B.C.’s police watchdog has ordered an investigation into the detention and handcuffing of an Indigenous grandfather and his 12-year-old granddaughter when they tried to open an account at a Vancouver BMO branch.
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) says it became aware of the Dec. 20 incident through both media reports and public complaints.
“It is important that there be a thorough and independent investigation of this matter,” said Deputy Police Complaints Commissioner Andrea Spindler.
“The investigation will carefully examine and assess the circumstances of this incident including the legal authority to detain, arrest and use restraining devices such as handcuffs as well as any relevant questions of policy or training.”
Vancouver police said they could not comment on the OPCC investigation.
Bella Bella man Maxwell Johnson says he and his granddaughter provided government identification at the bank, including birth certificates and Indian Status Cards, but were told by a staff member that “one or two numbers didn’t add up” and that there were discrepancies with the status cards.
He said the pair were asked to wait in an office and Vancouver police arrived about half an hour later, took them outside and handcuffed them. The two learned they were accused of attempting fraud, but were released at the scene and apologized to by police.
Supporters of Maxwell and his granddaughter held a rally on Friday and have scheduled a second gathering for 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Britannia Community Centre.
In its initial statement following the incident, BMO said: “although there were some mitigating circumstances, they do not excuse the way in which we handled the situation.”
The bank followed up with another apology, saying it deeply regretted the incident, which was “not representative of who we are,” however has yet to accept an on-camera interview.
The OPCC said the investigation, which will be conducted by the Delta Police Department, will look at whether any officer’s conduct would constitute misconduct, along with Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Police Board policies, procedures and training.
It said investigators will have six months to complete their work.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said Tuesday that he was still upset by the incident, which he said would be reviewed at Thursday’s Vancouver Police Board meeting.
“We’ll look at all relevant policies that are concerned here,” he said, including how people are restrained by police and training issues. “For me, this policy review has to do that, it has to make things better if things are made.”
Stewart went on to lay blame for the incident on BMO.
“I’m calling on BMO to really take full responsibility on this,” “If they hadn’t made that call, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Vancouver police have since said they were given incorrect information during the bank’s 911 call, including descriptions of the pair as South Asian, and of the girl as 16 years old.
Global News has requested additional comment from BMO.
In its most recent statement, issued Friday, the bank said it was working with its Indigenous employee resource group and other Indigenous stakeholders to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action to improve its corporate activities and policies.
It said it is also setting up an Indigenous Advisory Council in partnership with “several chiefs across Canada.”