The transcript of a 911-call shows it was the federal “Indian government” that told a bank to call police on a Heiltsuk grandfather and his 12-year-old granddaughter.
Indigenous Elder and carver Maxwell Johnson was subsequently handcuffed by Vancouver Police Department officers on Dec. 20, 2019 on suspicion of fraud.
“It’s appalling this happened,” Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett said in a telephone interview Monday from Bella Bella, B.C.
“They made an appointment to be there. Max had called the day before to make an appointment.”
“We were told by the Indian, uh, the government, to contact the police because the ID’s that they have are fake and they’re trying to open accounts as well as, um, try to be a part of another customer’s account, which I cannot confirm if this is him or not,” said a transcript of the 911 call made by the branch manager that was shared with APTN News.
After confirming the bank was “stalling the customers” until police arrived, the 911 operator asked: “And sorry, um, why were we told by the Indian government to call?”
The manager replied: “I said, do I need to keep their ID and do you recommend that I call the authorities because they have fake ID that they’re trying to access, uh, this customer’s account has $23,000 in it, and they said, yes, to contact, uh, the police and keep the ID.”
The account belonged to Johnson, who said he used his status card at that branch without incident in the past.
“That bank on Burrard (Street) that was the third time I was there. Two previous times they had no trouble with my status card,” he said in a telephone interview with APTN Monday.
“They just asked if I had ID and I said, ‘Status card OK?’ and they said, ‘Yeah, it’s fine.’”
The bank has since apologized but never disclosed why it contacted police.
The transcript was made public Monday by the Heiltsuk Nation, along with copies of the redacted VPD occurrence report, and complaints to the B.C. Human Rights Commission and Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Johnson said the transcript shows ignorance by the bank about Indian status cards.
“They’re not understanding about status cards and they’re (federal) government issued. They shouldn’t have a problem with that.”
Slett said what happened shows a clear case of racial profiling and systemic racism by three institutions.
“Along with the Bank of Montreal and the federal government and the Vancouver Police Department, there is issues with how they react with Indigenous people.”
The actions of police, who handcuffed both Johnson and his granddaughter while his son looked on, is also being investigated by the B.C. Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.
Johnson said he doesn’t understand why the federal government sicced the police on him.
“When I read the 911 transcript it pissed me off quite a bit,” he said.
“They’re the ones that issue (the status cards) to us. They should know more about it – status cards and numbers.”
Johnson said visible minorities are under constant threat of racial profiling by organizations and discrimination by police. Filing the human rights complaints is about seeking accountability, he added.
“I’m hoping to make change and help a lot of people. We’re going full bore with it.”
Watch Conservative MP Gary Vidal ask the government about the mistake Indigenous Services made:
When Johnson’s story was first reported it generated international headlines. He said he received messages of encouragement and support from around the world.
“They all stood out to me because they were all so angry and mad about what happened to us,” he said.
“They just apologized for what happened to us. Not only First Nations people but non-Native people wrote us letters and postcards.”
ISC said it was investigating the “alarming” incident.
“Status cards are valid, legal, and government administered pieces of identification and all members of society need to know and respect the validity of a status cards,” said a statement emailed to APTN.
“We are looking into the circumstances surrounding this distressing event; if there is an issue with Indigenous Services Canada and its involvement, swift action will be taken.”
BMO said it “deeply regrets” what took place.
“We apologized unequivocally and we do so again today,” it said in a statement emailed to APTN.
“We value our strong relationships with Indigenous communities and were humbled and honoured to be invited by the Heiltsuk Nation to participate in the Washing (Healing) Ceremony for the Johnson family with Heiltsuk Nation Chief, Council and community members at Bella Bella earlier this year.”
Since then, the bank said it has established an Indigenous Advisory Council comprised of Indigenous leaders from across Canada, conducted special cultural training for BMO staff in B.C. led by Heiltsuk Nation knowledge-keepers, and introduced organization-wide education for all staff in Canada on Indigenous culture and history in partnership with First Nations University of Canada.