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Indigenous Grandfather and Granddaughter Settle Human Rights Complaint Against Bank of Montreal and Close Account

Press Release

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA (May 5, 2022) – Heiltsuk First Nation members Maxwell Johnson and his 14-year-old granddaughter have reached a settlement agreement with the Bank of Montreal, whose representatives made a 911 call following suspicion that they had presented fraudulent Indigenous status cards while trying to open a bank account in 2019.

The call resulted in VPD officers attending the bank’s Burrard Street branch and publicly arresting and handcuffing Mr. Johnson and his granddaughter, who subsequently filed human rights complaints against the bank and the police. An earlier decision by retired judge Brian Neal, Q.C., released in April of 2022, found that the VPD officers committed professional misconduct and acted recklessly in their dealings with the grandfather and granddaughter.

Despite having now reached a settlement with BMO, Mr. Johnson closed his account today, with members of the Heiltsuk Nation gathering outside the bank to show their support.

“This ends our legal action against the bank for what happened to me and my granddaughter, but we are still in a healing process,” said Johnson. “Closing my account today is part of that process. While we appreciate the actions BMO has taken as part of this settlement and hope they will continue to educate themselves about Indigenous peoples and take actions towards reconciliation, this bank still triggers painful memories for me and my family.”

The terms of the settlement include the following:

  • A monetary payment from BMO to Mr. Johnson and his granddaughter;
  • A private apology ceremony in Mr. Johnson’s home community of Bella Bella;
  • Gifting of an art piece (https://tinyurl.com/54d4rjzs) by Mr. Johnson – who is an artist by profession – to the bank, which will be displayed at the Burrard Street branch where the incident took place. Copies will be displayed at branches in Nanaimo, Campbell River, Prince Rupert, and Victoria where Heiltsuk members bank.
  • BMO will also display territorial acknowledgement plaques in each of the designated retail branches indicating on which First Nation’s or Nations’ traditional territory the branch is located and will make best efforts to expand this to branches across Canada.
  • As part of the settlement process, BMO has undertaken public interest remedies including updating internal policies and procedures for how Indigenous status cards are handled, creating an organization-wide education course for all staff and executives on Indigenous culture (more than 25,000 employees have completed the course), participating in a Heiltsuk cultural competency workshop (all BMO senior leaders in BC and Yukon), establishing an Indigenous Advisory Council, and making various donations and campaigns in support of Indigenous communities.

“The Heiltsuk Nation could not be prouder of Max and his granddaughter for pursuing justice and making real and significant change in the fight against systemic racism,” said Marilyn Slett, elected Chief of the Heiltsuk Nation. “We will continue to support Max and his granddaughter in their healing journey, and we remain committed to working with all institutions who seek to make broader change to ensure this kind of incident never happens again.”

Mr. Johnson and his granddaughter’s complaint against the Vancouver Police Department at the BC Human Rights Tribunal remains ongoing.

To arrange interviews:

Marilyn Slett
Chief Councillor
Heiltsuk Nation
250-957-7721

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