The Bank of Montreal says it has created a special council to help train its employees in wake of nationwide backlash after an Indigenous man and his granddaughter were handcuffed at a Vancouver branch when trying to open an account.
Fifty-six-year-old Maxwell Johnson, a member of Heiltsuk Nation, went to open an account for his 12-year-old granddaughter in Vancouver on Dec. 20. But both Johnson and the girl ended up in handcuffs after the bank called police to report what they thought was a fraud in progress.
No charges were laid, but the incident has sparked a number of rallies by the public for what the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs has deemed as racial profiling, as well as an investigation by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.
The financial institution’s CEO, Darryl White, said in a news release Thursday that the new Indigenous Advisory Council will include people from Indigenous communities across the country to provide input on policies and practices in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
“People are disappointed and angry with us, and I don’t blame them. Part of building a truly inclusive culture involves being honest with ourselves when we fall short of those standards,” White said. “An Indigenous customer was not treated with the respect or trust that BMO customers deserve. He entered our branch to open an account for his granddaughter and they were escorted out by police. This is unacceptable.”
He added that bank tellers and other banking staff face strict legal requirements and have to make decisions without entire pieces of information. And while “the vast majority of the time we get these decisions right,” he said, “we simply should not have called the police, regardless of the circumstances.”
The council includes one First Nations chief from B.C., Patrick Michell of the Kanaka Bar Indian Band. Other members include:
- Regional Chief, Roger Augustine of the Assembly of First Nations in New Brunswick
- Minister Anita Campbell of the Manitoba Métis Nation
- Chief Terry Paul of the Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia
- Chief Darcy Bear of Whitecap Dakota First Nation in Saskatchewan
- Kevin Chief, Principal of Chief Partnerships Manitoba Inc.
- Chief Don Maracle of Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte in Ontario
- Chief Ouray Crowfoot of Siksika Nation in Alberta
In addition to the council, the bank will be rolling out a new mandatory training requirement for all senior staff in the company, with a focus on the history and legacy of residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal rights.
But in a statement released later in the afternoon, Heiltsuk Nation said the banking institution needs to start speaking more closely with the nation’s leaders.
“While today’s announcement would normally be a good first step, it’s hard to put weight on this advisory council because it has been assembled so quickly – it feels very much like a reactive gesture or public relations effort,” the statement read.
“BMO and their new IAC need to reach out to Heiltsuk, so that we know there will be concrete actions to implement the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and substantial efforts made to improve relations between Indigenous peoples and financial institutions. Foremost though, they need to stop denying what actually happened. That’s the only way to move forward.”