BMO launches Indigenous advisory council after grandfather, 12-year-old handcuffed at branch

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The Bank of Montreal (BMO) says it has launched an Indigenous Advisory Council with Indigenous members from a number of provinces, nearly a month after a man and his 12-year-old granddaughter were handcuffed at one of the bank’s branches in Vancouver after trying to open an account.

Maxwell Johnson, 56, had wanted to open the account for his granddaughter. A teller phoned the police during the Dec. 20 visit and officers put the pair in handcuffs before releasing them without charges.

The incident sparked intense backlash, protests outside the branch and condemnation from the mayor of Vancouver. The head of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs also called on institutions to beware of racial profiling.

A police investigation has since been ordered to determine if the actions of the officers who made the arrest amount to misconduct.

More than 50 protesters marched outside BMO’s Burrard Street location Jan. 14 after news of the arrests broke:

Protesters demonstrate outside Bank of Montreal 0:35

During the visit to the bank, Johnson and his granddaughter were using government-issued Indian Status cards, his birth certificate and her medical card. He said the employee became suspicious and went upstairs with their information.

Johnson lives in in Bella Bella, a Heiltsuk community located on B.C’s Central Coast. He said he believes the employee may have been suspicious because he had $30,000 in his account — an amount he and every other member of the Heiltsuk Nation received in December from the federal government as part of an Aboriginal rights settlement package

Not long after the staff member disappeared, Johnson said they saw police walking toward them. The grandfather and granddaughter were place in the back of a police vehicle. Once officers confirmed their identity, they were released.

Maxwell at his home in Bella Bella, on the Central Coast of B.C.. He says he is now fearful of police and doesn’t trust banks after being handcuffed outside the Bank of Montreal. (Jess Houstey )

The Bank of Montreal has repeatedly declined interview requests from CBC News since the story broke last week. In a statement announcing the advisory council Thursday, the bank’s CEO said the incident fell short of the organization’s standards.

“I recognize apologies alone are not enough. The buck stops with me. I know we have to do better and we will do better. Creating this council is an important step,” CEO Darryl White said.

“We have accelerated the formation of our Indigenous Advisory Council to help drive action from this incident,” he continued.

“The council will provide input to help inform our response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) call to action to improve corporate Canada’s policies and activities, and ongoing strategies and initiatives impacting Indigenous communities.”

Some members on the council include:

  • Chief Patrick Michell, Kanaka Bar Indian Band, B.C.
  • Regional Chief, Roger Augustine, Assembly of First Nations, NB/P.E.I.
  • Minister Anita Campbell, Manitoba Métis Nation, Man.
  • Chief Terry Paul, Membertou First Nation, Nova Scotia.
  • Chief Darcy Bear, Whitecap Dakota First Nation, Sask.
  • Kevin Chief, Principal, Chief Partnerships Manitoba Inc., Man.
  • Chief Don Maracle, Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, Ont.
  • Chief Ouray Crowfoot, Siksika Nation, Alta.

White said BMO will also be introducing “a new learning requirement,” in partnership with Indigenous leaders, for all of the bank’s senior leadership teams across the country.

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer has defended the arresting officers’ actions, saying they were responding to a report of a fraud in progress from a reputable source.

Palmer told CBC News it’s standard police procedure across Canada to handle a situation based on the available information.

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner’s investigation into the incident will consider any policies, procedures or training from the police department or the Vancouver Police Board that may be a factor in officers handcuffing the girl and her grandfather.

As part of his role as chair of the police board, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he will begin reviewing which factors led to the handcuffing, though he said he assigns most of the blame for the incident to the bank.

“BMO has to answer for this,” Stewart said.



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