BMO apologizes after guard asks residential school survivor to leave Winnipeg bank on 2 occasions

An Indigenous woman in Winnipeg says she plans to keep working with a bank on reconciliation efforts at the institution despite being asked to leave the downtown branch on two recent occasions.

Vivian Ketchum says same guard twice told her to leave branch, including day she had appointment with manager

Vivian Ketchum said she was twice asked to leave the BMO location at the corner of Main Street and Portage Avenue in Winnipeg. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

An Indigenous woman in Winnipeg says she plans to keep working with a bank on reconciliation efforts at the institution, despite being asked to leave a downtown branch on two recent occasions.

Vivian Ketchum saw signs in the windows of the Bank of Montreal on Portage Avenue and Main Street reading "reconciliation starts with honouring" and "reconciliation starts with listening" in the days before the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30.

Ketchum, who attended residential school in Kenora in the 1970s, said she was drawn in by the signs.

When she entered the bank, though, a security guard asked her if she was there for banking purposes. When she said no and that she was just there to look around, Ketchum says the guard told her to leave.

She walks with a limp and her mouth was frozen after having just visited a dentist, leaving her speech slurred at the time. She believes the guard thought she was drunk. 

"As I'm talking to the bank employee at the counter the security guard comes and interferes and starts arguing with me, and even after the bank employee told him it's OK, I said, 'Forget it, I'll come back another day,'" Ketchum said.

"Reconciliation starts with working with us, not … throwing me out."

Ketchum holds up a photo on her phone of the reconciliation signage she photographed at BMO. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Ketchum said she contacted the bank manager, who apologized. They scheduled a followup appointment weeks later. 

When she returned, Ketchum said she was again asked to leave by the same security guard.

"I am beyond angry — I stand up in the lobby and I yell out, 'I'm here to have an appointment.… I'm getting asked again to leave by the security guard,'" she said.

Ketchum left. As she walked away, her phone rang. She said it was the bank manager apologizing again and inviting her back for the meeting.

"I said, 'I would like to come back but that security guard keeps tossing me out,'" she said. 

The Bank of Montreal described Ketchum's experience as "unacceptable and upsetting."

"We are committed to truth and reconciliation and have contacted this [security guard's] employer to raise our concerns," BMO said in a statement Tuesday.

BMO says the guard in question will no longer work at any of its branches. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The bank says it's important third-party service providers — such as the security firms BMO contracts, which is Garda in this case — share company values of diversity, inclusion and equity.

The bank said more than 85 per cent of its staff have completed training in the past year "focused on enhancing the understanding of Indigenous perspective, culture and history."

Reconciliation not a checklist: trainer

Allen Sutherland, who provides historical and cultural awareness training through the City of Winnipeg, said reconciliation isn't a checklist.

"You can't just say, 'Oh, I went to a two-hour seminar,'" he said. "Reconciliation is learning that Indigenous people helped build this country through the means of treaties, with their generosity."

He said employers need to ensure all staff live up to the principles of reconciliation, including honouring calls to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission directed at the business sector.

"It is the onus of the bank to ensure everyone that works in that environment must abide by the call of action," he said.

"And what is the call of action? It is to know Indigenous history, to know systematic racism and discrimination and prejudice that are prominently … what shaped this country."

The bank said the security guard won't be working at the Portage and Main branch or other BMO locations. A senior customer service representative for the bank from Vancouver apologized to Ketchum again on Tuesday.

"He called me early this morning … apologizing profusely for what happened," said Ketchum. "He's going to ensure that security guard is no longer working there, and I think that is a positive outcome."

As positive an outcome as that is, Ketchum is hoping the guard apologizes too.

She said she was proud to walk alongside other Canadians on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation last month, past the BMO bank branch in question.

She considers the incident a bump, not a barrier, on the road toward reconciliation. She said because of how it's handled the situation, she'll continue to work with the bank.

WATCH | Vivian Ketchum hopes to work with bank where guard twice asked her to leave:

Indigenous woman hopes to work with bank where guard asked her to leave twice

1 year ago
Duration 2:47
Residential school survivor Vivian Ketchum says she was recently drawn in by words on reconciliation displayed in BMO's windows. She says entered twice and each time was asked to leave by the same guard.