The Bank of Montreal has created an Indigenous Advisory Council in response to the furor over the handcuffing and arrest of a customer and his 12-year-old granddaughter as they tried to open an account at a Vancouver branch.
The council, with eight Indigenous members from across Canada, is intended to help with the company’s response to last month’s incident, as well as with wider calls for corporate policies to be put in place in light of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
North America’s eighth largest bank, by assets, is also introducing a new education program for senior leadership teams, in partnership with Indigenous leaders, and training for all Canadian employees.
“There is always more than can be done," Cameron Fowler, president, North American personal and business banking, said in an interview Thursday. "But, from our perspective, getting advice from the most senior leaders of the Indigenous community to help the way forward on this specific incident, as well as the way BMO can lead in driving corporate Canada forward on truth and reconciliation, is a very good place to start.”
Maxwell Johnson was visiting a downtown bank branch Dec. 20 with his granddaughter to set up a savings account for her.
Mr. Fowler confirmed Thursday that a staff member called police because of concerns about Mr. Johnson’s identification. On arrival, police handcuffed Mr. Johnson and his granddaughter and placed them in the back of a police vehicle. Both were released after police confirmed their identities.
“We overreacted in a circumstance we shouldn’t have," Mr. Fowler said. “There’s no excuse.”
He described the action of the unidentified bank employee as unjustified given the bank’s processes and tools for dealing with issues over identification. "It’s incredibly rare police would be called in these situations. In this case, they were.”
Mr. Fowler declined to say whether the employee who called the police faced sanctions or would be fired.
Pressed on the issue, he said, “I am going to say it again, this isn’t about any individual employee. All of us need to be better and it starts with me, and we have put in place the steps that are going to ensure that that happens.”
He said training and “corrective support” is being supplied to the branch where the incident occurred.
Contacted on social media, Mr. Johnson declined comment, writing that he had not read any details of the bank’s plan.
His lawyer, Anne Muter, also declined comment.
The Heiltsuk Nation, of which Mr. Johnson is a member, issued a statement, saying the bank’s announcement “feels very much like a reactive gesture or public-relations effort.” Mr. Johnson and the First Nation will, next week, offer further comment and details of plans to fight racism in B.C., said the statement.
Police Chief Adam Palmer has said that the appropriate procedure was followed given concerns raised by the bank.
But the B.C. Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, an independent body of the legislature, has launched an investigation into the matter, reviewing police policies, procedures and training.
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