Protesters descended on a downtown Vancouver Bank of Montreal branch Friday, demanding accountability after an Indigenous man and his 12-year-old granddaughter were handcuffed while trying to open a bank account.
Staff at the branch on Burrard Street called Vancouver police on Dec. 20 over reported discrepancies with Maxwell Johnson’s account information and his Indian Status Card.
Police then took the pair outside the bank in handcuffs over suspicions they were committing a fraud scheme. They released Johnson and his granddaughter after questioning.
Johnson’s cousin Vivian Contessa Brown, who organized the protest, said the incident is an example of a daily occurrence for many Indigenous people, and wants to use it to prompt change.
“Our whole community is outraged,” she said.
“We want to get a message not just to BMO, but to all of Canada, that racism and discrimination needs to stop.”
BMO and Vancouver police have both apologized for the incident and have promised to improve their relations with Indigenous peoples. The bank said the incident was “a learning opportunity” that “does not reflect us at our best.”
The bank did not answer additional questions about penalties for the employee who made the initial complaint to police, or how it is changing its practices to address cultural considerations.
Brown said she wants BMO staff to undergo sensitivity training on “how they treat their customers” in order to avoid similar incidents in the future.
“We are also customers, and we are valued customers,” she said.
She said many BMO customers are cancelling their accounts over what happened to Johnson. Several people promised to take their business to another bank in social media comments reacting to BMO’s initial statement.
Others said they are reconsidering taking part in BMO-sponsored events like the annual marathon in Vancouver every May.
Protesters ended up going into the main lobby of the large and busy branch, banging drums and demanding justice on loudspeakers.
The group, yelling “shame on you,” left the branch a couple of hours later.
Dakota Bear with the group Idle No More said he’s fighting for further progress for the way Indigenous peoples are treated.
“We still get dehumanized as Indigenous peoples, but we’re here to stand up and say ‘no more,'” he said.
Johnson has said he may file a human rights complaint with BMO over the incident.