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'Pretty traumatizing': Innocent man handcuffed outside Vancouver bank questions institution's apology
VANCOUVER -- Maxwell Johnson says he was just trying to open a bank account for his granddaughter at the bank where he's been a customer for five years.
Instead, the Indigenous man from Bella Bella, B.C., ended up in handcuffs last month outside a downtown Vancouver branch of the Bank of Montreal– and so did 12-year-old Tori.
"It was hard to see my granddaughter. She was crying and you could see how scared she was," Johnson told CTV News Vancouver in an interview Monday. "It was pretty traumatizing."
The financial institution has since admitted it made a mistake, but Johnson said the apology came weeks too late.
"I don't think it's very genuine," he said.
The incident happened Dec. 20, when Johnson went to the bank with his granddaughter.
He said the employee they were dealing with was having trouble verifying numbers on Johnson's ID.
He said he and Tori were told to go upstairs and wait. After a while, he said, his granddaughter noticed police officers coming inside.
"She said, 'What if those guys are for us, Papa?' and I kind of laughed. I said, 'I don't think so.' And then sure enough, they came over and grabbed me and Tori, took us outside, turned us around and handcuffed us," Johnson said.
At first, there was no explanation, but Johnson later learned someone at the bank had reported a suspected fraud.
In a statement last week, BMO Financial Group's Chief Executive Officer Darryl White said that call never should have happened.
"I — and our entire organization — unreservedly apologize for what happened. We simply should not have called the police, regardless of the circumstances," White said. "An Indigenous customer was not treated with the respect or trust that BMO customers deserve."
The bank also announced the creation of an Indigenous Advisory Council, to "support further education and awareness, provide input on policies and practices, and build on BMO's long-term commitment to diversity and inclusion."
Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council Marilyn Slett said what happened has been "devastating" for the community.
"The experience of the racial profiling is something that we've all experienced in our daily lives but this has certainly been the extreme," she said.
As for the advisory council, Slett said it seemed like it was "rushed out the door."
"You would think that it would be a great step for a bank to make, without making it under these circumstances."
Slett said Johnson is well known locally as an artist and cultural leader.
"When this happened to Max, it just really saddened everybody, and also, we rallied around him to make sure that he was supported."
Johnson said he has been receiving support from all over, and it's something he greatly appreciates.
"There's a few people that have shared similar stories about what we were going through, and like, nowadays, you wouldn't think something like this would ever happen," Johnson said. "I just hope it doesn't happen to anybody else."
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner ordered an investigation into the actions of the responding officers, which will be conducted by the Delta Police Department.
In a statement last week, deputy police complaint commissioner Andrea Spindler said the investigation will also look at "the legal authority to detain, arrest and use restraining devices such as handcuffs as well as any relevant questions of policy or training."