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Grandpa and 12yo Granddaughter Cuffed, Detained—for Opening a Bank Account While Native American

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Although the duo had three forms of identification, a Native American Canadian and his granddaughter were detained by police outside their bank because the clerk believed something was amiss. Maxwell Johnson, a member of the Heiltsuk community located on British Columbia’s Central Coast, wanted to help his daughter access some of his funds while she was away playing out of town sports. What started out as a good idea to help his granddaughter ended in Johnson nearly being kidnapped and caged.

Johnson, along with his granddaughter presented government-issued Indian Status cards, his birth certificate and her medical card. The elderly man had been a long-standing account holder at his BMO bank. Thinking there would be no problem in opening a youth account for his granddaughter he said he submitted his paperwork to the clerk. That’s when the problem started. The employee became suspicious and went upstairs with their ID cards and documents. The grandpa remarked:

She said the numbers didn’t match up what she had on her computer.

Not long ago, Johnson and every other Heiltsuk community member received reparations from the government in the form of cold, hard, cash. Thirty thousand Canadian dollars to be exact, or almost 23,000 U.S. dollars. The grandpa believes that’s why the clerk called the police. After informing the family their documents could be retrieved by going upstairs with her, the two saw police coming their way. Immediately thereafter the cops informed them they were being detained, they were handcuffed, and then read their rights.

They came over and grabbed me and my granddaughter, took us to a police vehicle and handcuffed both of us, told us we were being detained and read us our rights…You can see how scared she was…It was really hard to see that.

Johnson told local media he believes the police action was due to racial profiling.

“It was so hard to see my granddaughter taken out of the bank and handcuffed. She will be scarred for life from this,” Johnson said in an emotional Facebook post after the Dec. 20 incident.

“At the time I was just worried … now that I have had time to go over this it makes me so mad.”

News of the situation subsequently sparked nationwide backlash and a day of action was planned in protest.

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Tabatha is an amazing artist, please follow her at @huuyatlh. #Repost @huuyatlh with @get_repost ・・・ We stand for our sisters across Canada (and the United States). In Vancouver, on the Downtown Eastside, there are severe human rights crisis persists in this region resulting in the ongoing discrimination, violence and oppression of our women & girls. Violence against Indigenous women and girls must be stopped ✊🏾 . #TabathaFrank #MMIWG #MMIW #missingmurderedindigenouswomen #oursisters #missing #wherearemysisters #nativewomen #nativeculture #nativebeauty #nativepride #nativegirls #indigenouswomen #indigenouspeople #indigenouspride #indigenousculture #firstnationswomen #firstnationscanada #tlaoquiaht #ahousaht #firstnations #indigenous #aboriginalart #huuyatlh #canada #britishcolumbia #vancouver #butterfliesinspirit #butterfliesinspiritdocumentary

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According to the Vancouver Police Department, the incident did, in fact, take place. In a statement the cops admit the clerk believed the two indigenous individuals were attempting to commit some sort of crime. But there was no crime taking place at all—just a grandfather trying to open a bank account.

It was determined that there was no criminal activity and no fraudulent transaction.

Unlike the majority of the police departments we cover in the US, the Canadian PD was quick to issue an apology saying:

It is a regrettable situation, and we don’t want anybody to have to go through anything like this.

The Canadian officers involved had been given cultural sensitivity training yet went ahead and detained the indigenous family nonetheless. Also worth noting was the apology issued by BMO bank.

We value our long and special relationship with Indigenous communities. Recently, an incident occurred that does not reflect us at our best. We deeply regret this and unequivocally apologize to all. We are reviewing what took place, how it was handled and will use this as a learning opportunity. We understand the importance and seriousness of this situation at the highest levels of the bank.

This week, B.C.’s police complaint commissioner has ordered an investigation into the arrest of an innocent Indigenous man and his granddaughter at a Bank of Montreal branch.

“It is important that there be a thorough and independent investigation of this matter,” Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Andrea Spindler said in a statement Tuesday.

“The investigation will carefully examine and assess the circumstances of this incident including the legal authority to detain, arrest and use restraining devices such as handcuffs as well as any relevant questions of policy or training.”

Canada, like the United States, has an equally disturbing history in dealing with native individuals some might conclude. Called “Residential Schools”, native Americans from Canada’s provinces were shipped off for Western indoctrination by white men who dominated them. Al Jazeera English created a documentary it calls Canada’s “Dark Secret”. It appears, from the above example, the Johnson family is still suffering the fallout from such a discriminatory history.


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About Jack Burns

Jack Burns is an educator, journalist, investigative reporter, and advocate of natural medicine