British Columbia·Video

Heiltsuk man, granddaughter handcuffed outside Vancouver bank settle human rights case against police

An Indigenous man and his granddaughter who were wrongly handcuffed outside a Bank of Montreal branch in Vancouver have reached a settlement in their human rights case against police.

Vancouver Police Board will pay undisclosed damages to Maxwell Johnson's family 'for injury to dignity'

Maxwell Johnson arrives Wednesday to sign a human rights settlement with the Vancouver Police Board over his and his granddaughter's wrongful detainment in 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

An Indigenous man and his granddaughter who were wrongly handcuffed outside a Bank of Montreal branch in Vancouver have reached a human rights settlement with police.

Maxwell Johnson, from the Heiltsuk Nation, signed the "momentous" settlement agreement alongside his granddaughter at a news conference on Wednesday, saying their "three-year fight for justice" had ended with police admitting their discrimination.

"My family and myself are very pleased with the outcome of this settlement," Johnson said after the signing.

"One of the things I keep seeing is my granddaughter standing on that street, crying while she's being handcuffed. I don't think any parent or grandparent should ever see that in their lifetime," he added.

"We still have ups and downs with what happened to us, but signing this agreement is a big step forward."

Johnson filed the human rights complaint against the Vancouver Police Board after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed on the street outside the bank on Dec. 20, 2019. 

Johnson, then 56, had tried to open a bank account for his granddaughter, then 12, at the BMO branch on Burrard Street.

Staff phoned 911 after looking at the pair's identification, which included government-issued Indian status cards.

"I'm still healing from that day. I want to tell everyone that Indigenous people experience discrimination, including children like me ... that feeling of being unwelcomed can stay with us our whole lives," said Torianne, now 15, making a rare public statement.

"I also want to tell everyone, especially Indigenous kids, to be strong and speak out when they face discrimination. I hope my grandfather and I helped you feel like you can speak up and be heard when you experience injustice."

WATCH | Maxwell Johnson's granddaughter speaks after settlement:

Maxwell Johnson's granddaughter speaks after human rights settlement

1 year ago
Duration 1:57
Maxwell Johnson's granddaughter, Tori-Anne, makes a statement after she and her grandfather settled their human rights complaint against the Vancouver Police Board over their wrongful detainment in 2019.

Police board confirms officers discriminated

As part of the settlement Wednesday, the Vancouver Police Board formally admitted officers discriminated against Johnson and his granddaughter based on their Indigenous identities.

The terms also state the police board will pay undisclosed damages to the Johnson family "for injury to dignity" and $100,000 to Heiltsuk First Nation's restorative justice department. The latter will fund one year of community programming to support at-risk young women, including young women who suffer anxiety due to traumatic incidents.

The board will also have to create a position for an anti-Indigenous-racism officer, who will review complaints relating to Indigenous people.

Maxwell Johnson, right, and his granddaughter, Torianne, centre, during the news conference in Vancouver on Wednesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The department has apologized for the incident. The two officers involved were suspended after a disciplinary decision said they committed misconduct by exposing the man and girl to "unnecessary trauma and fear" and "a serious perception of unfairness in their treatment at the hands of police."

The police board said it recognizes the significance of the settlement.

"We are committed to taking positive and collaborative steps forward to strengthen the board and VPD's Indigenous relations and to meet the terms of the settlement agreement in a way that honours the principles of truth and reconciliation, while building trust and confidence in the VPD and the board's oversight role of the VPD," read a statement released Wednesday.

"It is our sincere goal to create a more meaningful relationship with Indigenous communities, and we believe the terms of this settlement will go a long way in furthering this goal."

Johnson and his granddaughter were trying to open her first bank account at the Burrard Street BMO branch in December 2019 when an employee phoned 911. She was using a government-issued status card and a B.C. health card, sufficient identification to open an account at any Canadian bank, according to the federal government. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Phone transcripts revealed a BMO branch manager called 911 because she thought Johnson and his granddaughter were presenting fake ID cards.

The manager said she was also concerned about a large sum of money Johnson had in his account — funds he and all other Heiltsuk members received from the federal government as part of an Aboriginal rights settlement package

The agreement Wednesday was signed at Simon Fraser University's Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, a conference centre with a mission to "facilitate transformative conversations and create real-world impact for society's most pressing challenges."

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs' legal counsel, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, said the settlement was a "historic" agreement of provincial and national importance.

The initial human rights complaint also named BMO, which settled with the family in May.

Johnson closed his accounts with the bank that month.

WATCH | Surveillance footage of Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter being handcuffed:

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

2 years ago
Duration 2:43
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.

With files from Angela Sterritt