An investigation is officially underway after an Indigenous man and his 12-year-old granddaughter were handcuffed and detained by police at a Bank of Montreal (BMO) location in Vancouver last month.
“The OPCC [Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner] became aware of the matter through media reporting and complaints from the public,” reads a January 14 media release. “Information was requested from the Vancouver Police Department [VPD] and as a result, the Police Complaint Commissioner has concluded an investigation into the matter is required.”
The OPCC has assigned the investigation to the Delta Police Department (DPD).
The Indigenous man, Maxwell Johnson of Bella Bella on Campbell Island, visited the BMO in on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver on December 20. He’d been a customer of the bank since 2014 and wanted to open an account for his granddaughter.
A BMO teller then allegedly found “discrepancies” with his Indian Status Card. About 30 minutes later, police arrived and detained and handcuffed both Johnson and his 12-year-old granddaughter. The bank accused him of attempting to commit fraud.
Two weeks later, the incident was picked up by local media and a public backlash has ensured.
In a statement, BMO expressed regret for calling the police.
“We deeply regret this and unequivocally apologize to all,” it reads. “We are reviewing what took place, how it was handled, and will use this as a learning opportunity.”
The VPD has similarly apologized for what happened.
“We recognize that this entire situation has been upsetting and distressing for the two individuals,” Const. Tania Visintin, a spokesperson for the force, said in a separate written statement.
But today (January 14) the province’s police watchdog signalled that might not be good enough and announced it had decided an investigation was warranted.
“It is important that there be a thorough and independent investigation of this matter,” deputy police complaint commissioner Andrea Spindler said quoted in a media release. “The investigation will carefully examine and assess the circumstances of this incident including the legal authority to detain, arrest and use restraining devices such as handcuffs as well as any relevant questions of policy or training.”
Yesterday, Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart issued a statement that attributes blame for the incident to the bank as opposed to the VPD.
“I find it unacceptable that the Bank of Montreal turned what should have been a positive occasion into one that reinforces our colonial past",” said Stewart, who also chairs the Vancouver police board.
"I am sad for the long-term impacts this may have on the child, her family, and the broader community," he added. "BMO needs to do right by this family, take full responsibility for their actions, and ensure this does not happen again."
Stewart’s statement goes on to emphasize efforts the VPD is taking to make amends with the Johnsons.
"The officers immediately apologized once they discovered the facts of the situation, as has Chief Palmer," Stewart said. "The Chief has also made efforts to contact and apologize directly to the grandfather and I fully support and echo these apologies."