‘I don’t want nothing to do with them right now:’ Grandfather closing BMO account

The chief of police has backed up his officers but the police response will be reviewed by the Vancouver Police Board on Thursday.

Maxwell Johnson just wants to put some space between himself and the Bank of Montreal.

The soft-spoken, Indigenous artist plans to close the bank account he’s had since 2014 after being suspected of fraud and handcuffed while trying to open an account at a Vancouver branch for his 12-year-old granddaughter, Tori, last month.

“It’s very hard to go back there right now,” Johnson, of Heiltsuk Nation on B.C.’s Bella Bella island, told APTN News Monday.

“I just want some time between me and the Bank of Montreal (BMO). I don’t want nothing to do with them right now.”

Johnson is still coming to grips with what happened to him, Tori, and his 20-year-old son, Morgan, on Dec. 20, 2019.

“It was unreal. But seeing my granddaughter put in handcuffs, and moved away from her so I couldn’t communicate, that was hard. She was crying, she was scared,” he said in an interview from his Vancouver lawyer’s office.

“Not being able to talk to her was the hardest part. The worst part was seeing her in cuffs. Both of us not knowing what was going on.”

Johnson said one of two Vancouver Police Department officers that detained and read them their rights said the bank “were doing a fraud scam on them.”

Later, Johnson said he learned the bank had issues with the pair’s federal Indian status cards and summoned police.

“My anxiety’s come back full blown. With severe panic attacks,” he said while holding and squeezing a small blue stress ball throughout the interview.

“Now I only go out if I have to. And when I do go out I have to have somebody with me.”

The bank told APTN last week it had apologized to Johnson and his granddaughter. The pair had an appointment to open an account for Tori and obtain a debit card.

Johnson confirmed someone from the bank called him after the near-arrest.

“The day after we got home I got a phone call from a lady. She wanted to hear my side of the story. She apologized a few times and asked if there’s anything they can do?

“I told her, ‘The damage is already done.’ I said, ‘My granddaughter’s going to be scarred for life. My son had to watch his dad and his niece get handcuffed.’”

The bank has denied the pair was racially profiled or discriminated against. It does admit police should not have been called.

Johnson, who had a large sum of money in his account, doesn’t know why it happened.

“I’ve been to that bank twice before,” he said. “They never had any issues with my status card. They accepted it.”

In addition to his band and status card, Johnson said he showed the bank employee his birth certificate.

“She told me there was a couple numbers that didn’t add up on there,” he said, adding the employee said the granddaughter couldn’t get a bank card at this time and the two should follow her upstairs to get their identification back.

“We waited around for probably half and hour. My granddaughter saw two officers walk in and said, ‘Papa, I wonder if these guys are here for us?’ I kind of laughed and I said ‘I don’t think so.’

“Sure enough they grabbed Tori and myself, walked us outside, turned us around, handcuffed us. Told us we weren’t under arrest but we were detained and they read us our rights.”

Tori sat quietly beside Johnson during the interview with APTN and didn’t say anything.

Johnson continued: “(The officers) asked who we were and where we came from. They either didn’t believe we were First Nations or who we were on our status cards. They talked to my son and (asked) how he knew us. It was just crazy.”

READ MORE: ‘We are deeply sorry’: BMO exec says company sparked a situation that led to ‘uncontrollable circumstances’

The officers apologized to the pair but nobody from the bank did, Johnson noted.

“I said, ‘You better apologize to my granddaughter. She told me you were really rough with her.’ So he went over and talked to her, said he was really sorry, ‘Didn’t mean to be rough with you.’ That was it; we were allowed to leave.”

The chief of police has backed up his officers, but the police response will be reviewed by the Vancouver Police Board.

Johnson is still processing what happened and plans to decide on next steps soon, including possible legal action.

He said he is grateful for the outpouring of support from the public and his Heiltsuk community.

“Our community, our cultural leaders, will be doing a washing ceremony for us…to wash away the bad energy,” he said.

He said the bank characterizing the false accusation as “a learning experience” was “like a slap in the face.”

“If they don’t understand status cards or where they come from (they) should educate themselves about it,” he added. “It won’t take long. Companies could educate their workers on First Nations’ issues.”

What will take longer is getting over the way they were treated.

Johnson said he and Tori froze when they saw two police officers the next day.

“They got out of the vehicle and I thought, ‘They’re going to walk towards us.’ I told my granddaughter, ‘I get nervous when I see them now.’ She said, ‘Same here, papa.’

“I even get nervous when I see them back home. It’s going to take a while to heal from this.”


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4 thoughts on “‘I don’t want nothing to do with them right now:’ Grandfather closing BMO account

  1. They have 6 months to file a Human Rights Abuse case. I really hope they do. The only way that bank and others will learn is if their pocketbooks hurt over it. The family needs healing yes and I really hope they pursue justice. Otherwise their personal power is stolen for the rest of their lives and that would be yet another sad page in our history that will remain forgotten and nothing will change.

  2. I sure as hell hope he pursues legal action. That’s the only way to teach the bank, and others, that they can’t do shit like that. If they are not punished for it, they WILL continue to do it.

  3. How awful. The person who called the police needs educating, if not firing, as with the officers involved. As a former security guard I used to interact with some police during the course of work. Are Vancouver Police Department officers worse than the worst RCMP officers?

  4. This news is about a week old, yet I have heard very little mainstream media commentary and even less general public comments on this very serious incident. I did not say allegation, as so many media folks like to say on any story even though the instigator has already confessed, but the personnel in that BMO branch need education and are probably active racists. I have said many times, I walk into a bank already uncomfortable about withdrawing my own money, or deposit for that matter, because the treatment from the bankers is as if I am pre-determined to be a crook, have no right to demand money from my account, and the bank grudgingly gives me my cash after copies of my ID retained. However, there have been a few times where I was surprisingly treated fine and cash disbursed to me with only my debit card presentation, and a signature from me.

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