual events. BCCLA president Robert Holmes noted of the shoving incident that without the Lux Hotel video, police management would have no idea what really happened.

And what really happened is that a Vancouver policeman randomly assaulted a disabled woman in broad daylight on a public sidewalk. If the VPD’s professional-standards unit does its job, we’ll see that video played in court.


Read about the Stan Lowe/Bruce Brown/Rollie Woods/OPCC cover-up
of VPD constable Taylor Robinson’s assault on a disabled woman
Read more about B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner
Read more news and comment about police accountability in B.C.