A Canadian woman of Egyptian descent is suing Royal Bank of Canada and the Peel Regional Police for violating her Charter rights after she was detained and labelled a criminal while trying to withdraw money from one of her own bank accounts, according to her statement of claim.
Peel Police confirmed the lawsuit but a spokesperson said the police would not comment on the matter as it was before the courts.
The lawsuit filed Jan. 24 at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice alleges the bank and the police treated Dana Ramadan, 31, differently “solely because she was a Muslim, Middle Eastern POC (Person of Colour)” and accuses them of inflicting mental distress. It also accuses the bank of slander for allegedly telling the police she was a criminal. It further accuses the bank employees of “holding a discriminatory belief” based on Ramadan’s identity that “she was potentially engaging in a terrorist activity.”
RBC denies those allegations. In a statement to the Star an RBC spokesperson said, “We understand this has been a difficult situation and we apologized to Ms. Ramadan for any inconvenience our extra due diligence caused her. We take any allegations of discrimination seriously and our actions were intended to protect our client from potential fraud.”
The allegations have not been proven in court. RBC filed a statement of defence Feb. 5. Peel Police have not yet filed one.
Ramadan is a Toronto businesswoman who had two business accounts at RBC; one a solo account for her financial consulting company, the other a joint account with a partner for their mortgage brokerage firm.
Ramadan told the Star she went to an RBC branch the morning of Feb. 14, 2019 to withdraw $10,000 from her solo business account. It was not unusual for Ramadan to withdraw sums in the thousands of dollars from her accounts with RBC in years past, she said.
When she got there, she said, she was told the branch didn’t have that amount of cash but that she could withdraw $4,000. She was asked for ID. She showed her Quebec licence, which she carried because she used to go back and forth between Montreal and Toronto. But because the address on it didn’t match the Toronto business address the bank had on file, the teller asked for a secondary ID. Ramadan showed her Canadian passport. All was well. She withdrew the money.
Later that day, around 4.20 p.m., she went to another RBC branch, this one in Mississauga where her office is, to withdraw the remaining $6,000. This is when things began to unravel.
She said she took her debit card and the same passport, left her purse in her car and went in.
There, according to Ramadan’s statement of claim, the teller told her a manager override was required for that sum. Ten minutes later the teller came back with a manager. When the manager asked for her ID, Ramadan handed over her passport. It lists her birthplace as Egypt. The manager took the passport and came back five minutes later and told Ramadan she would be getting the money.
“I waited for what I thought were the funds,” Ramadan told the Star, “I’m just sitting there and all of a sudden, next thing I know a police officer puts a hand on my shoulder. I was so shocked, like what the hell is going on.”
Someone from the bank had called the police asking them to detain a person impersonating an RBC account holder, who was using a false passport to commit a fraud, according to the claim.
If the bank had been suspicious they could have asked other security questions or for other IDs, Ramadan said, but they didn’t.
The bank says it did.
“We followed our established procedures to verify her identity,” its statement to the Star said. “When asked for supporting ID, she provided her passport. After she was unable to answer questions about the details on her accounts, security questions and provide further identification, we were concerned someone was attempting to defraud our client. After carefully reviewing the situation, we alerted the authorities to protect our client from fraud. Her identity was eventually verified and the transaction was processed.”
Ramadan flatly denied this in an email.
“RBC did not ask me any security questions about my account. Had they done so, I would have answered them all accurately, as they were my OWN (capitals hers) accounts that I set up. By February 2019 I had been an RBC customer for approximately 15 years.
“At no point was I asked for any further identification by any of the bank employees. This makes absolutely no sense. I had several other valid IDs in my purse which was in the car. I would have easily been able to go out for a minute and grab all of the IDs they wanted if they asked me,” she said.
According to the claim, the police refused to let Ramadan go to her car to produce secondary ID.
A police officer took “one look at the passport and says it looks fake,” she told the Star on the phone. “I thought that l was in the twilight zone. I don’t know till this day why would he say the passport was fake.”
Peel police have not commented on this case.
She was escorted to a manager’s office in front of everyone, Ramadan said. Another unidentified police officer guarded the door “to prevent the plaintiff from leaving,” her claim alleges.
“I was humiliated,” she said.
After another 10 minutes, she says the officer told her, “I can’t verify the passport.”
“I’m getting anxious. Am I going to be arrested? And I’m, like, ‘What do you mean? I’m sure you can call some agency.’ ”
During this time, someone from the bank called her business partner in the mortgage brokerage and told him an impersonator was trying to access their joint account, her claim says. The bank denies this, saying they simply told the partner they needed to verify Ramadan’s identity. The bank says the partner said, “the true Ms. Ramadan would not have a Quebec driver’s licence.”
Ramadan’s claim says the partner asked if he could speak to her to verify her identity but the bank refused. It alleges her partner ended his business relationship with her after this.
At the bank, Ramadan said, police asked her many questions. It was only after she correctly answered questions about past traffic violations that the police began to believe her. They released her after a 25-minute detention. The bank then gave her the $6,000 from her account and she went home.
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Rattled and upset, “I was treated like a criminal,” she said, but at least she was free. “After all that torture, it was all over.”
Not so fast.
Ramadan’s account of what happened up to now is the basis for her allegations of slander, false imprisonment and Charter violations (of unlawfully seizing her passport and searching it, arbitrarily detaining her, not telling her she had a right to a lawyer and discriminating based on race, ethnicity etc.).
What she said followed next was the reason the word “terrorist” was used in Ramadan’s lawsuit.
The next morning, she logged into her account to make an e-transfer. But her account was frozen. Even more strange, she said, the $6,000 transaction was not recorded. That meant she had $6,000 in hand as well as $6,000 in the bank.
“Right away I called the bank’s customer service. I wondered if I was being set up for something. I was getting paranoid.”
“The transaction never went missing,” RBC’s statement to the Star says. It was put on hold as “a precaution during the interaction with the client. Due to a system limitation, the transaction had to be manually reconciled with bank records the following day and the hold was removed.”
But Ramadan told the Star she made two e-transfers from that same bank account the night of the interaction with the bank. “How would I be able to do that?”
The phone conversation when someone from the branch called Ramadan back, which she recorded, didn’t help, she said. The employee asked her at least twice why she withdrew $6,000 in cash.
“RBC policies and procedures did not require clients to explain the purposes for withdrawing cash,” her claim states. “RBC’s ongoing suspicion of the Plaintiff was grounded solely upon the Plaintiff being of Middle Eastern descent and being a POC.”
The bank denies the allegations.
“In my opinion, had I, a white “Christian” male presented a valid Canadian passport as ID, RBC wouldn’t have phoned the police, frozen my account, and questioned me the following day about what the money was for,” said Ramadan’s lawyer Christopher Murphy.
In its statement of defence RBC said it was Ramadan’s own actions that led its employees to believe she was committing identity theft. It says she did not order the cash in advance and was “disrespectful and unco-operative” at the first bank; when asked for her local address, she told the employee she didn’t have to give it to the bank, that it was private. It says she was asked to leave after that first transaction and told her behaviour was not acceptable.
The bank’s statement characterizes its actions as due diligence to protect its clients from fraud, but Murphy disagrees.
“Distilled into its essence, RBC’s defence is that Dana — a person of colour — became uppity when questioned about her valid ID, so RBC was justified in reporting her to the police,” Murphy said.
“Rather than apologizing for their reprehensible conduct, RBC continues to blame Ms. Ramadan for the bank’s mistreatment of her. RBC’s lack of insight into their practices should concern all people of colour who bank at RBC.”
Ramadan is seeking $170,000 in damages plus loss of income and legal costs. She is also seeking “aggravated and punitive damages” from the bank employees and police officers involved, “in order to deter the defendants, or those similarly situated, from taking such wrongful actions in the future.”
This case comes on the heels of another incident in the public eye where Maxwell Johnson, a Heiltsuk Nation man and his granddaughter were handcuffed and detained at a BMO branch in Vancouver when they went to open an account. In that case, BMO maintains there were problems with their ID that included an Indian status card and birth certificate. It accepts that the bank should never have called police, but that bank, too, denies racism was a factor in that decision.
In mid-January, B.C.’s police complaint commissioner ordered a probe into the police handling of the incident.