A human rights complaint was filed against BMO and the Vancouver Police Board after an Aboriginal man and his granddaughter were handcuffed while trying to open an account at a bank branch in Vancouver last year.
Maxwell Johnson and his 12-year-old granddaughter, Tory Ann, both of whom are members of the Hilltsock Nation in Bella Bella, British Columbia, were handcuffed on December 20 after bank employees looked at the couple’s identity documents and called 911 to report an alleged fraud in progress.
Johnson and Torey Ann were using the government issued Indian Status Cards, birth certificate and medical card. He said that the employee became suspicious and went upstairs with his cards.
“I was scared,” Torey Ann said in January when she echoed the incident to CBC News. “The whole thing, after our hands were tied, we showed that we are who we are.”
The bank manager called 911 about two South Asians.
Attorneys have now released a copy of the 911 call and a revised report by the Vancouver Police Department.
“I felt a pain in my heart when I was reading it,” said Marilyn Slate, a senior advisor to the Heltsock Nation.
The transcripts reveal that the BMO branch manager called 911 on Johnson and his granddaughter, first expressing BMO’s belief that the two were providing false IDs.
The director said he was also concerned about a large amount of money Johnson had in his account – money he and all other Hiltsock members had received as a result of the Aboriginal rights settlement.
According to the script, the director believed the couple were from South Asia, and estimated that Johnson is 50 years old and Tori Ann is a teenager. But in another part of the call, the manager is referring to Johnson as a “white gentleman.”
“I was very surprised that they said we are a South Asian people with status cards, and that stunned me when they said that,” Johnson said in an interview from his home in Bella Bella.
Indigenous Services have advised to contact the police, says the director
On the 911 call, the BMO manager doesn’t seem to understand what the Indian status card is.
On one occasion the manager told the operator, “We have asked the Indian government, uh, to call the police.” When asked for clarification, the director stated, “I called the number … on the Canadian government website regarding Indian case verification.”
Then the BMO branch manager said that Indigenous Services Canada – the agency responsible for issuing Indian status cards – had advised them to contact the police.
“The call for Aboriginal services has emerged in Canada,” Slate said.
“The caller or someone on the other end of the phone, advising to confiscate the card and call the authorities, is really disturbing, and it’s systematic racism, it’s institutionalized racism.
“We have a long way to go as a country.”
CBC contacted Indigenous Services Canada, BMO, and VPD to comment about the incident illustrated on the 911 call but has not yet heard.
The police report offers 4 reasons for suspicion
In January, Cameron Fowler, BMO CEO, told CBC that a BMO employee called 911 due to a clerical error on Tori-Anne’s Indian status card, which was confirmed by Johnson.
Her card had two numbers on the card, a mistake that has since been fixed by Indigenous Services Canada.
The police report identifies four reasons why the branch manager discovered an attempt to open a new “suspicious” account: Written error on Tori Ann’s Indian case card; A recent large cash deposit; Johnson changed his phone number on the account the day before; Johnson’s Indian case card does not match that in the BMO database.
For Johnson, the 911 call and police report provided little comfort as to why he and his granddaughter were handcuffed and held on a busy downtown Vancouver street in front of the bank.
“I’m still trying to understand that,” he said.
Johnson says he feels nervous about human rights complaints, but adds that this is the right thing to do.
“I know this is something I must do for my family, and it must be done not just for us [Heiltsuk] A nation, but to other people they are subjected to discrimination because of the color of their skin. “
The bank has since apologized, describing the incident as “unfortunate”.
CBC’s Angela Street revealed this story in January. To hear her speak more about the newly filed human rights complaint, and to hear an excerpt from the 911 call, click on the audio link below:
First edition9:38Details emerge from a 9-1-1 call that led to the arrest of an Aboriginal grandfather at BMO’s office
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