Pot activist Jodie Emery 'distressed' after Royal Bank closes her account

Vancouver pot activist Jodie Emery says she was "distressed" when Royal Bank suddenly notified her it was closing her account and stopping her credit cards.

Toronto lawyer says account closure for conviction unlikely, bank won't comment on specific case

Jodie Emery, a Vancouver pot activist, says she was 'distressed' when Royal Bank suddenly notified her that they were closing her account and stopping her credit cards. (CBC)

Vancouver pot activist Jodie Emery says she was "distressed" when Royal Bank suddenly notified her it was closing her account and stopping her credit cards.

"I've had that bank account since I was a little kid with my babysitting money," she told CBC News. "I've paid taxes. I'm a great client. I don't carry a lot of debt." 

Emery believes the bank is making the move because she has a criminal record for cannabis.

"I was distressed to find out that I don't have banking abilities likely because I am now a convict," she said. "A lot of things can get in the way once you get a record."

In December, Emery and her husband, Marc Emery, who describes himself as the Prince of Pot, pleaded guilty to a number of drug-related charges in a Toronto court. The two were fined $195,000 each. 
Jodie Emery and Marc Emery, known for their cannabis activism and business ventures, were released on bail from Toronto's Old City Hall courthouse on March 10. They pleaded guilty to several drug-related offences in December.

Emery said she needs the account to pay the penalty as well as her rent and bills.

"Like many other Canadians who have any connection to cannabis or a criminal record, they're denied bank accounts," she said. 

"They're discriminated against because of a stigma that doesn't relate to any sort of dangerous or threatening behaviour. I hope I'll be able to find perhaps a credit union or another bank to take me."

Account closure for conviction unlikely: lawyer

Toronto trial lawyer Lenny Hochberg said he has dealt with several clients who have had their bank accounts closed and doesn't believe a bank would close an account for a conviction.

"I think there has to be something more to it. Maybe some sort of suspicious activity," he told CBC Toronto. "Maybe [they're doing] a risk assessment and they feel like they could become liable for something."

Hochberg added that banks sometimes receive information from the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) — the government's financial intelligence unit — that alerts them to range of illegal activities, such as money laundering.

He said people are still at the mercy of their banks. 
Toronto trial lawyer Lenny Hochberg says banks might also close accounts if they've received information alerting them to suspicious activity from the government's financial intelligence unit. (CBC)

"If the bank wants to close your account for any reason, they're in a position to do that. The question is, I suppose, for most people is, 'Why have they closed my account?'" Hochberg said.

People can find out why they closed the account through a complaint process or to make an information request, he added, which may or may not answer their question because information could be redacted.

"When they receive that information from FINTRAC they can't provide that information to the person because it's going to tip them off of some type of investigation or possibly pending charges."

Accounts closed in protest

Emery said she has received a lot of support since coming forward with her story on Twitter.

"A number of Canadians have told me that they have officially closed their accounts with Royal Bank, and they're threatening to do so in protest over this," Emery said. 

Royal Bank would not comment on the specific case, but told CBC Toronto in an email that it currently does not provide banking services to companies engaged in the production and distribution of marijuana. 

Emery said she has received a call back from her local banking representative, who she said is willing to help, and Emery hopes it will lead to change.

"Hopefully we can pressure the banks to stop discriminating against people for cannabis especially when it's [becoming] legal this year and there's a lot of money in other cannabis businesses being accepted by the banks," she said.

With files from Talia Ricci and The Canadian Press