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Amar Patel, who is suffering from breast cancer, lies in bed in her apartment in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Patel is in a dispute with The Bank of Nova Scotia over some holdings she wishes to redeem from the bank. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Amar Patel, who is suffering from breast cancer, lies in bed in her apartment in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Patel is in a dispute with The Bank of Nova Scotia over some holdings she wishes to redeem from the bank. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Christie Blatchford

An unkind complicatedness Add to ...

In the end, nothing else would do for Scotiabank but that Amar Patel - 73 years old, bald from chemotherapy, in the throes of metastatic breast cancer - should drag her aching bones down to the bank's head office in downtown Toronto.

The trip from her airy apartment above the Indian Rice Factory, the landmark restaurant she founded in 1970 and has run ever since, was an agony of no fewer than five transfers - from the hospital bed in her living room to a commode, from commode to the chair lift for the first set of stairs, from that chair to the next chair lift for the second set, from that chair to a walker, from walker to the car.

This exercise took 59 minutes and the best efforts of her son Aman, daughter-in-law Deepa and restaurant employee Chandan Sindhwal.

I should note that despite her illness and pain, Mrs. Patel, who hadn't been out of the apartment for almost two months, was gracious, beautiful in a red-striped caftan and, but for occasional moans when the car hit a rough patch of road, remarkably uncomplaining.

All she wanted was to do was take delivery of the silver the bank was holding for her in the form of the certificates she'd bought decades earlier.

It was, or ought to have been, an uncomplicated transaction.

Another major financial institution, TD Bank, managed to handle the same transaction within a couple of days, and delivered the bullion to Mrs. Patel's local branch for pickup.

By this Thursday, Mrs. Patel had done the following to obtain Scotiabank's agreement to give her what is rightfully hers:

In early March, Aman, a Toronto criminal lawyer, had attended the downtown headquarters to explain his mom's situation. He suggested that either a bank official go to her apartment to witness her signature (he even offered to pick up and drive back the official) or consider meeting his mother in the car outside the bank to save her a bit of the journey: Both requests were rejected.

On March 17, Aman faxed the silver certificates to his mom's local Scotiabank branch and then drove his mother there; they were advised she would have to attend the King/Bay office downtown.

For a time, Mrs. Patel gave up; she was hoping she could tackle it in a few weeks or months, when she was better and had her strength back.

When that didn't happen, she hired a Bay Street lawyer and, through him, signed a power of attorney appointing Aman as her attorney.

In early July, Scotiabank asked first to "pre-inspect" the POA, then demanded the original; then pronounced it unacceptable because it wasn't sealed; then insisted that a notarized copy, with covering letter from the lawyer, be produced; finally, the notarized POA had to be submitted to the home branch, then the bank's legal department.

Even with these various approvals finally in place, Aman was told (being a lawyer, he has notes of all these conversations and e-mails) that the bank could still deny the transaction if it was deemed not to be in Mrs. Patel's "best interest."

So she hired another lawyer, this time to help her get what was hers.

Then the bank said it had to decide if the transaction was to be for the benefit of the attorney, from a business point of view. In other words, Scotiabank would decide if the transaction made business sense - not Mrs. Patel, or her lawyer, or Aman, who had her POA.

This Thursday, having heard nothing from the bank about whether it would honour the now-approved and vetted POA, Aman called and got Judy McBride, the head of customer service at King and Bay Streets. She told him the bank would not honour the POA, and that Mrs. Patel had to come down in person.

Aman again explained how weak his mother was, to no avail.

That afternoon, Aman, his wife and Chandan managed to carry out the five transfers and get Mrs. Patel in the car.

Once they arrived downtown, Aman went in to ask, one last time, if Scotiabank would at least dispatch people outside to do the signing in the car; absolutely not, came the answer.

They got Mrs. Patel into the commode chair and into the lovely, high-ceilinged headquarters with its polished marble floors they went.

Ms. McBride asked a number of questions, in my presence. Among them, "Do you understand what this transaction is that is taking place? We're taking your certificates and giving you the actual bullion? Why would you want to do that? It's more difficult for you to cart around."

At this point, Aman's seemingly endless store of patience was exhausted and he said, mildly I thought in the circumstances, "That's none of your business."

Ms. McBride said that it was, that "simply putting a POA in place doesn't give carte blanche," that the bank had a responsibility too, and asked Mrs. Patel, "Why would you need the physical metal?"

Ms. McBride said the bank "reserves a right to ask questions" because, she said, "We need a comfort level."

Bank spokesman Joe Konecny denied the bank ever insisted Mrs. Patel had to come in person, said they were "willing to act" on the POA, but that "a heightened level of due diligence was required for a number of reasons," among them, bizarrely, that the transaction wasn't initiated at her home branch, although that branch had directed her downtown.

In any case, after about an hour, Mrs. Patel finally got her silver.

But it must have been a mortifying experience for this very dignified woman to make such a trip in her bedclothes, and the whole thing struck me as a profoundly condescending and arbitrary intrusion of bank functionaries into Mrs. Patel's and her family's business. And what if her son wasn't a lawyer who knew how to fight back? What if she'd had a stroke and wasn't able to sign the documents?

If she wanted to buy crack cocaine with that silver, or sleep with it at her side, that's her call, because it belongs to her, not the bank. The bully-boy functionaries might want to find a comfort level around that notion.

 
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