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Routine bank visit devolved into 'dehumanization,' says Black customer

Guy Quenneville · CBC News · Posted: Sep 25, 2023 4:00 AM EDT
Royal Bank of Canada says it regrets customer had 'a stressful experience'

A typically breezy, routine trip to an Ottawa bank last month devolved into a drawn-out and dehumanizing incident of racial discrimination, one of the bank's longtime Black customers says.
On Aug. 18, Barratou Barry went to the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) branch on Bank Street south of the Greenboro park-and-ride to deposit some money and pick up a new credit card.
It was something she'd done there many times before, she said.
With her family at her side, Barry recounted what happened next at a press conference held Sunday morning in the branch's parking lot.
When asked for identification, Barry, a 15-year RBC customer, explained she didn't yet have her driver's licence and instead provided her health card and new passport.
The bank clerk left the desk to do some verifications, Barry said, and told her 15 minutes later "the system [was] not working" and that a manager would need to step in.
Another 40 minutes passed, and then a shocked and disbelieving Barry saw bank staff speaking to police officers outside.
"I just knew those police officers were there for me, you know? And then I started filming," she said.
'Not going to let this pass'
One of the videos she shot, which she shared with CBC News, captured her reacting in the moment to the sight of officers.
"I've been dealing with this company for 15 years," an audibly upset Barry says later in the video, as some officers speak to bank staff while others take her aside. "I have a business account with them. And then they call the police on me."
"I'm not going to let this pass," she later adds in French.
Barry said police told her they'd been called because the bank suspected the passport was forged and were concerned over the fact her documents spelled her name two different ways.
She said she ended up getting her credit card from the bank.
Awaiting an apology
Barry said Sunday she wanted to prevent other people from having the same experience of feeling unfairly "detained."
"Everyone was passing by, looking at me, giving me that guilty look," she said. "The dehumanization … that I have been through, me and my family — no one should be put into that position."
Calling the police over doubts about a Black customer "shouldn't be [the bank's] first response," Barry added.
"Ask me simple questions to clarify. Why call the police? The only reason I see is because I was Black."
Barry said she remains a customer of the bank — in part because it takes time to transfer accounts, but also because she wants to see what RBC does next.
She said Sunday that RBC had yet to apologize for how she was treated and that she wants "them to have more policies and more rules" to prevent discrimination.
Regret for her 'stressful experience'
In a statement, RBC didn't speak to the specifics of the situation for privacy reasons but said they "regret that our client had a stressful experience."
The incident is still being reviewed, the company said, adding they would "continue to reach out directly to our client."
Barry said the bank did attempt to speak to her both right after the incident and later on the phone, but she was too rattled to talk.
RBC also said it gives employees training to deepen their awareness of "diversity, bias and anti-racism."
"Diversity and inclusion guide our actions and behaviours to ensure we develop a relationship with clients based on trust and, most importantly, mutual respect," the statement said.
The company carries out "thorough due diligence" when verifying identification, it added.
Not the first such incident
What happened to Barry is "not a unique incident," said Alain Babineau, a spokesperson with Montreal-based anti-racism group Red Coalition, which joined Barry at Sunday's news conference.
The coalition said they plan to file a complaint against RBC on Barry's behalf with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
They'd previously done so for Babineau, a retired RCMP officer who claimed discrimination at the hands of CIBC when he was refused a debit card in 2019.
Police acted sensitively toward Barry, coalition members added.
In 2021, another Black Ottawan said he had repeatedly experienced racism at a TD Canada Trust branch in Orléans. The company issued what it called "an unreserved public apology."
Barry said those sorts of prior incidents make what she went through even more distressing.
"It's even worse," she said, "because we know the problem is there."



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