Maxwell Johnson and members of the Heiltsuk Nation gathered outside the BMO on Burrard Street in Vancouver May 5 to announce a settlement has been reached after Johnson and his granddaughter were handcuffed outside the branch two years ago. (Jane Skrypnek/Black Press Media)
Maxwell Johnson and members of the Heiltsuk Nation gathered outside the BMO on Burrard Street in Vancouver May 5 to announce a settlement has been reached after Johnson and his granddaughter were handcuffed outside the branch two years ago. (Jane Skrypnek/Black Press Media)

Maxwell Johnson and members of the Heiltsuk Nation gathered outside the BMO on Burrard Street in Vancouver May 5 to announce a settlement has been reached after Johnson and his granddaughter were handcuffed outside the branch two years ago. (Jane Skrypnek/Black Press Media) Maxwell Johnson and members of the Heiltsuk Nation gathered outside the BMO on Burrard Street in Vancouver May 5 to announce a settlement has been reached after Johnson and his granddaughter were handcuffed outside the branch two years ago. (Jane Skrypnek/Black Press Media)

Indigenous man, granddaughter handcuffed outside B.C. BMO reach settlement with bank

An apology ceremony will be held in Maxwell Johnson’s home community of Bella Bella

Maxwell Johnson and his 14-year-old granddaughter who were handcuffed outside a BMO branch in Vancouver have reached a settlement in their human rights complaint against the bank.

On Thursday (May 5), Johnson made the announcement outside the BMO branch on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver.

The terms of the settlement include a monetary payment, a private apology ceremony to be held in Bella Bella, the introduction of territorial acknowledgement plaques at BMO branches and the display of a piece of art created by Johnson — copies of which will be exhibited at BMO branches in Nanaimo, Campbell River, Prince Rupert and Victoria where other Heiltsuk First Nation members bank.

BMO has also committed to updating its internal policies and procedures around how Indigenous status cards are handled. Its staff will undergo education courses on Indigenous culture, and its executives will attend a Heiltsuk Nation cultural competency workshop. BMO will also establish an Indigenous advisory council and make various donations and campaigns in support of Indigenous communities.

READ ALSO: Heiltsuk man files human rights complaint against Vancouver police, BMO after bank arrest

Employees of the Burrard Street branch called 911 on Johnson and his granddaughter in December of 2019 after incorrectly assuming Johnson’s status card was fraudulent. The two had traveled there from Bella Bella to open a bank account.

“I don’t think it’s right that we have to prove who we are by carrying the status card,” Johnson said outside the branch Thursday. He has decided to close his account with BMO.

He said it was important to him that the conditions of the settlement extended beyond monetary compensation and worked toward long-term solutions to racial profiling.

“Part of our culture is to forgive. We don’t hold onto anything,” he said. Instead, Johnson said his focus is on working together.

He said he’s hopeful an ongoing human rights complaint against the Vancouver Police Department will result in the same.

When VPD officers arrived at the bank in 2019, they immediately handcuffed Johnson and his granddaughter and arrested them. Later, when they realized Johnson’s status card was in fact legitimate, the department released the two with an apology.

“It took a lot of trust away from my granddaughter and my son and myself,” Johnson said Thursday.

Subsequent advocacy work by Johnson pushed VPD to change its handcuffing policy in October 2021. They can now only be used when reasonable, proportionate to the risk, and necessary to fulfil a legitimate policing objective when the officer believes using cuffs is necessary.

A discipline proceeding completed in March 2022 found the two officers involved in the arrest acted ‘recklessly’ and with ‘unnecessary force.’ They were suspended for several days and ordered to take cultural sensitivity training.

“I just want people to educate themselves more about First Nations issues and our culture,” Johnson said.

The human rights complaint against VPD remains ongoing.

READ ALSO: Vancouver Police Board told to change handcuff rules after arrest of Indigenous man

READ MORE: Vancouver police officers suspended for handcuffing Indigenous man, granddaughter at BMO


@janeskrypnek
jane.skrypnek@bpdigital.ca

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