B.C. liberties group to file complaint of violent arrests in pro-Palestine protest

VANCOUVER — The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association will be filing a complaint with the Vancouver Police Department's civilian oversight board alleging officers used excessive force at a pro-Palestinian protest last month, the group's policy director told a news conference Tuesday.

Meghan McDermott said the association was "horrified" by police actions on May 31, when 14 pro-Palestinian demonstrators were arrested for blocking rail traffic in East Vancouver.

"Protesters asking for ceasefires and arms embargoes are not terrorists by any stretch of the imagination. These people using baby clothes to express their grief and to call attention to Canada's foreign policy they oppose," she said, referring to the war in Gaza.

"It is well past time that our state and its law enforcement agencies, like the VPD, cease to treat them as enemies. Everyone deserves to be equally safe in Vancouver no matter what our political views may be."

McDermott said their complaint will also cite "ongoing surveillance of people attending" protests and rallies, calling it "intimidating" and "invasive to privacy."

But Sgt. Steve Addison with the Vancouver Police Department said in a statement that officers used "lawful authority and reasonable force to arrest people breaking the law," calling misconduct allegations "absurd and unproven."

He said the group was given more than three hours to protest before officers removed people from the rail crossing, noting they ignored warnings that if they didn't leave they would be arrested.

Sukhi Gill, a protest organizer, told the news conference on Tuesday that he watched officers twist arms, use pepper spray, put people in headlocks and throw some of them to the concrete.

"Many of us tried pleading with the officers, but it was like talking to enraged bulls," he said. "The 14 protesters arrested did not commit violence. The charges are ridiculous and should be dropped immediately."

But Addison disagreed with the claims, saying protesters began shoving officers who tried to clear the blockade, they resisted arrest and one officer was punched in the face.

"The hostile dynamics of the crowd dictated the level of force used by police," Addison said. "No force would have been required had the protesters just complied with lawful police direction, and had members of the group not become violent."

Addison added that anyone with concerns about police conduct should report them to the Independent Investigations Office or the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner "so a proper investigation can take place."

Police said in a news release on May 31 that they were called to the scene where "100 protesters, some masked with balaclavas, were blocking vehicle and train traffic in the intersection of Kaslo Street and Grandview Highway."

The release said protesters who were blocking the railway refused multiple requests to move and 14 protesters were arrested for mischief and obstruction.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2024.

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press