Is the Laurentian Bank racist?

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While the United States economy is traveling a rocky road, a few stones would seem to be traveling our way. I say seem because the Laurentian Bank’s policies came into effect before the extent of the U.S. financial problems became public.

Essentially the bank is denying loans based on postal codes. Almost all Aboriginal reserves are targeted by the new policy. The bank, itself, has admitted most of them are for reserves but denies it is discriminating against First Nations people.

Gladys Caron, Vice-President Public Affairs, said the list is just a cautionary signal when making a loan. She said no one is automatically denied just because of their postal code.

This statement doesn’t explain Calvin Blacksmith being refused. The Mistissini resident is a police director on a four-year leave while he is a band councillor. He is a partner in a Mistissini sports store that is doing well. He owns his own house in Mistissini. The kicker is that five years ago he had a loan with the Laurentian Bank while living in Chibougamau. Blacksmith was refused a loan to buy an ATV and said he was upset because the bank didn’t even look at his credit history.

The list, created this year, only applies to people buying all-terrain vehicles from third-party merchants that finance the sale with the bank said the Laurentian Bank.

This may surprise Blacksmith who says he has a relative who was looking to buy a boat but was also refused. This relative was also a successful business owner. One wonders what standards First Nations people are being held to when applying for a loan.

Radio-Canada reported they had an internal bank e-mail that instructed Laurentian Bank employees to “refuse such files for all reasons and mention that we no longer serve that zone or postal code” and “never to say that we refuse because it’s an Indian reserve” and to avoid the terms “Indian reserves, Indians and Native.”

This implies the Laurentian Bank knew there might be problems or even that it acted improperly. It is certainly seen that way by anti-racist groups. Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, said residents may consider bringing the matter up before the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

While the bank may consider its actions just good business one would expect that banks would consider loan applications case by case and base their decision on a person’s credit history.

Caron said banks have concerns about loans to people who live on reserves because the land and assets there are “community owned.” This implies that it is too difficult to seize assets to repay the loan.

There are ways around that said a Grand Council source making it a moot point. One incident in the south shows this is not a problem that is just related to reserves. A person locked their car in the garage so it couldn’t be repossessed. It would have been trespassing to get the car said the police in that case. It required court action to get the car. In the same way wages can be garnisheed on the reserve as well as a host of other alternatives.

In the end, this is not an issue of who to lend money to or a free speech issue but an issue of whether or not the bank is doing something illegal and being discriminatory.

If a bank in the U.S. systematically refused loans to any and all with a zip code (postal code) in Harlem, New York or Roxbury, Boston then there would be race riots. It would clearly be seen as racist.

So the question here is simply whether or not the Laurentian Bank is being racist or engaging in racial profiling. If you think so and are against racism or just the bank’s policy then take your money out of the bank and never use their ATM’s unless it is a dire emergency.

Personally I think the policy is one that Laurentian Bank is regretting at the moment that it went public and it should. If you have bad credit then the bank should refuse you a loan and if you have good credit then it has the option to finance you. But it should never be done in the manner it has been by the Laurentian Bank.

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