US & Canada

Indigenous man and girl handcuffed for opening bank account

Maxwell Johnson Image copyright CBC/Jess Houstey
Image caption Maxwell Johnson says his granddaughter is "scarred" after being detained by police

An indigenous man has told how he and his 12-year-old granddaughter were handcuffed as they tried to open a bank account in Vancouver, Canada.

Maxwell Johnson, 56, told the BBC a Bank of Montreal employee questioned the identification he and the girl provided for the account.

The employee left to verify the IDs, he said, and police arrived soon after, detaining him and his granddaughter.

Vancouver Police said the incident was "regrettable".

The Bank of Montreal (BMO) said in a statement they "unequivocally apologise".

"Recently, an incident occurred that does not reflect us at our best. We deeply regret this."

Mr Johnson, who already has an account with BMO, told the BBC that he wanted to open another one for his granddaughter.

As first reported by the CBC's Angela Sterritt, Mr Johnson went with his granddaughter to a BMO in Vancouver on 20 December.

He provided the bank employee with both of their government-issued Indian Status cards - proof that a person is registered under Canada's Indian Act.

Image copyright Roberto Machado Noa/Getty Images
Image caption BMO said the employee involved has been "addressed"

Mr Johnson, who says he has full custody of his granddaughter, is a member of the Heiltsuk nation.

The BMO employee told Mr Johnson there were some "discrepancies" with the card.

"She said a number didn't add up," he said. "Which I didn't understand because my number hasn't changed since I got the card.

"I've never had any issues before."

Mr Johnson said the employee left to verify the IDs. Soon after she returned and he and his granddaughter went to retrieve their cards, two police officers arrived at the bank.

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Media captionPrime Minister Justin Trudeau pledges to tackle violence against indigenous women

Mr Johnson and his granddaughter were handcuffed.

"My granddaughter was crying, she was really, really upset," he said.

After about 45 minutes of questioning on the street outside the bank, both were released.

'We had to really, really prove who we were and where we came from," Mr Johnson said. "They thought our status cards were fake."

The Vancouver Police Department said in a statement they had been called to investigate "a fraud in progress" but confirmed the identify of Mr Johnson and his granddaughter.

"We recognise that this entire situation has been upsetting and distressing for the two individuals."

Mr Johnson told the BBC that a representative from BMO called him days after the incident to apologise.

"The damage is already done. My granddaughter is going to be scarred for life," Mr Johnson said.

He is now considering filing a lawsuit through Canada's Human Rights Tribunal.

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