Black businessman’s legitimacy questioned by TD Bank

By Lincoln DePradine

For almost one year, Akeem Gardner had been doing business with TD Bank. Never had there been a problem between the 29-year-old businessman and the bank, until a few weeks ago when he tried to transfer $35,000.

Akeem Gardner

According to Gardner’s report of what happened, it wasn’t the amount of money that was really the source of his problem but how he looked – a 6’4’’ Black man.

“I went in my hoodie (and) a toque on,’’ Gardner told John Lancaster, senior reporter with CBC News. “I was incorrectly flagged as someone who was doing illicit business.’’

Atlas 365, Gardner’s company, is located near Orangeville. It’s licensed by Health Canada to cultivate industrial hemp, which is used to make plant-based textiles, foods, natural medicine and carbon-neutral building materials.

Gardner opened his TD business account in November 2018. Normally, he said, he would visit the bank, wearing business attire. He alleged that he was flagged, because he was dressed casually in hoodie and toque, while attempting the $35,000 transfer.

He reportedly was told that a TD employee had looked at his company’s website and assumed the entrepreneur was breaking the law. Consequently, instead of approving his transfer, the bank froze his business account and his credit card.

“They told me they were shutting down my account and they weren’t going to let me operate anymore because I was running a business the bank didn’t support,’’ he said. “A lot of these assumptions are made when it comes to minorities.’’

The bank has since admitted there was a “misunderstanding’’, with spokesman Paolo Pasquini telling CBC News that TD is in touch with Gardner “to resolve this matter’’.

Profiling of Black people in banking is not unusual. In one case, in 2014, Haitian-Canadian Frantz St. Fleur was arrested on suspicion of passing a fraudulent cheque at a branch of Scotiabank.

Reports were that St. Fleur was trying 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.

The cheque, which was valid, was from a refunded real estate deposit after a condo purchase fell through.

Scotiabank, in a statement, said “the treatment of Mr St. Fleur was unacceptable and we have apologized’’.

St. Fleur filed a lawsuit claiming more than $225,000 in damages. In the suit, he named Scotiabank, the Toronto Police Services Board and Re/Max Community Realty Inc.