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‘I try my hardest not to think about it’: 12-year-old recounts handcuffing at BMO

British Columbia

A 12-year-old girl and her grandfather are speaking out about being handcuffed on a busy downtown Vancouver street after being falsely accused of a fraud.

The 12-year-old girl who was detained on a busy downtown street after being falsely accused by BMO of committing a fraud with her 56-year-old grandfather says she was scared when police handcuffed her. (Ben Nelms)

The 12-year-old Indigenous girl who was handcuffed and then detained for 45 minutes by the Vancouver Police Department on a downtown street Dec. 20 after trying to open an account at the Bank of Montreal says she doesn't even want to think about what happened anymore.

"I was scared," Tori-Anne said Monday. "The whole thing being handcuffed, after all the identification we showed that we are who we are."

The CBC has decided not to publish the girl's last name.

"I try my hardest not to think about it," she said from a Vancouver lawyer's office.

Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter Tori-Anne say they are trying to find ways to deal with anxiety, fear of police and of banks since they were handcuffed in front of a Bank of Montreal in downtown Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Her grandfather, Maxwell Johnson is looking into a human rights case that would address both the police and BMO's actions.

Tori-Anne says that when she saw the police inside the bank, she got nervous.

"I kinda figured they thought we were trying to do something," she said.

Police detained the two after a BMO employee called police. The employee had difficulty validating their identification, according to Cameron Fowler, president of personal banking, BMO Financial Group.

The bank has apologized, and the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner is now investigating the police department's detention and restraining of the pair.

Tori-Anne and her grandfather are now fearful of police and of banks, but in particular of the Bank of Montreal, even just driving past it, he said.

Reminiscent of residential school

Johnson said the whole incident traumatized him and his granddaughter and brought his memories of Indigenous people being taken away as a children by the RCMP.

"It's unbelievable. It just brought back memories of handcuffing younger kids at residential school," Johnson said.

He said Police Chief Adam Palmer was wrong to say police had the right to handcuff the two.

"We were calm, we were not making any fuss or anything — if it was non-native grandfather and granddaughter, I don't think they would have done that," he said.

He is confident the police and the bank were racially profiling them.

Tori-Anne said she was trying to open a bank account so that her grandfather could e-transfer money to her when she is on the road during basketball games and cultural events.

About the Author

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt's news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column 'Reconcile This' tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C.

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