Human rights complaints filed against BMO and VPD by Indigenous customers who were handcuffed

MAXWELL Johnson and his 12-year-old granddaughter, who were handcuffed on December 20, 2019, after trying to open a bank account, are filing human rights complaints against BMO and the Vancouver Police Department to hold the institutions responsible for systemic racism, and to make broader social change.

Johnson and his granddaughter are members of the Heiltsuk First Nation in Bella Bella.

“Human rights tribunals need to hold institutions accountable for systemic racism,” said Johnson. “Visible minorities are under constant threat of racial profiling by organizations, and discrimination by police. We are filing these human rights complaints to seek justice for our family, our community, and First Nations, and so that other people of colour can feel safe.”

In addition to the filings with the BC Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission, lawyers for Johnson are releasing copies of the 911 call that brought VPD officers to the bank, and the subsequent police report, which together show a discriminatory train of thought leading to the cuffing and detention of Johnson and his granddaughter, they say.

“From the BMO manager deciding our members didn’t belong, to the 911 call to police, to the cuffing, detention and questioning of Max and his granddaughter about how they came to be at the bank, this was a clear case of racial profiling and systemic racism,” said Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation. “Max and his granddaughter deserve justice for the pain this incident caused, and BMO and the VPD must take steps to ensure this never happens again.”

In December 2019, the Vancouver Police Board (VPB) was found by the BC Human Rights Tribunal to have engaged in discriminatory conduct against an Indigenous mother who was separated from her son during an arrest (Campbell v. Vancouver Police Board). In that ruling, the VPB was ordered to pay compensation, and to train officers to ensure they are able to engage with Indigenous people without discrimination. 

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The incident is also the subject of an investigation by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.