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  • Writer's picturereconciliactionyeg

You Cannot Hide Behind the Apology of Others

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Last week, I wrote about Indigenous identity through the status card. Today I am going to share a story about how an Indigenous family faced discrimination, starting with the use of their identities cards as proof of identification at a Bank of Montreal. I will end with how this incident involves reconciliation, and whether you think the parties involved have taken reconciliation seriously or whether there is still room for improvement.

On December 20, 2019, on a family trip from Bella Bella, British Columbia, Maxwell Johnson, and his twelve-year-old granddaughter Torianne went to an appointment at the Bank of Montreal on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver to open up a bank account for Torianne. [1] Maxwell and Torianne presented their Status cards when asked for identification to set up an account. According to the Bank of Montreal, an eligible piece of identification is one that is issued by a government agency with a photo that clearly shows your face. [2] This qualifies status cards as acceptable pieces of identification.

The bank manager proceeded to call 911 because she suspected fake status cards and was suspicious of the large balance in Maxwell's bank account. [3] Maxwell had been to this branch on two previous occasions and had no issues when presenting his status card. [4] According to a report from the Union of B.C Indian Chiefs, ninety nine percent of Indigenous respondents have been mistreated with subtle microaggressions or overt racism when using their status cards. [5]

Instead of calling the police, the bank manager could have done a little investigating to discover that the money had come from the federal government. It was part of an Aboriginal rights package settlement. In June of 2019, the federal Department of Oceans and Fisheries settled a seventy-five million dollar claim for infringement of Heiltsuk Nation’s Aboriginal rights to commercially harvest spawn on kelp, which was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada. [6] This information was posted to the nation’s website one month prior.

The Johnson’s were only there to open a bank account and not make a large withdrawal. The transcripts to the police revealed that the manager thought the pair were possibly South Asian, did not understand what an Indian status card is, and was told by Indigenous Services Canada to contact the police. [7] Even the Minister of Indigenous Services called the incident a process of systemic racism. [8]

The two male Vancouver police officers arrived on site and immediately put Maxwell and his granddaughter in handcuffs. Within moments, another police cruiser arrived on site, and two more officers got out to separate the pair to start their questioning. The experience was traumatizing for Torianne who was excited to open her own bank account, but instead discovered what it felt like to be publicly discriminated against because you are Indigenous. Indigenous peoples are grossly overrepresented in arrests and chargeable incidents by the Vancouver Police Department. [9]. Implicit and explicit bias, structural design, cultural dominance, and the failure to adequately address historic wrongs have all contributed to systemic racism. [10]

Public indignation over the incident called for the bank to set better standards for their employees to help avoid similar events, and for the Vancouver Police Department to conduct an independent investigation into what happened. [11] Maxwell Johnson filed a Human Rights Tribunal complaint against the Vancouver Police Board for racial profiling and wrongful detention. The Vancouver Police Board is the independent civilian oversight body of the Vancouver Police Department, responsible for ensuring high standards of policing between the officers and the communities they serve. [12] The Board confirmed the discrimination and agreed to a settlement at the end of September 2022, almost three years after the initial incident.

The settlement included an undisclosed amount to the Johnson family for injury to dignity, one hundred thousand dollars to the Heiltsuk Gvi’las Restorative Justice Program, an obligation for the arresting officers and board to attend an apology ceremony in Bella Bella, and an obligation that the Vancouver Police Board create a position for an anti-Indigenous-racism officer to review Indigenous related complaints. [13] The Board also stated in a press conference that they were committed to taking collaborative steps to strengthen the relationship between the Board, the Police Department, and Indigenous peoples, and that they were willing to meet the terms of the settlement in a way that honours the principles of truth and reconciliation. [14]

The most important aspect of the agreement is the apology ceremony in the Heiltsuk community of Bella Bella. It was supposed to take place at the end of October 2022 but was canceled because the two arresting officers decided not to attend. The agreement stated that best efforts would be made for the two officers to attend, but the Police Board believed that it was still meeting the terms of the agreement by sending senior officers from the delegation instead. [15]

Heiltsuk protocol for an apology ceremony requires those who caused the harm to be present. [16] If it was expected that the officers and the Board would apologize in person at the apology ceremony, anything less than that would not be considered a true commitment to healing and reconciliation. The ceremony was meant to commemorate the beginning of a new relationship between the Heiltsuk peoples, the Union of B.C Indian Chiefs, and the Vancouver Police Board to work together in addressing systemic racism in policing. [17] In the absence of the necessary participants, the family decided to have an uplifting ceremony for the family instead.

Maxwell Johnson believes that the arresting police officers’ refusal to attend shows a lack of respect, which is extremely disappointing for officers who have been trained in cultural competency. [18] It is the offenders themselves who need to make reparations to those they have wronged. For the officers to travel to the community and attend the apology ceremony would show their willingness to accept responsibility and their commitment towards building a better relationship. Refusing to attend without any explanation from the officers is unacceptable. A disciplinary decision from April 2022 ordered the officers to apologize for their blameworthy conduct for oppressively arresting the Johnsons without probable or reasonable grounds. [19]

I call on the Vancouver Police Board and the two officers involved to show Canadians what true reconciliation looks like, and not what they believe reconciliation to be. Reconciliation involves whole-heartedly acknowledging past discrimination and dedicating ourselves to making Canadian society better. We need to honour our commitments and be active participants in every step of the healing journey.

Until next time,

Team ReconciliAction YEG

[1] Karin Larsen, “Heiltsuk man, granddaughter reach settlement in human rights complaint against BMO” (5 May 2022), online: CBC News British Columbia <>.

[2] “What to bring to an everyday banking appointment” (last visited 19 November 2022), online: Bank of Montreal <>.

[3] “Heiltsuk man, granddaughter handcuffed outside Vancouver bank settle human rights case against police” (28 September 2022), online: CBC New British Columbia <,government%2Dapproved%20Indian%20Status%20cards.>.

[4] “Indian Government sicced police on Indigenous grandfather: 911 call” (23 November 2020), online: APTN National News <>.

[5] “Facing racism when using status cards is 'near-universal' experience, UBCIC report finds” (15 November 2022), online: CTV News British Columbia <>.

[7] Angela Sterritt & Bridgette Watson, “Indigenous man and granddaughter handcuffed at Vancouver bank file human rights complaint against BMO, police” (23 November 2020), online: CBC New British Columbia <>.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Equity is safer: Human rights considerations for policing reform in British Columbia” (November 2021), at 21, online: (pdf) British Columbia’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner <>.

[10] Ibid at 17.

[11] Andrew Weichel, “Investigation ordered into arrest of Indigenous man and his granddaughter at BMO Bank” (14 January 2020), online: CTV New Vancouver <>.

[12] “The Role of the Vancouver Police Board” (25 April 2022), online: Vancouver Police Board <>.

[13] Supra at note 3.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Angela Sterritt & Rhianna Schmunk, “Apology ceremony between police, Indigenous family won't go ahead as planned after arresting officers' no-show” (23 October 2022), online: CBC New British Columbia <>.

[16] Ibid.

[17] The Canadian Press, “Indigenous apology ceremony canceled after no-show by arresting police officers” (24 October 2022), online: The Vancouver Sun <>.

[18] Supra at note 15.

[19] “Police officers who handcuffed Indigenous man, granddaughter outside bank ordered suspended for misconduct” (6 April 2022), online: CTV News British Columbia <>.

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