British Columbia

Senator calls for staff training after Indigenous grandfather, 12-year-old wrongfully handcuffed at B.C. bank

Canadian Sen. Murray Sinclair says businesses and institutions have an obligation to train employees not to racially profile customers. Sinclair made the comments after an Indigenous man and his 12-year-old granddaughter were handcuffed at a Vancouver bank when the granddad tried to open up a savings account for her.

'A middle class white guy from suburban Vancouver would not have been put into handcuffs'

Senator and former judge Murray Sinclair says the onus is on businesses and insitutions to train staff not to profile people of colour as suspicious. (The Canadian Press)

Indigenous Canadian Sen. Murray Sinclair is no stranger to racism and after hearing a grandfather and his 12-year-old granddaughter were wrongfully removed from a Vancouver bank by police says businesses must provide better training to staff to prevent racial profiling.

Just before Christmas, Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter were detained at a downtown Bank of Montreal (BMO) branch while attempting to open an account for the pre-teen. An employee questioned the pair's identification, which included Indian Status cards. 

Police were called. 

Johnson says he was racially profiled. BMO has since apologized.

"I don't doubt for a moment that if that was not an Indigenous person, if that was a middle-class white guy from suburban Vancouver, they would not have been put into handcuffs if there was confusion over identification at a bank," said Sinclair Friday on CBC's The Early Edition.

Sinclair said the onus is on business owners and institutions to adequately train employees who interact with the public not to automatically profile people of colour as suspicious.

"A lot of people, especially police officers, are trained to believe they have to go with their gut instinct," said Sinclair. "In many cases, those feelings and those instincts are founded in racism."

According to the Vancouver Police Department, the officers that handcuffed the pair had taken cultural competency training.

Maxwell Johnson and his 12-year-old granddaughter were handcuffed while trying to open a bank account, so Johnson could transfer money to the pre-teen while she was on the road for basketball games. (Jess Houstey)

When it comes to BMO's role in the incident, Sinclair says establishing proper policies and ensuring bank staff are adequately trained could prevent a similar situation from happening again.

"It's really a question of what kind of training did that person receive and what they were told they needed to watch out for," said Sinclair.

And it's not just bank tellers Sinclair says could use training.

"When you're walking through a store, a person of colour generally is the first person targeted by security," said Sinclair.

The former judge said on more than one occasion he has been asked by store security to show a receipt or open his bag for inspection, while people who are not visible minorities walk past him.

"You need to be trained if one of the things that they're asking of you in your place of employment is to be on the lookout for people who are going to be committing or have committed, criminal offences," said Sinclair.

B.C. Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee told CBC the AFN is pushing for training for the bank employees that decided to call the police. 

In a statement, BMO apologized for the incident saying it values its "long and special relationship with Indigenous communities.'

Johnson said he is speaking to a lawyer about how to proceed with a human rights case.

To hear the complete interview with Murray Sinclair on The Early Edition, tap the audio link below:

With files from Angela Sterritt and The Early Edition