The B.C. Indigenous man who was handcuffed with his 12-year-old granddaughter while the pair were trying to open an account at a Vancouver BMO branch says he doesn’t accept the apology bank executives made last week.
Bella Bella man Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter Tori were cuffed by Vancouver police on Dec. 20, 2019, after an employee called 911 and reported a fraud in progress.
“It would have been better if it was in person, not a statement, not on the news or on social media,” Johnson said on Monday.
“A statement a month after? You know, it could have been done better.”
Johnson says the pair were taken to a cruiser in front of the bank and read their rights.
He said he was cuffed for about 45 minutes, while Tori said she was shackled for about 15 to 20 minutes, an experience she said was scary.
“I was worried about my papa,” she told Global News.
Police have since confirmed the pair were detained and arrested. Police say they were told Tori was 16 years old and that when they learned her age she was un-cuffed.
After police determined nothing criminal had taken place, the two were released at the scene, and say the officers apologized.
On Thursday, BMO executives took questions for the first time since the incident was reported, apologizing for the incident and launching a new Indigenous Advisory Council.
The bank maintains there were problems with the duo’s ID but said an employee should never have called police.
Johnson said the pair provided their Indian status cards, along with his own BMO card and birth certificate.
“When they were going through our status cards they said there were numbers that weren’t right. They said mine, one or two numbers that weren’t right. I didn’t find out about Tori’s status card until after we were being detained,” said Johnson.
“We got our cards checked last week. Nothing’s wrong with my status card. The numbers all match up with what they have on file in Bella Bella and all the numbers are correct. One or two numbers of Tori’s were out of place.
“Later on, we discovered they thought Tori’s card was a fraud.”
Johnson explained that minors’ status cards are identical to their mothers’ and that the last two digits change when they come of age, something he believes the bank employees may not have been trained about.
While BMO has denied racism was a factor in calling police, Johnson said he’s still not sure whether he was racially profiled.
“Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t,” he said.
“I don’t know if it was because of the way I was dressed, or because of the amount of money I had in my account or they were just looking for someone to do this to.”
Johnson had $30,000 in his account, money he received from the federal government as a part of an Aboriginal rights settlement package with the Heiltsuk people, approved in June 2019.
Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett didn’t mince words on the subject.
“A just resolution would include a full-out apology, not a half apology for, ‘We shouldn’t have picked up the phone and made that call,'” she said.
“Because what led to making that call was systemic racism.”
Slett said the banking sector needs to look at improving cultural competencies for employees and management and to implement calls to action recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner (OPCC) has ordered an investigation into the VPD’s handling of the incident, which will be conducted by the Delta Police Department.
Johnson said he hopes the probe comes up with answers about what happened.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said Monday that the issue will be reviewed at Thursday’s Vancouver Police Board meeting.
“We’re beginning to look at what a full review of the policies surrounding this incident would involve,” he said.
“Reconciliation will play a key role in that review. Right now, on Thursday, we’re scoping out what that’s going to look like, but we will be having a very thorough initial briefing.”
Stewart has also said the review will look at VPD policy around restraining suspects.
Vancouver police are not commenting on details about the incident itself due to the OPCC-ordered probe.
However, asked about the VPD’s policy around handcuffing, VPD spokesperson Sgt. Aaron Roed said police use cuffs to “ensure the safety of the detained/arrested party as well as the police members,” and that officers are re-trained annually.
“Using restraint devices is not uncommon when conducting investigations, even if the investigation involves a young person,” said Roed.
“This can be done for officer safety in the absence of grounds to arrest or used during an arrest of an individual.”
Johnson said he’s yet to hear from the VPD directly since the incident, and that he’s taken one call from the bank that he wasn’t satisfied with.
He said he’s still mulling over his options, including a potential civil suit or a complaint to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
“I’ve had one phone call (with the bank), and that lady apologized and asked, ‘Is there anything we could do?’ And I said, ‘No.'”
“The damage is already done. My granddaughter is going to live with this for the rest of her life, being taken out of your bank and being handcuffed.”