Security camera footage has now been released by Indigenous leaders in the case of an Indigenous man and his 12-year-old granddaughter being handcuffed outside a Vancouver bank in December 2019.
The footage shows Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter being led outside the Bank of Montreal branch on Burrard Street by Vancouver police officers before both of them were handcuffed and separated from each other.
Last November, a human rights complaint was filed against the Vancouver Police Department and Bank of Montreal.
Now the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) and Heiltsuk Nation announced Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, former judge and Senior Associate Counsel with Woodward & Company, will be applying to intervene on behalf of the UBCIC in the ongoing case.
“This intervention is about supporting a complaint that aims to fight systemic racism, hold institutions accountable, and offer redress for the racial profiling and wrongful detainment that Max and his granddaughter experienced at the hands of the VPD,” Turpel-Lafond said in a release.
“This case embodies the systemic racism that we must all work together to eliminate.”
Johnson, who had been a BMO customer since 2014, had taken his granddaughter to the downtown Vancouver branch on Dec. 20, 2019, to open an account for her. The two are members of the Heiltsuk First Nation in Bella Bella.
When Global News first reported on the story in January, Johnson said the bank teller asked for his identification, so he gave them his Indian Status Card.
The teller then told Johnson that his ID wasn’t matching up and that she had to take it to be verified, Johnson said.
A transcript of the 911 call to police, released last November, shows the branch manager said they have been given a fake ID and they had been told by the “Indian government” to call police.
According to the transcript, the manager described Johnson and his granddaughter as South Asian to the 911 operator.
When police arrived, they took both Johnson and his granddaughter outside and handcuffed them, but said they were being detained, not arrested.
After some questioning, Johnson said he realized he and his granddaughter were being accused of trying to commit fraud.
The VPD incident report indicates the responding officers “formed reasonable grounds to believe that fraud had occurred.”
However, after the officers spoke with the justice coordinator for the Heiltsuk Nation, Margaret Brown, she confirmed the validity of the cards and the two were released.
“This case has become a symbol of the fight against systemic racism in Canada, and we must all work together to hold institutions to account, and make sure this never happens again,” Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation said in a release.
In the VPD statement of defence, it states the officers were unaware Johnson and his granddaughter were Indigenous before detaining them.
“We completely reject the VPD’s colour-blind statement of defence, which is tone-deaf and fails to acknowledge or address the systemic racism that Indigenous people like Max and his granddaughter, experience every day at the hands of police,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said in a release.
“Institutionalized racism and unchecked police violence deny dignity and justice, and destroy lives — from unlawful detainments to deaths in custody. We remember Dale Culver, an unarmed Indigenous man who died in Prince George while being arrested by five RCMP officers in 2017. We remember Chantel Moore of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation who was fatally shot five times by a police officer who was later placed on administrative leave. If justice is to be attainable, the VPD must be held accountable for any violations of human and Indigenous rights and set an example for other law enforcement agencies and institutions. The VPD must apologize for this incident, compensate the victims, and vastly improve its cultural competency training and anti-racism education.”
The Vancouver police said in a statement to Global News that they are unable to comment on the matter Wednesday as the matter is still under review by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC).
Police said they believe the investigation and decision has been submitted to the OPCC.
Johnson and the Heiltsuk Nation have also launched an anti-racism campaign called Strong as Cedar and they are inviting others to share their experiences of systemic racism in Canada.