TORONTO — Mary McCarthy sits in her Fredericton, N.B. home and flips through her published thesis on the subtleties of racism in Canada, reflecting on her own experience with racial profiling.
It happened back in May 2011 while McCarthy was studying at the University of Toronto. She walked into a Shoppers Drug Mart near Bloor Street West and Spadina Avenue to buy mouthwash.
The product had been recommended by a co-worker and McCarthy reached into her backpack where she had kept the packaging so she could remember to purchase the exact same brand.
“The Shoppers Drug Mart staff came up to me and stood over me and demanded I open my backpack and show her what was in my backpack,” said McCarthy, adding that she felt she was being racially profiled and believes the employee assumed she was stealing.
When McCarthy refused to open the bag, the employee looked inside but found nothing. The experience left McCarthy stunned and humiliated.
“My mind was racing trying to understand what was going on and trying to understand the situation,” she said.
McCarthy then made the purchase and held onto the receipt. As it turns out, that receipt helped her win a case at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario years later.
Months passed, McCarthy moved back home to Fredericton, but the memory of what happened that day at Shoppers Drug Mart continued to haunt her.
A year later, after some encouragement from her niece, McCarthy filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. And won.
The tribunal ruled that Mary McCarthy had been singled out by the employee because she is black.
The ruling ordered Shoppers Drug Mart to pay $8,000 to McCarthy for the racial profiling and discrimination she faced.
“This also holds out hope for people in Ontario that are members of racialized groups that you can succeed in front of a tribunal and this is exactly what Ms. McCarthy did,” said Beth Walden, a lawyer at the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.
“Well, it’s a little tick mark for me and for others and for all racialized and all other beings that they have a right. I never left that store because I did nothing wrong,” McCarthy said.
“The saying is lives matter. Black lives matter. People matter. And you have to stand up for yourself when you know you’ve done nothing wrong, when you know there are subtleties of racism and discrimination, you need to stand up for yourself as hard as it is.”
Shoppers Drug Mart released a statement in response to the ruling.
“Shoppers Drug Mart is committed to being inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible in our interactions with each other and with our customers,” it read.
“The actions of this employee described in this case do not reflect the core values of Shoppers Drug Mart.”
The company also said it does makes diversity training available to its pharmacy owners in order to educate staff.
The employee involved in McCarthy’s case is no longer employed by the store.