Heiltsuk carver, granddaughter settle with BMO over arrest

Maxwell Johnson and his teenage granddaughter received a private apology, a payment and a pledge from the Bank of Montreal (BMO) to update its policies on how status cards are handled in the future.

“It’s been a long process with BMO but I’m glad it’s coming to an end,” Johnson told a gathering outside the downtown Vancouver bank branch Thursday. “I hope nobody has to go through this themselves. It’s not only hard on my family but it’s hard on our culture, our people. They felt what I was going through – not only me but my son and granddaughter.

“I just hope nobody has to go through this with any big corporation like this.”

In December 2019, Johnson and his granddaughter, both members of Heiltsuk First Nation on Vancouver Island, were running errands in Vancouver. Johnson stopped at a branch of the Bank of Montreal to add his granddaughter’s account to his own.

But the bank refused the request after looking at Johnson’s status card – and instead – called the police.

Vancouver police

A retired judge who led a disciplinary hearing into the actions of the two arresting officers said they “recklessly” arrested Johnson and the girl, who were held and handcuffed on a busy street in front of the bank.

The report, written by former justice Brian Neal, went against a review conducted by an outside police service that found no misconduct had occurred.

Neal wrote that the arrests “demonstrated serious, blameworthy conduct contrary to section 77 of the Police Act.”

“Having considered all of the circumstances set out in the investigation report, the evidence of witnesses and submissions advanced, I have found that both Cst. W and Cst.T (Cst. Canon Wong and Cst. Mitchel Tong) acted oppressively in their dealings with Mr. Johnson and his granddaughter. Specifically, I have found that the officers’ actions in arresting and handcuffing the parties was undertaken without reasonable and probable grounds.”

Johnson announced his confidential settlement Thursday at the same place he was arrested, noting he would also be closing his bank account.

He said it was a difficult journey getting to this point –  advocating for himself and his family – and he hopes institutions and the public educate themselves about Indigenous culture.

Johnson and his granddaughter still have a complaint pending against the Vancouver Police Department with the B.C. Human Rights Commission.

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