An Indigenous youth group is calling for justice, claiming a peaceful protest in Downtown Vancouver turned ugly when Vancouver Police Department officers “violently” dispersed the crowd.
A video circulating on social media showing scenes of a police officer grabbing the hair of a protester and others being thrown to the ground at the protest on Friday (Feb. 19) has been sent to the VPD’s Professional Standards Section for review.
The youth group, which goes by the name Braided Warriors, was out in force last week to protest the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion at affiliated insurance companies, calling on them to stop backing the project.
Friday’s protest held at the AIG office, in the BMO building at 595 Burrard St., was the third consecutive demonstration by the group. Earlier in the week, the group also held protests at Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., at 999 West Hasting St., and Chubb Insurance, at 250 Howe St.
The group describes itself as “a collective of Indigenous youth from many nations fighting for Indigenous sovereignty,” mostly in the unceded territories of the Səl̓ílwətaʔ (Tsleil-Waututh), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) nations.
“As Indigenous youth, we are taking a stand with all our Indigenous relatives in our collective fight for Land Back and an end to resource extraction on our lands and waters,” the Braided Warriors said in a statement released on Monday.
The Braided Warriors statement claimed that their “peaceful sit-in protest” was broken up “violently” by VPD officers.
“Approximately 70 VPD officers, many of whom were not wearing masks, all came in at once,” the release stated.
“We were given no warning or any time prior to being violently assaulted and removed from the property.
"We were violently thrown to the ground, dragged across floors and down stairways, pulled by the hair and braid, thrown to a surface covered in glass, strangled in a chokehold, or dragged face down on concrete.”
VPD spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison said protesters had attempted to “block access” to buildings and “egress by occupying the lobbies and by tying the front doors shut.”
“During the first two days of the protest, the group dispersed peacefully after expressing their views and there were no arrests,” he said.
“During Friday’s protest, the demonstrators set up a tent and used their bodies to barricade the front doors of a building on Burrard Street, refusing to let anyone enter or exit.”
Sgt. Addison said VPD officers then attempted to negotiate with the protesters to gain compliance and have them move outside, but they refused to engage.
“Several protesters became physically and verbally confrontational with police,” he said.
“Extra officers were brought in from other areas of the city to regain control of the situation and to remove the protesters from the building.”
He said four adults were arrested for mischief and obstruction and taken to jail. The four were later released on undertakings to appear in court on May 19.
In their release, the Braided Warriors also said their ceremonial items including drums, abalone shells, feathers, and red dresses to remember MMIW were “desecrated, thrown, stepped on, and broken.”
The group also claims the four adults who were arrested were held in custody for over six hours and were initially denied access to lawyers.
The media release by Braided Warriors was distributed by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, who say they are “appalled at the VPD’s treatment of peaceful Indigenous youth protesting the Trans Mountain Pipeline.”
“While the government claims to be taking action to end systemic racism and to seek reconciliation, Indigenous youth are being thrown on the ground, their hair is pulled, and they have to go to the hospital for police-inflicted injuries,” said, Kukpi7, Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
“Indigenous youth must not be criminalized and targeted for peacefully standing with Indigenous nations asserting their Title and Rights; this is in clear opposition to B.C.’s obligations under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.”
Addison said the VPD was aware of a video circulating on social media of the interactions that took place on Friday and it had been sent to the VPD’s Professional Standards Section for review.
He said the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner had also been notified.
In addition, he said the VPD supports a person’s democratic right to protest peacefully.
“We strive to provide an environment conducive to lawful and peaceful protest, and public safety is always our top priority,” said Addison.
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.