Police too heavy-handed at Camas talk

Two weeks ago, Billie Pierre — a Nlaka’Pamux woman and founder of Redwire magazine — arrived in the capital to give a talk at Camas Books.

Two weeks ago, Billie Pierre — a Nlaka’Pamux woman and founder of Redwire magazine — arrived in the capital to give a talk at Camas Books. Pierre’s presentation looked at police accountability mechanisms in Canada with respect to assault and murder committed by officers, and how these work in real cases involving First Nations.

Local activist Comrade Black helped organize the event and said that while the talk was a huge success, the stories told by Pierre mixed with the presence of Victoria Police and the often brutal personal experiences related by members of the audience made for an emotionally difficult evening.

“There were a few indigenous women who came and told stories about their family members being killed by police,” said Black. “It was the most intense event I have ever organized. I think it’s important that these kinds of conversations can happen publicly.”

Black, stressed that “People need to understand that colonialism is still occurring today, that it is never ending, that native people still die in custody and that there are little to no consequences when that happens.”

But wait, did you say police presence? Indeed. In what is at the very least a fine example of lousy timing, the event was interrupted by an officer of the Victoria Police asking to speak with Pierre in private.

“My mother and four year old child stepped out during my talk,” said Pierre. “At one point my daughter ran away from my mom and was heading towards oncoming traffic and my mom grabbed her by her hoody and hair to stop her. Six police cruisers stopped my mom and brought this incident up as a reason to apprehend my child.”

No charges were laid, and the event was allowed to continue, though with an atmosphere of heightened tension. In response, Camas Books has called out the Victoria Police on “the targeting of Indigenous peoples and, specifically, speakers critical of the police,” saying that “It is suspicious how quick and heavy-handed the police were when responding to such a mundane incident.”

If nothing else, this event serves to remind us of the value of the few spaces where we can openly criticize our own society, and — whether deliberate or not — how easily the safety of these spaces is shaken. M

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