6th August 2007, Vernon, BC, Canada: Neil Magnuson, a rights activist who made a stop in Vernon on his Freedom Tour 2007 Rollerblade across the country to Ottawa, was the keynote speaker at a Peace and Awareness Rally in Polson Park on the 6th of August 2007.
The event ended with Magnuson being pepper-sprayed, and he and rally organizer Jack Elliman of Hemp City arrested by Vernon police.
The incident, which also involved Vernon bylaw officers, stemmed from where Elliman had parked his vehicle during the rally, and the fact Elliman had a number of outstanding traffic violations.
Elliman had been given at least three verbal warnings by City of Vernon bylaw officers during the event to remove his and other vehicles from an emergency fire lane near the bandstand, site of the rally, which began at noon and featured bands and guest speakers. The warnings came over a two-hour period, according to Vernon police.
According to police, Elliman refused to move his car and ordered rally-goers not to comply. However, a video Elliman made available to Vernon media showed him in his car trying to leave the scene, but was prevented by bylaw officials and a tow truck driver, who was called to the scene, from doing so.
The video shows the tow truck driver, called because of the outstanding infractions, reaching into Elliman’s car and taking his keys. This led to a confrontation with the tow truck operator, which, police say, sparked the ugliness that ensued.
Police say Elliman refused to exit his vehicle, and the bylaw officer requested urgent police back-up as the crowd was becoming unruly.
Upon arrival, police arrested Elliman for physically obstructing the bylaw officer. At this point, Magnuson and a woman identified only as B.J. put bear hugs around Elliman, preventing police from making an arrest.
“The second male was arrested for obstruction and subsequently pepper-sprayed when he hung onto the first suspect, would not allow him to be taken into police custody and refused to comply with police directions,” said Vernon RCMP Cpl. Henry Proce.
The crowd, which police estimated at “somewhere between 20 and 40 people,” was yelling at the police to let go of Elliman and Magnuson, saying their use of force was unnecessary. The video shows police had Magnuson on the ground after he was pepper-sprayed with one officer’s knee on Magnuson’s neck and his face in the ground to prevent him from moving.
At least four RCMP officers attended the scene in order to keep the peace and keep the crowd at bay while the suspects were being arrested.
Proce said it is not standard RCMP procedure to pepper-spray an individual if they don’t co-operate with police.
“In this case, this person had been placed under arrest, he was on the ground, had his arms tucked underneath him, refused to be handcuffed, the crowd was gathering and the officer felt he had no other option but to get this person restrained as quickly as possible, get him in his police car and get him out of there,” said Proce. “He warned that he would be pepper-sprayed and he did that.”
Elliman said Tuesday he was still in a state of shock over the whole incident.
“I’m outraged as to how they treated us,” said Elliman, who confirmed he was given several warnings by the bylaw officer in question to move his vehicle, and confirmed the outstanding violations.
“I told her that I was packing up and putting equipment in the car. I was the organizer and helping bands set up and take down. We had a permit, you’d expect that we could put our vehicles there. We did it last year. I told her I would move my vehicle. She parked in front of me and the tow truck driver reached in and took my keys, then I saw the cops rush in.”
Magnuson said public servants are “oblivious to what it means to be a public servant.”
“They’re seen as bullies and they act as bullies, unfortunately, in too many cases,” said Magnuson.
Proce commended the actions of the police officers.
“We get these two folks out of there, the crowd has become increasingly unruly and agitated, definitely anti-police, we get the usual obscenities thrown at us,” said Proce. “I’m quite proud of the way our members acted. They showed a great deal of restraint considering the verbal abuse that they were under.”
Police will be submitting a report to Crown counsel, requesting both Elliman and Magnuson be charged with obstruction of justice and resisting arrest.
Elliman and Magnuson say they are contemplating legal channels of recourse.
The pair's first court date related to the Vernon charges is on the 17th October 2007. Magnuson is currently in Ontario continuing his 'rollerblade march' to Ottawa.
Tags: news, vernon, bc, canada, rcmp, police, brutality, pepper spray, mob, parking, tow truck operator, meter maid, marijuana, pot, activism, freedom tour 2007
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