A Toronto man has filed a $225,000 lawsuit alleging racial profiling after a routine trip to the bank led to him being arrested on suspicion of passing a fraudulent cheque, according to a statement of claim filed with the court.
Frantz St. Fleur, 38, was attempting to deposit a $9,000 cheque at the Scotiabank location at Scarborough Town Centre when the police showed up and arrested him, based on information provided by bank staff, according to the statement of claim.
The cheque was from a refunded real estate deposit after a condo purchase fell through. The cheque was valid, realtor RE/MAX said in a statement to the Toronto Star.
“It was horrible. The worst thing that ever happened to me. I've never been arrested (in) my life. It was a Saturday morning, the bank was full and the mall also,” St. Fleur told the Star. “Everybody was looking at me and nothing was done quietly. Everybody saw everything that happened.”
In a statement to the Star, the bank called the treatment he received “unacceptable.”
“Customers are our number one priority and are treated with the utmost respect. The treatment of Mr. St. Fleur was unacceptable and we have apologized and made an initial offer to reverse certain fees on his account and then offered an additional goodwill gesture in the spring. We have also worked with our employees to ensure that this does not happen again.”
St. Fleur, 38, a Haitian-born citizen of Canada, has filed a lawsuit alleging racial profiling in connection with the arrest. The suit names the Bank of Nova Scotia, or Scotiabank, the Toronto Police Services Board and RE/MAX Community Realty Inc. It claims more than $225,000 in damages.
“I filed this suit because I'm still looking for answers about why this happened. I banked with them for almost 10 years — since 2005.
“I have all my accounts with them. I'm looking for answers about exactly why they did what they did,” said St. Fleur. The statement of claim, filed in court on Oct. 17, contains allegations that are a part of a civil lawsuit. The allegations have not been tested in court.
St. Fleur was issued a $9,000 cheque by RE/MAX in April 2014, according to the statement of claim. The cheque was to return a deposit St. Fleur had paid towards a condo, using funds he had withdrawn from his Scotiabank tax-free savings account. The unit didn’t pass muster, and RE/MAX returned the funds to St. Fleur by cheque.
“I want people to know. Everyone is equal in Canada … everyone is equal. With what happened, I realized there is something that needs to be fixed. I want everybody else to know,” St. Fleur told the Star. “I'm not looking for money, but I want everybody to know about what happened so that it never happens to anybody else. There's no other reason it happened. Because I'm black. I'm black, and in the bank with a $9,000 cheque.”
In an email to the Star, Scotiabank spokesman Andrew wrote, “Unfortunately, because this matter is before the courts we can't comment on the specifics.
“It is Scotiabank's policy to treat every customer fairly and with respect regardless of race, national or ethnic origin, gender, colour, sexual orientation, or religion,” he wrote.
Scotiabank apologized personally to St. Fleur in a letter sent shortly after the incident. It offers to refund two years’ worth of banking fees to St. Fleur — which he said totals about $100.
The bank did not confirm whether it has filed a statement of defence.
St. Fleur went to the bank April 26, he says, on the way to a weekend shift at Co-Ex-Tec, where he assembles auto parts. He had several accounts with Scotiabank, including chequing, savings, a U.S. dollar account, a line of credit, Visa card and tax-free savings.
After he presented the cheque for deposit, a bank employee escorted him to her office, according to the statement of claim. She offered St. Fleur investment products, the claim says.
“I told her I was going to work. She offered me business. She wanted to invest that money for me. I said it's a good idea to invest the money but I don't have time, just deposit it for now,” he told the Star.
St. Fleur said the teller left and, soon after, police appeared to arrest him. Taken to the nearby police station, he was questioned and released once police determined the cheque was valid, according to the statement of claim.
“We are in the process of putting together our statement of defence. It is not at all unusual for lawsuit claims to fail in court,” police spokesman Mark Pugash wrote in an email to the Star. “Unfortunately, the Toronto Star often provides a platform for unproved claims but rarely, if ever, lets its readers know when those claims are judged to be baseless.”
RE/MAX’s statement said the first time it was contacted about St. Fleur’s attempt to cash the cheque was by Toronto Police and phone records show the bank had never called the real estate company.
“We were first made aware of this issue by the Toronto Police on the day of the incident. When we learned about the issue, we responded to the inquiry in a timely manner to clarify any concerns that were brought forward. We have always taken the position that the cheque was valid,” said the statement. It said RE/MAX’s legal team was speaking with St. Fleur’s lawyer at CHEW Law Firm.
“We've gone through every possible reason why they could think that the cheque Mr. St Fleur proffered was fraudulent, and there's nothing — the cheque looks fine,” said Paul Druxerman, who is representing St. Fleur. “The basis for that would have been that he's black. We couldn't find any other reason why they would suspect him of passing a fraudulent cheque.”