WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
The mother of an Indigenous boy who was handcuffed at a Vancouver hospital on Thursday says it should have been a safe place for her son, who has autism.
Instead, Mia Brown says, her 12-year-old was pinned to the floor and treated like an adult.
Brown started recording a video of the incident when one of the officers put his knee on her son’s back. She later posted the video to social media.
Brown says she needed help with her son earlier at a SkyTrain station because he was “pushing.” Two officers with the Metro Vancouver Transit Police brought him to B.C. Children’s Hospital for assessment under the Mental Health Act.
Her son has been to that same hospital before, Brown says, and he became upset because the room they had waited in during a previous visit wasn’t available.
She says officers then pinned her son to the floor and handcuffed him at “the first sound of his whining,” without first asking him to calm down.
In a statement to CBC, Transit Police said officers responded to a call for help from a SkyTrain attendant at Broadway-Commercial Station just before 5 p.m. that day.
Officers found a youth who was “physically assaulting a woman, later identified as his mother,” the statement said.
“Officers attempted to verbally de-escalate the situation, but the youth began trying to push their mother toward the tracks, causing an even greater concern for her safety.”
A Transit Police spokesperson said the mother had minor injuries, including a bloody face, and that the boy allegedly assaulted the SkyTrain attendant when they tried to intervene.
Officers used handcuffs to restrain the boy on the way to the hospital, which they later removed, before the incident Brown recorded on video.
“The use of physical force is always a last resort,” the transit police statement said.
But in the case of Brown’s son, police said “it was a necessary step to ensure the safety of the person in the midst of a crisis, the general public and the officers involved.”
‘High tolerance’ needed for kid with autism: mother
Brown says the officers told her she had a “high tolerance” for her son’s behaviour.
“That is true,” she said in a phone interview on Friday.
“You have to have a high tolerance for a kid who has autism, because they have needs. I ask him what he needs and then we find a solution.”
Brown says she respects the police, adding her son has run away from school a few times, and she appreciates the officers who have helped find him.
“Some police know what to do with a kid who has autism,” she said.
“Some police just treat him like an adult, because, I guess, he has autism, and we’re Indigenous,” she added, saying she felt she and her son had been “racially profiled.”
‘This is too much’
The roughly three-minute video Brown posted on Facebook starts with the boy handcuffed as the two officers hold him facedown on the floor.
Brown can be heard telling the officers, “This is too much.”
One of the officers says he understood where she was coming from, “but based on his violent behaviour in the past, we can’t let it progress further.”
Jennifer Fane, the director of education for the Learning Disabilities Society of Greater Vancouver, said seeing the video was disturbing.
“The pain, grief and fear in the mother’s voice and in the eyes of her son was heart wrenching.”
She said in a situation where a child with autism is out of control, authorities, such as police, should take cues from parents about how best to help the child.
“Their roles would actually be to help the parent and the staff to create a clear space or lock down an area so that autistic individual has what they need to regulate,” she said.
“Coming in with force, yelling, loud noises — an autistic person bring touched by strangers when they’re in a meltdown — there’s absolutely no way that that could have helped the situation.
Hospital launches review, UBCIC ‘appalled’
After the incident, Brown says her son took a moment to collect himself, and then asked how she was doing.
“He said, ‘It’s OK, don’t cry,’ like he was calming me down,” Brown said.
“But I told him, no this happened to you … and this should not have happened.
“He doesn’t want to talk about it. He’s trying to keep a strong front.”
A statement from B.C. Children’s Hospital said “providing an inclusive and culturally safe health-care environment for patients and their families is a top priority.”
The hospital says it has started a health and safety review into what happened, and its Indigenous health team has reached out to the boy’s family to offer support.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says it was “appalled by the horrendous treatment of an Indigenous boy” by transit police.
“Children deserve to be cared for with compassion,” the union said in a statement.