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Vancouver police officers suspended for handcuffing Indigenous man, granddaughter at BMO

Maxwell Johnson, 12-year-old granddaughter arrested without cause for trying to open bank account
Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C.. The Indigenous man has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis)

Two Vancouver police officers who arrested an Indigenous man and his 12-year-old granddaughter outside a bank in 2019 acted ‘recklessly’ and with ‘unnecessary force,’ a discipline proceeding has found.

Constables Canon Wong and Mitchel Tong arrested grandfather Maxwell Johnson and his young granddaughter outside a Bank of Montreal branch on Dec. 20, 2019, after bank staff called in an alleged fraud in progress. They reportedly had concerns over Johnson’s Indian Status card and identification.

The pair had travelled to Vancouver from their home in Bella Bella to add the granddaughter to Johnson’s bank account. On the morning of Dec. 20, they showed up early to the bank for their appointment but were quickly escorted outside by police, handcuffed and arrested.

Less than an hour after they were taken in, the allegations were found to be baseless and Johnson and his granddaughter were released with apologies from the two constables.

Johnson later submitted a written complaint against Wong and Tong, prompting a discipline proceeding against them.

READ ALSO: Probe ordered into B.C. arrest of Indigenous man, granddaughter trying to open bank account

In his decision on March 18, retired judge Brian Neal found the constables guilty of two counts of professional misconduct and for using unnecessary force on them by applying handcuffs despite their full compliance.

“In the result, two vulnerable persons of Indigenous heritage were exposed to unnecessary trauma and fear, and left with a serious perception of unfairness in their treatment at the hands of police,” Neal wrote.

Wong and Tong were ordered to be suspended for several days, complete intensive Indigenous cultural sensitivity training and complete retraining on de-escalation skills, risk assessment and the power of arrest. They must also provide an apology to Johnson and his granddaughter.

Speaking on behalf of Johnson, Heiltsuk Nation Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett said receiving the acknowledgement of wrongdoing after several years of painful waiting provides some relief.

“Indigenous people face discrimination and microaggressions every day. This had to be confronted,” she told Black Press Media.

Their community has invited Wong and Tong to travel to Bella Bella and take part in an apology ceremony.

Slett said she hopes the decision serves as a starting point for change within police departments.

“We encourage the department to work with their Indigenous members and reach out to the Indigenous community,” she said.

Johnson and his granddaughter are still awaiting decisions from complaints filed with the B.C. and Canadian human rights tribunals against the Vancouver police and Bank of Montreal.

The Vancouver police declined to comment. However, they did change their handcuffing policy in response to the incident.

READ ALSO: Vancouver Police Board told to change handcuff rules after arrest of Indigenous man

READ ALSO: Heiltsuk man files human rights complaint against Vancouver police, BMO after bank arrest


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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media after starting as a community reporter in Greater Victoria.
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