British Columbia

Vancouver police chief defends handcuffing of Indigenous man and granddaughter

Police officers followed standard procedure when they handcuffed an Indigenous man and his 12-year-old granddaughter after they tried to open an account at a Vancouver bank, according to the city's chief of police.

'The bank was adamant that a fraud had been committed,' says Adam Palmer

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer says it's standard police procedure to take charge of the situation based on the available information, addressing questions about why an Indigenous elder and his 12-year-old granddaughter were recently handcuffed at a Bank of Montreal. (CBC/Ken Leedham)

Police officers followed standard procedure when they handcuffed an Indigenous man and his 12-year-old granddaughter after they tried to open an account at a Vancouver bank, according to the city's chief of police.

Chief Adam Palmer defended the officers' actions, saying they were responding to a report of a fraud in progress from a reputable source.

"The bank was adamant that a fraud had been committed and they were providing information that led our officers to believe that," he told CBC News.

"The world that we live in as police officers, we are responding to things in real time, and we have to take the facts as we have them." 

Palmer says it's standard police procedure across Canada to take charge of the situation based on the available information, and that's why 56-year-old Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter were handcuffed. 

WATCH | Protesters gather outside Bank of Montreal:

Protesters demonstrate outside Bank of Montreal 0:35

Once the situation was under control, he says, officers were able to speak with both sides and determine that no crime had been committed. 

"This isn't magical, like on a TV show, where things are instantaneously determined. It takes a while to get to the bottom of the story. Our officers did a very thoughtful job of this investigation," he said. 

The Bank of Montreal and the Vancouver Police Department have faced allegations of racism and over-reaction since the Dec. 20 incident was reported earlier this week. Protesters gathered outside the branch in downtown Vancouver on Friday. 

But Palmer is adamant the officers acted in good faith and are not racist — noting that both come from diverse communities themselves. He also said the 911 call described the girl as being 16 years old, and South Asian. 

"Regardless of somebody's ethnic background, if [the officers] were going into that situation, they would still have to respond to it and deal with [it] accordingly based on the crime that was alleged to be committed," he said. 

WATCH | Chief Adam Palmer says officers followed procedure:

Vancouver Police Department Chief Adam Palmer says officers act with the information they're given in the moment. 0:30

He also says he understands it's difficult to hear that a 12-year-old was placed in handcuffs and he understands the impact it has on both Johnson, his granddaughter and the public.

"It's a terrible thing for anybody to go through," he said.

Johnson told CBC News the officers apologized and the Vancouver Police Department later called the incident "regrettable."

WATCH | Palmer says he understands the impact of the incident:

Vancouver Police chief Adam Palmer says the officers involved in a handcuffing incident at the Bank of Montreal were acting on the information they were given. 0:19

The bank apologized and said the employee's actions have "been addressed." The bank also said Friday it will work with its Indigenous employee resource group and Indigenous stakeholders to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action in its corporate policies.

It says it will also establish an Indigenous Advisory Council to support further education and awareness.

But Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, says there is no excuse for subjecting a child to that kind of treatment.

WATCH | Palmer responds to allegations of racism: 

Vancouver Police chief Adam Palmer says the officers involved in the Bank of Montreal incident both come from diverse backgrounds and aren't racist. 0:32

"It's totally unacceptable and disgusting," said Phillip.

"We are supposed to be in the year of reconciliation here in the country and yet these kinds of racist actions continue to happen."

Phillip added the union is prepared to support Johnson in any legal matters should he pursue them.

With files from Angela Sterritt, Mike Killeen and Nadia Jannif

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