THE ADVOCATE V O L . 7 9 P A R T 4 J U L Y 2 0 2 1 491
wrongfully arrested in Downtown Vancouver as a young lawyer. Hon. V.
Romilly successfully sued and was awarded $100 from each of the arresting
officers plus costs. In Hon. V. Romilly’s case, officers believed him to
be Hugh Saunders, a man with an outstanding warrant who was
described as black and four and a half inches shorter than Hon. V.
Romilly. After his arrest, Hon. V. Romilly told the officers he was a lawyer
and endured laughter and humiliation. After the officers confirmed he
was not Hugh Saunders, they detained him to conduct an immigration
In the cases of both brothers, the arrests were made only because they
were black – they matched no other part of the suspect descriptions. Fortunately,
these brothers were also legally trained, knew their rights and
did not face long-term detention. But what about the people of colour
who do not have the same legal background?
It is shocking and unacceptable that, in downtown Vancouver, 47 years
later, the same police force has made the same inexcusable mistake –
arresting an individual only because of the colour of their skin. However,
there is reason to believe in hope for the future.
Between the two incidents, there is a remarkable difference in the
response of the VPD and the Mayor. With Hon. V. Romilly, the VPD and
officers refused to apologize, which is what prompted the lawsuit. In the
aftermath of the judgment, VPD issued a memo advising all members to
be guided by the comments of the court, and also said Hon. V. Romilly
was entitled to an apology.
Now, with Hon. S. Romilly, both the VPD and Mayor have issued public
apologies, likely motivated in part by Hon. S. Romilly’s status as a retired
judge and the more practical reality that the institutions are now protected
from civil liability that might flow from an apology by operation of
the B.C. Apology Act. But nevertheless, I believe it is a positive sign, and
I hope this becomes a meaningful teaching moment and an opportunity
for concrete action.
There is a rising tide of awareness of the need to eliminate racial discrimination
When events like this occur, they should be used as an opportunity to
reflect and consider whether current strategies to address concerns about
racial bias are adequate and whether there is sufficient training and effective
mechanisms of accountability. While I accept that using a reasonably
detailed description that includes the race of a suspect may be a reality
of policing, the use of race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious appearance
as an unreasonably dominant factor in the decision to arrest or
detain is a form of racial profiling and an insidious form of racial discrimination
that affects all visible minorities and is of particular concern to
parents of visible minority children. It causes mental and physical harm
to individuals and communities and undermines the Rule of Law.
The Honourable Romilly brothers deserve our sincere gratitude for their
service as respected jurists in our Province and for their resiliency in the
face of systemic racism, particularly their treatment by law enforcement
in this City. In my view, the VPD and the City owe them, and the com-