TD bank apologizes after Indigenous Muslim man prevented from opening account

Mar 2 2022, 12:48 am

TD bank issued a public apology today after a branch in Surrey, BC refused to open an account for a man who is both Indigenous, east-Indian, and Muslim when he presented his status card as identification.

Sharif Mohammed Bhamji, a member of the Heiltsuk Nation, tried to open an account at 18630 Fraser Highway on May 5, 2021 but the teller apparently didn’t think his status card with a Muslim name on it was legitimate.

The bank ended up asking Bhamji to leave and called police on him.

“We are troubled to hear about Mr. Bhamji’s experience, and would like to offer a public apology and acknowledgement for the hurt that was caused,” TD spokesperson Ryan-Sang Lee told Daily Hive.

The bank also said it’s reached out to Bhamji personally to hear more, and will conduct a full review of what happened.

“We recognize the reality of systemic racism and the courage it takes to speak out,” Lee said. “We are taking this matter very seriously.”

Bhamji filed a human rights complaint about his experience this week, and said he’s speaking out because he doesn’t want his nine-year-old daughter to have a similar experience in the future.

“What I want out of this is hopefully a lot more eyes opening and seeing the scrutiny and the pain people are being pout under,” he said in a YouTube video from the Heiltsuk Tribal Council.

In the video, Bhamji said his own family members are the only ones he knows who share his mixed Heiltsuk and east-Indian heritage. He understands seeing a Muslim name on a status card may not be common, but doesn’t see it as an excuse to call police instead of verifying the authenticity of the card.

“I have a Muslim name. I’m also Indigenous. But I can’t be both while banking at TD,” Bhamji said in a news release. “I am filing this complaint to seek justice for myself, my community, and everyone with cross-cultural heritage who doesn’t fit neatly into a certain identity checkbox.”

A police officer came to Bhamji’s home the afternoon of the incident at TD, saying the bank had called because Bhamji crumpled up the refusal letter and thrown it back under the plexiglass barrier at the counter. Staff at the branch had apparently felt threatened.

But the officer had verified Bhamji’s identity before coming over, and sympathized by sharing his own experiences with racism.

“I didn’t understand the depth of the situation at first. Because it’s happened so much that I’m so used to it,” Bhamji said. “[People] treating my kids with a lot more respect and dignity, is what I hope comes out of it.”

This is the second human rights complaint filed by a Heiltsuk Nation member against a bank in as many years.

In December 2019, police put Maxwell Johnson and his 12-year-old granddaughter in handcuffs as they tried to open an account at a downtown Bank of Montreal location. Bank staff apparently thought the money in Johnson’s account was obtained through fraud.

Elected Heiltsuk Nation Chief Marilyn Slett said banks need to be better when serving BIPOC customers.

“TD had no reason to deny Sharif service, except that they didn’t think a status card with a Muslim name could be legitimate,” she said in a news release.

“From the Max Johnson case to this one, it’s clear that banks like TD still have a lot of learning. ‘Banking while brown’ can be a dangerous activity for BIPOC customers, and TD must take steps to ensure this never happens again.”

Megan DevlinMegan Devlin

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