Heiltsuk Nation’s leadership, Heiltsuk Tribal Council and Heiltsuk Hemas issued the following statement on behalf of the Nation on the recent incident of racial profiling and handcuffing of Maxwell Johnson and his 12 year-old granddaughter, after they attempted to open a joint bank account at a BMO branch in Vancouver.
“On behalf of the Heiltsuk Nation, we express our steadfast support for Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter. Max is a much-loved and respected artist, carver, cultural leader, singer, foster parent, and knowledge holder in our community, who leads by example. Most recently, Max mentored Heiltsuk youth and led the painting of the Gvákva’áus Haíłzaqv (Heiltsuk Big House) in Bella Bella, sharing his knowledge with the next generation.
“Max is also an advocate for mental health and awareness and is open in sharing his struggles with anxiety and panic disorder. He embodies Heiltsuk values and has always been there to support the community. In light of this, our nation is outraged by the treatment and trauma that Max and his granddaughter experienced at the hands of BMO staff and members of the Vancouver Police Department. Max’s son, Morgan, was also forced to helplessly watch the incident unfold as the VPD handcuffed his father and his niece.
“In the same way Max has supported our community, we are committed to supporting him and his family’s pursuit of justice.
“In recent days, we have spoken with Max and his family to determine how to best support them. We have consulted with lawyers and other experts and we will be announcing additional steps soon in the pursuit of justice and to help fight racism in BC. At this time, we can comment on the following aspects of this ongoing story:
- The responses from BMO and the Vancouver Police Department have been woefully inadequate. Others have provided good explanations for why this is the case. We will simply say that we take strong exception to the VPD Chief’s contention that his officers’ response reflected “standard operating procedure” and that they thought they were responding to a call involving a 50 year-old South Asian man and a 16 year-old South Asian girl, as if that somehow justified the outcome. BMO’s call to 911 to report a fraud in progress, without seeking any more information, was clearly racial profiling. BMO, while claiming to be apologetic and wanting to implement true reconciliatory measures, has avoided disclosing what transpired in their reporting of the alleged fraud.
- The recently announced Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) investigation, with Delta Police Department appointed to investigate this incident, falls short of addressing community concerns. While this investigation is a step in the right direction, and it should be broad and its results made public, it is not comforting or acceptable to us that police should be investigating police on a matter that goes to the heart of systemic racism. Based on this, we are calling on the Vancouver Police Board to conduct its own review with the civilian governance and oversight this situation demands.
“Ultimately, we must all struggle to understand how opening a bank account could result in a 911 call to police, and a 12-year old girl and her grandfather in handcuffs. In the era of reconciliation, this kind of treatment of Indigenous people, or any person of colour, is completely unacceptable. There are many more steps that must be taken before things are made right.
“To conclude, Max and his family have been overwhelmed by the positive public support and media attention this story has generated in Canada and around the world. Media are asked to direct all inquiries and interview requests to Heiltsuk Nation Communications.”