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‘I felt they were incredibly condescending and belittling’

Residents fired up after town hall regarding closure of Scotiabank’s Pemberton branch
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CLOSING UP Residents protested Scotiabank’s planned closure of its Pemberton location in January and were further frustrated with executives’ conduct during a bank-led telephone town hall on Feb. 9.

Already frustrated by Scotiabank’s surprise decision to close its location in Pemberton, clients of the doomed branch felt no better after taking part in a telephone town hall organized by the bank on Feb. 9.

According to participants, the overwhelming question they wanted answered was why the decision to shutter the branch in July, amalgamating its services into its Whistler location, was made.

“I was hoping they would provide some rationale,” N’Quatqua’s Rebecca Barley told Pique. “Being a business owner myself and being committed to a board of directors on many levels, I thought there must be some background and justification.

“I’m not asking for intimate, confidential details, but something.”

Those on the call said Scotiabank representatives Zak Khokhar, District Vice President for the Pemberton area, Tamara Van den Brink, Regional Vice President for BC & Yukon Region, and Jon Davey, National Director Aboriginal Financial Services were of little help.  

“They would never answer a direct question,” Barley said. “It may as well have been a robot repeating an answer to everybody’s comment.”

Meanwhile, Chelsey Herechuk, who said she’s in the bank four to five times a week on business, described a back-and-forth where callers asked for a reason for the closure, received a vague response, and when pressing the issue, got the same answer prefaced with a “We will say it again…” or “If you didn’t hear us before.”

“It was such an awful experience, in my opinion,” she said. “They told us it was too complex.

“Why is it complex? We’re not small-town, Hicksville Pemberton here. There are many well-educated people in this community and it came off as very belittling.”

‘I just told them exactly how I felt’

Herechuk was the second-last person to speak and took no prisoners. 

“At that point, I didn’t really have any questions. I just told them exactly how I felt. I was angry at that point,” she said. “I felt they were incredibly condescending and belittling. They weren’t giving anyone a clear answer.

“I felt, at this point, that they were only doing this to cover their bases.”

At the end of the call, laughter was heard, with many in attendance assuming it was the bank’s representatives as participants’ lines were muted by default. Reached via email, bank spokesperson Daniela Da Silva was uncertain about the noise.

“We’re unaware of any background noise at the end of the call, and we regret if any participants experienced a disruption,” she wrote.

Other reported issues were that the town hall started 15 minutes late, that the representatives were ill-prepared to answer some questions including about the future of leaving an automated banking machine in the community and that at least 10 people who wished to speak were not allowed to do so before the call ended. Da Silva noted only that the bank fielded as many questions as possible and discussions will continue in the months to come.

Herechuk and Barley also expressed frustration that the session was held exclusively on the telephone and not in conjunction with a video program like Zoom. 

“It would have been more personable,” Herechuk said. “This way just sort of felt, unfortunately, really scripted. It felt like they were sitting in front of computer screens reading what they were told to respond to the basic questions they figured they were going to be receiving.”

Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman was the last to speak. He’s expressed his frustration with the bank ever since news broke that it was closing and said the bank’s refusal to provide answers fuelled an already upset group.

During his speech, Richman suggested the bank provide 10 laptops to the local library, which the bank agreed to do. 

“I think I threw them a bit of a bone,” Richman said during his report during the Village of Pemberton regular council meeting on Feb. 16. “I gave them an out by making this ask, and so they were pretty quick to say yes.”

Richman said he followed up with the bank and asked for some extra computers to distribute to local Indigenous communities, adding that he wants to ensure machines provided are appropriate for needs. He said during the council meeting that he was still awaiting a response.

What’s next

While Barley, who has served as an elected official in various capacities for two decades, said she won’t be overly affected by the change she is concerned for community members who will have to drive to Whistler to bank.

She felt the lack of consultation before the announced branch closure violated at least a “moral obligation” to clients and, especially, remote Indigenous communities like hers, during a time of truth and reconciliation.

“There was zero consultation or notification from Scotiabank that this was closing,” she said. “I think that Canada has a responsibility to protect us. Things always just kind of happen, this is just another one, and the most impacted will be the remote communities that are serviced by Pemberton.”

In terms of what clients can expect upon closure, Da Silva said the bank is still firming up details to leave a bank machine.

“We are continuing to work with the community to find a location for the ABM and will keep all customers informed once the details are finalized,” Da Silva wrote.

In addition to the 10 laptops, she also highlighted other pledges, including a pledge of $25,000 to the community over five years, including continued support for the Pemberton & District Chamber of Commerce.