It was May 2021 when Sharif Bhamji went to a TD Bank in Surrey, B.C. to open an account. But things didn’t go as planned when the teller looked at Bhamji’s status card.
“When I gave the lady my ID, she asked me for a B.C. ID and I told her that’s a status card,” Bhamji says. “And when she looked at it she said, ‘Your name is Sharif Bhamji?’ and from that point, I knew that the whole thing was going to go sideways.”
Bhamji’s mother is from Heiltsuk First Nation on the west coast of B.C. and his father is East Indian.
Now Bhamji has filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
According to the complaint, Bhamji said he reviewed the criteria for applying for an account at TD Bank and providing a status card was an approved method of identification.
He was told that to activate the new account, he needed to go to a branch in person with correct identification.
On May 5, 2021, Bhamji went to the branch with his status card and two pieces of identification showing his address.
But, according to the complaint, the teller also asked for a driver’s licence. Bhamji, a single father of two, says he doesn’t drive.
And when it came to the status card, which contains a 1-800 number for verification purposes, the teller didn’t accept it.
“She told me that the ID wasn’t real and that she thought the ID was fake, and she also said to me that the numbers didn’t add up,” says Bhamji.
Bhamji says he also provided identification from the province of B.C.
He says he requested she check TD policies, but the teller and the bank manager told him he had to leave in front of numerous other customers.
Eventually, Bhamji says an employee at the bank handed him a “refusal letter.”
The human rights complaint says his ordeal continued after he got home and there was a knock on his door.
“It was the police,” says Bhamji, “they came to my door and he wanted to ask me about the situation. He told me that the main reason he was there was because of my name and he asked me about my name and we spoke briefly about discrimination.”
The officer also informed him the bank would charge him with trespassing if he returned to their property.
According to the complaint, the officer shared his own experience of being “brown and blue.” The officer, identified as Sandhu, said he ran Bhamji’s name through the police computer and verified his identity.
Bhamji says he explained the meaning of racial profiling to his nine-year-old daughter.
“I had to explain to her that some people can’t be nice and that we have to do the opposite of what they do,” says Bhamji
APTN News reached out to TD Bank to ask about Bhamji.
“We are troubled to hear about Mr. Bhamji’s experience,” said a statement from the bank. “We have reached out to make a personal apology, to hear more about his experience, and to assure him that we are taking this matter very seriously – and will be conducting a full review of what took place.”
Bhamji says he hasn’t heard from TD Bank yet.
He says he later opened an account at CIBC in about 20 minutes using his status card as identification.
In 2020, Maxwell Johnson who tried to open a bank account for his 12-year-old granddaughter at the Bank of Montreal in downtown Vancouver was arrested after presenting his status card.
Both men are from the same isolated community of Bella Bella, B.C.
Stewart Phillip, grand chief of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, says there is no place for racial discrimination in our society.
“We need to have a very hard look at the governance of the Canadian financial banking system,” Phillip says, “…to ensure that people are treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their race or what colour of their skin maybe.”
If the CHRC feels an investigation is warranted, it will send Bhamji’s complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for hearings.