British Columbia·Video

Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs applies to intervene in case against VPD for handcuffing Indigenous pair

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is bringing an application to intervene in the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal case against the Vancouver Police Department over the handcuffing of a Heiltsuk man and his granddaughter while trying to open her first bank account at a branch of BMO in 2019.

Heiltsuk Nation releases video of Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter being handcuffed at bank in 2019

Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter Tori-Anne, pictured in January 2020. The pair were handcuffed outside a Bank of Montreal branch in downtown Vancouver in December 2019 after Johnson tried to open a bank account for his granddaughter. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is bringing an application to intervene in the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal case against the Vancouver Police Department over the handcuffing of a Heiltsuk man and his granddaughter while trying to open her first bank account at a branch of BMO in 2019.

"There's been no change in the racist culture at the Vancouver Police Department," said UBCIC president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip at a news conference on Wednesday, when a video showing Maxwell Johnson and Tori-Anne, then 12, being put in cuffs by officers was also released by the Heiltsuk Nation. 

"There needs to be consequences that will change the racist attitudes of police officers," Phillip added. 

The VPD says it cannot comment further at this time because the incident is being investigated by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. 

WARNING: This video contains images that may be triggering

VPD officers handcuff Heiltsuk man and 12-year-old granddaughter outside bank

CBC News BC

1 month ago
2:42
Maxwell Johnson and his 12-year-old granddaughter are handcuffed by Vancouver police officers on a busy street outside a BMO branch in Vancouver after the pair tried to open her first bank account using government-approved Indian Status cards. 2:42

Lawyer Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, representing the UBCIC, spoke at the presser along with Johnson and Heiltsuk leaders.

"It is of course shocking and deeply upsetting to see the video that was released today, to see the treatment when they were peaceful. They were targeted and profiled when they attempted to use an Indian Status card," Turpel-Lafond said. 

She said the application for intervention is being filed this week. If the Vancouver Police Board does not consent to the intervention, Turpel-Lafond says she may need to present another argument. 

An intervention is a legal procedure to allow a non-party who may be affected by the outcome of the case, in this case the UBCIC, to join ongoing litigation.

Johnson and Tori-Anne — both members of the Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bella, B.C. — filed the human rights complaint against the police department and the Bank of Montreal after the incident at one of the bank's Vancouver branches on Dec. 20, 2019.

Johnson, then 56, had been trying to open an account for Tori-Anne. Bank staff looked at the pair's identification documents and called 911 to report an alleged fraud in progress.

READ | A transcript of the 911 call made by a BMO employee:

Johnson and Tori-Anne were using government-issued Indian Status cards, his birth certificate and her medical card. Police arrived and detained the pair for just under an hour.

"It's been pretty hard what we went through with the VPD and the BMO," said Johnson on Wednesday.

"Deep down in my heart I know this [human rights case] is something that needs to be done for First Nations people."

The pair filed the human rights complaint in November 2020. 

Lawyers at the time released a transcript of the bank's 911 call, which revealed the bank thought the pair's identification cards were fake.

Johnson and Tori-Anne were trying to open her first bank account at a Bank of Montreal branch when an employee phoned 911. Tori-Anne was using a government-issued status card as well as a B.C. health card, which, according to the federal government, is sufficient identification to open an account at any Canadian bank. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Johnson also believes the employee who initially helped them might have been suspicious because he had $30,000 in his own account — an amount he and every other member of the Heiltsuk Nation had received from the federal government as part of an Aboriginal rights settlement package

The bank later apologized for its actions. Vancouver police have called the incident "regretful" and launched a policy review.

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner is examining the conduct of the officers who responded to the 911 call.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt's news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column 'Reconcile This' tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C. Have a story idea? angela.sterritt@cbc.ca

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