TORONTO – Ontario’s human rights tribunal has ordered a downtown Toronto restaurant to pay $10,000 to a black man for violating his rights after the establishment asked him and three friends to pre-pay for their meal.
The tribunal heard Emile Wickham, who identifies himself as an Afro-Caribbean, went to the Chinese restaurant with three friends – all of whom were black – early on May 3, 2014, to celebrate his birthday.
Wickham told the tribunal that after the server took their orders, he and his friends were told that a restaurant policy meant they had to pay for their meals before receiving them, which they did.
He said he was unsettled by the request and asked other patrons if they had been asked to pre-pay as well. Wickham told the tribunal that none of the patrons he spoke to said they had been required to pay for their meals in advance.
In its ruling, the tribunal said the restaurant did not offer a credible non-discriminatory reason for its employees’ conduct and found Wickham had been racially profiled.
Wickham recounted the incident while speaking with Global News on Monday.
“We were asking them, ‘How could you do this to us? This is not right,’ and we were very clear in that,” he said.
“But even then, we had to watch our responses to them because we are black. We can’t show our frustration as somebody else would because we’re seen as aggressive.”
When asked whether this was the result he was looking for, Wickham said no. He explained he was looking for an apology and for the restaurant to commit to anti-discrimination training.
“Hopefully by bringing attention to the cause, not only are they forced to reckon with their decisions, but I hope it opens a national dialogue… on how black Canadians are treated and also how Indigenous peoples in Canada are treated,” Wickham said.
The Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant was ordered to pay Wickham $10,000 as compensation for infringing his rights and for the injury to his dignity, feelings and self-respect.
“This case illustrates that the restaurant did not extend the applicant the benefit of the doubt, or assumption of his decency as a black person, rather he was presumed to be deviant,” the tribunal’s ruling stated.
“In essence, the applicant was presumed to be a potential thief in waiting despite any evidence to that effect.”
Global News reached out to the restaurant and received a statement from Colin Li, owner and manager.
“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,” the statement read in part.
“There are a number of sensitivities and considerations about this situation, and for that reason, the tribunal outcome is under appeal by legal representatives. At this time, we cannot comment further beyond emphasizing that the current owner and staff are dedicated to be a committed, inclusive and responsible member of the community.”
From Wickham’s evidence, the tribunal said it was evident that the incident had a profound impact on him.
“It has fundamentally changed the way that he perceives Toronto, and the level of the city’s inclusiveness,” the ruling stated, noting that Wickham feels less accepted in the city as a result.
“The incident was a rude awakening.”
— With files from Shallima Maharaj