Vancouver police apologize for wrongly handcuffing and detaining retired Black judge

·2 min read
Selwyn Romilly, shown here in 2019, was the first Black judge appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court. (Peter A. Allard School of Law/YouTube - image credit)
Selwyn Romilly, shown here in 2019, was the first Black judge appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court. (Peter A. Allard School of Law/YouTube - image credit)

Vancouver police have apologized after officers wrongly detained and handcuffed an 81-year-old retired Black judge during his morning walk on the seawall while searching for a suspect described as dark-skinned and decades younger.

Selwyn Romilly said he was walking around Stanley Park on Friday when two police vehicles pulled up nearby and about five officers approached him. He said all five appeared to be white and were significantly taller than his five feet and eight inches.

"They said that they got a complaint about someone fitting my description, and before I could say anything, they told me to put my hands behind my back and they shackled me with handcuffs," he told CBC News.

"I have no gun, I don't have anything in my hand or my person. And here you have — at 9:45 a.m., near to Third Beach where you have lots of people — you have a black guy ... shackled in handcuffs and people passing by. I found that most embarrassing."

He said he told the officers he was a retired judge, and they released him from the handcuffs after about a minute.

Romilly, who was born in Trinidad, was the first Black judge appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court. He was also the fourth Black student to attend law school at the University of British Columbia, according to the university.

"You would think that we're past that stage in Canada," he said of the arrest.

Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison said in an email that officers were responding to several 911 calls about a man assaulting strangers on the seawall near English Bay.

The suspect was said to be walking normally, but then he would suddenly start kicking, punching and spitting at people.

"Officers observed a man who resembled the description of the suspect and briefly detained him to investigate. Given the violent nature of the incident, the man was handcuffed," Addison wrote.

However, Addison confirmed that the description given for the suspect was "a dark-skinned man, 40-50 years old, wearing a red top."

He described Romilly as compliant and said the handcuffs were quickly removed when it became obvious he was not the suspect.

Addison said officers located the correct suspect in the same area around that time, and that man was taken to jail. A patrol supervisor then called Romilly to give an apology and an explanation.

Romilly said two senior officers have reached out to apologize, and he doesn't plan to file a complaint.

But he still hopes the police department makes some changes.

"They have to be very vigilant when they train young white police officers for dealing with minorities," Romilly said.

"I hate to say that this is a case where I was targeted because I was walking while Black, but you kind of wonder why those handcuffs were placed on me at such an early stage."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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