October 29, 2014 12:30 pm
Updated: October 29, 2014 7:55 pm

‘Mistakes were made’: Edmonton mall responds after aboriginal outreach worker banned

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Watch above: Mall officials admit they made a mistake banning an aboriginal elder and Boyle Street outreach worker from the mall Monday. As Fletcher Kent reports, the mayor is even weighing in.

EDMONTON – Management of City Centre Mall said it “should have acted differently” after an Edmonton outreach worker said he was banned for six months for no reason.

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“We have reviewed the incident, including watching the video that he shared with media plus our own security video, and have spoken with the security agents involved,” said a statement from Oxford Properties Group Wednesday afternoon.

“It is clear mistakes were made and we should have acted differently.

“We have reached out to him numerous times and we are hoping that he will accept our invitation to meet so we can discuss it with him face to face and apologize to him in person.

“We have connected with the Mayor’s office and will gracefully accept their offer for workplace learning program materials for our front-line staff to enhance their cultural sensitivity,” read the statement.

Earlier Wednesday, Mayor Don Iveson addressed the incident in a post on Facebook. 

“Now that I have more details, I am concerned about the treatment that Gary Moostoos received this week at the City Centre Mall,” he wrote.

“I think all Edmontonians would be shocked to hear of any alleged discrimination based on appearance and/or association.”

(His full statement is posted below.)

Iveson and the city’s Aboriginal Relations Office offered to share reconciliation workplace learning program materials with mall staff “to enhance their cultural sensitivity.”

Moostoos, an outreach worker and spiritual elder who works with Boyle Street Community Services, said he was banned for six months from the mall for “having a bowl of soup.”

He told Global News he was eating in the food court Monday evening – something he says he does regularly – when he was approached by mall security staff.

“Halfway through, two security guards came over to my table and asked me for my name,” he recalled, “and when I inquired why they said ‘because you are observed as having suspicious activity.'”

Moostoos said the security guards told him they needed to run his name because he looked like someone who was banned from the mall.

He was asked for identification, which he handed over. Moostoos said when the guards ran his name, it came up clear.

He asked the guards: “Why are you doing this? It’s not right.”

Moostoos said he was told by a mall security manager that he has a history of being confrontational and associates with people who have been banned from the mall and have criminal backgrounds.

After a 10-minute discussion – which he captured on video – he was banned from the mall and asked to leave.

Moostoos believes he was unfairly targeted.

“I have heard this before from people that I work with here at Boyle Street,” he said.  “I’m actually living this.”

Iveson explained he didn’t respond to the situation immediately because he wanted to get in touch with mall officials, which he did Wednesday afternoon.

“My staff have connected with mall management to understand their version of events as well, and alongside our Aboriginal Relations Office we have offered to share our reconciliation workplace learning program materials with their front-line staff to enhance their cultural sensitivity. Mall management has assured us that they are reviewing their response to this incident as well as their training and sensitivity protocols.

I received some very negative feedback from community members yesterday, so I wanted to explain why I didn’t respond immediately. This issue first came to my attention via twitter yesterday morning but I did not get a link to Gary’s post until much later in the day, and it took until the afternoon to connect with mall management to hear their version of the events. I wanted to ensure I wasn’t rushing to judgement before making a public statement.

Reconciliation is a long journey, and we still have many steps to take.

We won’t end prejudice overnight, however I do hope that mall management uses this opportunity to consider its role in the larger journey of reconciliation and its role as a gathering place in the heart of our city.”

Boyle Street’s executive director is upset about what happened.

“We were really disturbed to hear about Gary being evicted from City Centre Mall by a group of security guards last night for no other reason – it seemed to us – other than he was told he was working with gangs and people with criminal backgrounds,” said Julian Daly.

“As far as we’re concerned, that’s part of his work.”

Moostoos shared his story on Facebook and it quickly spread across social media.

Oxford Properties Group, which owns City Centre Mall, did not want to participate in an on-camera interview with Global News, but issued the following statement Tuesday:

“Our top priority is to ensure that Edmonton City Centre is a safe and positive environment for customers to visit and shop.

In response to an incident that occurred on October 27, 2014, the management of Edmonton City Centre is committing to review the interaction between our security team and an individual who was subsequently banned from the property.

Management will be conducting an investigation that will include reviewing the engagement by security, the policies we have in place and the training we provide.

We will also be reaching out to the individual to request a meeting as part of this review.”

Daly welcomes the opportunity to sit down and speak with officials from the mall.

He says, while it’s the first time a Boyle Street staff member has been banned from the mall, he’s heard about it happening to clients.

“A number of our clients – and it seems to be particularly Aboriginal clients – are asked to leave the mall or barred for reasons that are either unclear or seem to be almost non-existent.”

He believes Moostoos was not given the respect he deserves.

“It makes me quite angry to be honest,” said Daly.

“A good man like Gary, a spiritual elder – he’s like our priest – being forcibly remove from the mall as a result of the work he does here at Boyle Street… incredible work he does with some of the most marginalized Aboriginal people.”

“Gary has done a lot of great work using culture and spirituality as a way to support people out of gangs and away from criminal behaviours,” added Daly.

He said the entire experience has taken a toll on Moostoos.

“I think it’s been hard for Gary. He was very distressed… It was a very humiliating experience for him to be escorted out in front of hundreds of people from the mall.”

“It’s shameful.”

“I felt small,” said Moostoos, wiping away tears. “I didn’t get emotional until after I thought about it.”

“I was asking myself ‘what just happened here?’ And I thought ‘oh my god, this is exactly how my people feel on a daily basis here.'”

“I went home and cried.”

Watch below: Aboriginal outreach worker says he was banned from City Centre Mall

Officials with Oxford Properties Group said they have asked to meet with Moostoos as they look into what happened Monday night.

Global News has also reached out to Garda security and is waiting for a response.

“I think it’s a learning opportunity for everybody,” said Iveson.

“We do have real bridges to build and as long as there are incidents like this, it illustrates there’s still work to be done,” said the mayor. “But again, I want to emphasize that the mall appears to be open to that.”

“In order to have reconciliation, you have to go through the pain, the fear, the racism, all that crap,” said Moostoos on Wednesday afternoon.

“This is the beginning of opening up what needs to be opened.”

*NOTE: This article was originally posted on October 28. It was updated on October 29 to include Mayor Don Iveson’s comments.

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