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Arrest of Indigenous girl, grandfather at Vancouver BMO prompts investigation, mayor demands accountability

Last Updated Jan 14, 2020 at 11:08 pm PDT

(Photo by Dustin Godfrey for NEWS 1130)

B.C.'s police complaint commissioner is investigating last month's arrest of a 12-year-old girl and her grandfather

The incident took place on Dec. 20 at a BMO branch and followed a bank worker's report of possible fraud

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says he 'feels sick' about the arrest and demands accountability from the bank

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — B.C.’s police complaint commissioner is investigating last month’s arrest of a 12-year-old girl and her grandfather after they tried to open a new bank account in Vancouver.

The incident took place on Dec. 20 at a BMO branch and followed a bank worker’s report of possible fraud by the Indigenous man.

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) has determined further investigation is warranted to determine if the Vancouver Police officers involved behaved appropriately when handcuffs were used to detain the child and her grandfather.

RELATED: BMO apologizes after Indigenous 12-year-old girl and grandfather reported to police by staff

“It is important that there be a thorough and independent investigation of this matter. 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,” says Andrea Spindler, deputy police complaint commissioner.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says he doesn’t understand why a little girl trying to open up a bank account ended up in handcuffs and wants answers from the branch managers.

“This isn’t accidental. That information was provided to the police on which they made their decisions. That’s not acceptable and they have to explain why this has happened and I don’t think they’ve done a good enough job yet,” he says, while adding he “feels sick” about the arrest and BMO should be held accountable.

“The root of the problem is the call from Bank of Montreal and that’s why they have to be very candid with the public about how they train their personnel, how they’re going to remedy this in the future,” he says. “This isn’t one rogue employee that’s picking up a phone and calling 911. This went through management.”

Stewart, who also chairs the Vancouver Police Board, admits the incident will be a priority item at next week’s board meeting, but he doesn’t believe this will hurt Vancouver’s image as a welcoming city.

“I don’t feel like our reputation has been tarnished. I feel like there are questions we have to answer and how we answer them will be very important to our future reputation,” he says.

BMO apologized for the incident on Thursday.

Vancouver police confirm they were called to a downtown branch after receiving a report of a “fraud in progress.”

“Both individuals who were identified by the bank as suspects were initially handcuffed while officers investigated the claim. Officers confirmed the identity of the two individuals and confirmed that no criminal activity had occurred. The individuals were released and officers continued to complete the investigation and closed the call,” says a statement from the Vancouver Police Department.

Coast Salish grandmother, Kat Norris, says she hopes the investigation by the BC’s Police Complaint Commissioner actually makes a difference.

She says past reviews of questionable behaviour have not done much to prevent racial profiling.

“All we want is to be treated equally. We want to know that if we are going to walk into an institution, a hospital, or a store, we are going to be treated with common respect. We also don’t want to be ignored or that look assuming we are going to bring them any danger,” Norris says.

She insists staff at the bank probably wouldn’t have called police if the people trying to open a new account on Dec. 20 were white.

“The police should have known that handcuffing a 12-year-old girl isn’t the right thing to do,” she says.

“Education all around is really important. What do we do when we are treated with such a passion? This should not happen again.”

Norris, who’s also a residential school survivor, organized a rally Tuesday at Vancouver’s Britannia Centre in support of Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter.

With files from Tarnjit Parmar