The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has ordered a Toronto restaurant to pay one of its former patrons $10,000 after it found a young Black customer was racially profiled.
Emile Wickham said he and three friends went for dinner on his birthday at Hong Shing Restaurant, near Bay and Dundas streets, in May 2014.
After placing their order, he said the group was told they would have to pre-pay for their meals. When they asked why, they were told it was standard procedure.
“It still didn’t sit right with me, so I decided to get up and approach the different tables,” Wickham recounted.
“I found out we were the only ones who were asked to pay for our meals beforehand.”
Wickham said he realized his group of friends were the only Black people in the restaurant, and that’s when he felt they had been targeted because of their race.
When he questioned the waiter, Wickham said the server conceded that theirs was the only group who had pre-paid, and instead of apologizing or explaining why, asked if they wanted a refund.
“We left the restaurant feeling frustrated and rejected, all because of what the employees thought we were capable of doing, just based on the colour of our skin,” Wickham said.
After the incident, he filed a human rights complaint with the help of the Human Right Legal Support Centre.
The restaurant owners did not appear at the hearing, but did file a response through their lawyer.
Part of the statement reads: “Unfortunately it was very common in the past that customers ‘dine and dash'[….] Accordingly, the respondent many years ago adopted a policy that where the staff on duty did not know the patron as a regular customer, they would ask for pre-payment for the food being ordered before it was served. There was never any intent to discriminate against the applicant.”
This month, an adjudicator ruled in favour of Wickham, deciding he had been racially profiled.
In the decision, Esi Codjoe wrote, “The respondent’s employees’ conduct suggests that their treatment of the applicant was motivated by a stereotype that Black persons are criminal, or deviant.”
“We’re very pleased with the tribunal decision,” Roger Love, who served as Wickham’s lawyer in the case, said.
“It serves as notice that whether you run a restaurant or a clothing store, discrimination won’t be tolerated.”
In a statement posted to Twitter, the manager and owner of Hong Shing wrote, “We are deeply concerned about the situation and the people affected, with an added consideration that the reported claim occurred four years ago when the restaurant was under different management.”
Some media reports have suggested that the new manager is the son of the previous owners.
The owner’s statement goes on to say the tribunal outcome is under appeal, and that staff are “dedicated to be a committed, inclusive and responsible member of the community.”