What is wrong the employees at the Bank of Nova Scotia located at the Scarborough towon Centre?
Frantz St. Fleur, 1 38 year old Black man, of Haitian background was arrested shortly after he walked into the Bank of Nova Scotia’s branch located in the Scarborough Town Centre to cash a a valid, $9000 cheque issued by one of Canada’s largest real estate conglomerates, ReMax. The arrest came as the man attempted negotiate the instrument for which is the lawful payee. In a statement to the Toronto Star, the bank admits that the treatment the man received at the hands of bank employees was unacceptable. In the bank’s view the fact that it has offered Mr. Fleur some financial compensation whatits believes is an error should be sufficient to quiet down the controversy.
Larger question arise from the incident, though. These are question that should lead the bank to examine what was it about Mr. Fleur, and or the branch’s culture that resulted in its employees alerting police that a crime was in progress. It also raises serious issues about whether the police in this instance abdicated their responsibility to investigate a complaint before making an arrest. Let us deconstruct the event leading to Mr. Fleur’s arrest. Let’s start by examining Scotiabank’s global operations.
Scotiabank has well over a 150 branches throughout the Caribbean and Mexico. In prior years, the bank has profited well from its Caribbean operations. Scotia announced recently that it was cutting about 1,500 jobs and booking a pre-tax charge of $451 million, mainly due to bets that have soured in the Caribbean and South America. In other words, high level corporate decisions have not profited in the way contemplated on Caribbean and Mexican investments. Scotiaban with its massive amount of assets in the Caribbean and mexico must be taken to be used to dealing with Black folks on a day to day basis. Scotiabank is also the official sponsor of the largest cultural festival in the world—Caribana. Scotia first announced its intention to sponsor Caribana in 2008. So, its has had a six year dance with a parade that displayed Caribbean culture, music, song and dance. For Scotiabank the move to sponsor Caribana was completely aligned with its business objectives given that at the time its Caribbean operations were highly profitable units.
Now let’s fast forward to Scarborough, Ontario. Scarborough is home to a large amount of people from the Caribbean and more generally African-Canadian people. It is inconceiveable that Mr. Fleur was the first African-Canadian man with whom Scotiabank employees at the Town Centre came into contact as a customer. In canada, Scotiabank is a Schedule A bank. Scotiabank operates another entity called Scotia Mortgage Corporation. Scotiabank is very familiar with real estate transactions and in fact offers mortgages to the public. As one of Canada’s primary mortgagees, Scotiabank and its various employees at the branch and corporate level must be taken to understand real estate transaction. A significant amount of African-Canadians own houses in Scarborough and would therefore have mortgages.
In the ordinary course of a real estate transaction, a purchaser interested in buying a home, leaves a deposit with her or his realtor, the deposit. That deposit remains in trust, pending the completion of the transaction or its termination. A prospective purchaser’s deposit is refundable until conditions in the transaction are either fulfilled or waived. Once a deal is firm a purchaser who wishes to back out of a deal risks forfeiting all or part of the deposit in the hands of a real estate agent. All of these facts are known to staff at Sotiabank
Remax is one of the largest real estate agency in Canada. Remax has offices owed by independent brokers all across Canada. It would be absolutely unfathomable for Scotiabank employees not to have ever heard of Remax or know what it does. Chances are the Scotiabank, including the branch at which these events occurred are fully aware of Remax. Scotiabank and its employee should be taken to know that there are a myraid of reason that may explain why one of its customers may present a negotiable instrument for deposit into the customer’s account held with Scotiabank.
What was Mr. Fleur’s crime when he presented a $9000 cheque for deposit into his account with Scotiabank? One must assume that the cheque bore a Re line. In commercial transaction the Re Line on a cheque describes the purpose the cheque was drafted in the first instance. So, picture this, Mr Fluer walks into a banking institution with a cheque that is valid. He approaches a teller, presents the cheque and request that it be deposited into his account. Mr. Fleur is not seeking to cash the cheque. At the time of presentment, Mr. Fleur simply seeks to deposit the sum on the negotiable into his account. In the normal course, Scotiabank may decided to hold the cheque until it is cleared. Alternatively, Scotia may release the funds, but opt to use monies in the customer’s account to secure against the cheques clearance.
None of these normal events occurred with or to Mr. Fleur. His life was not going to be very flowery on this occasion. Something triggered in the mind of the teller to whom Mr. Fleur presented the cheque. One is left to wonder what he or she must have thought? In approaching the supervisor, the teller must have said something. What was said? Were the statements investigated? Was any attempt made to call the Remax to determine whether the cheque had been legitimately issued? What seems clear is that the presentation of the cheque resulted in a decision being made to call the police. Who at the branch level made this decision? Why? What made this person believe that this was a police matter? Was this person following protocol? It seems logical that staff at the branch level diverted Mr. Fleur’s attention whilst they called the police. In the normal course of business, it does not take very long for a person to deposit several cheques, let alone a single one. Mr. Fleur’s attention was diverted for a few minutes while police were summons. Now Toronto is not a sleepy policing community. Officers have a lot of things with which to contend. It appears that officers response time must have been short. What did the bank employee tell the officers to make attendance at the bank a priority call?
Police officers are not employed simply to rubber stamp the suspicions of large financial institution. One can understand first responding officers’ decision to detain Mr. Fleur while they assemble and gather information about the non-incident. But to arrest him when no offence was committed is baffling. To arrest him when his cheque was valid leaves on puzzled, particularly since it is no easy feat for a person to be in possess of a forged cheque from Remax, and there were no reports of any such thing that came to the officers attention. How could all of this happen to a man who was simply attempting to deposit a legitimate and valid cheque into his account.
Though details are sketchy at the moment, Mr. Fleur’s arrest probably raised lots of suspicions in the bank and amongst its other customers. One can just hear the chatter: “that black guy was just arrested, or words to that effect. Yep, Mr. Fleur was made to look like a thief, even as police officers appeared to have abdicated their duty to investigate complaints.
Perhaps rightly, Mr. Fleur has commenced a lawsuit against the Scotiabank. It appears that Scotiabank has made some offer to settle. Scotiabank response to this situation is hardly adequate, especially given Scotia’s role as sponsor of Caribana. Every African-Canadian man now sees her or himself as a possible Mr. Fleur. Scotiabank’s silence on the issue makes a mockery out of its diversity initiatives and its rhetoric along those lines. Scotiabank now needs to take bold steps. I must fire or discipline those within the branch for putting Mr. Fleur’s life in danger. Mr. Fleur, as an African-Canadian man, embroiled in a confrontation with the police, may likely have feared for his life and believed that the incident could have resulted in him being shot by police
So what should Scotia bank do now? Scotia in its role purely as Schedule A bank perhaps has no social obligations to Ontario’s community. Its employees are there purely to protect its interests. In its role as a community partner in Caribana and as one of the largest financial players in the Caribbean its employee has a corporate and social responsibility not to act in ways that may create potential life-threatening risks to its customers and the broader community. So once again, what should Scotiabank do in the wake of this obvious faux pas? First and foremost, Scotiabank should commence and sustain a thorough investigation to determine what was it about Mr. Fleur, and/or the transaction that made its employees suspicious to the point of involving the police in what by all account thus far was a routing banking activity? In the meantime Scotiabank should assess how this type of activity by its staff may affect its operation the upcoming inter-generational transfer of wealth for Caribbean national much of which will end up in the Caribbean.
Of course Scotiabank should take disciplinary action against the employees whose conduct needlessly, but literally exposed one of its customers to a potential life threatening interactions with the police. Finally, Scotiabank’s Communications department should issue a formal statement in which it make the community aware that it does not condone the staffs conduct and that it will do everything within its power to remedy the situation.