Gary Haupt, 69, said he was fired as the Cherry Lane Shopping Centre Santa Claus in Penticton, B.C., on Thursday because of what mall management considered to be inappropriate photos he posted on social media.
The first photo was snapped on Friday, Nov. 22 with Michelle Prystay, who operates VIP Mobile Spa. The nail technician was at Haupt’s home to paint his wife’s nails. The photograph shows Haupt reaching for her breasts.
“I finished her nails that day and he came up behind me posing for pictures and his wife took the picture, so it was just out of great humour,” she told Global News.
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The second questionable photo was taken on Saturday at the Shatford Centre Christmas market in Penticton, where Haupt tended to his Santa duties. A patron asked Haupt to take a photo with her pretending to drink from a metal flask, which she provided.
“Because I am not bright I said, ‘oh sure, I’ll do that,’” Haupt said.
“Although the cap was on the flask, the pictures were taken, and again, because I am not bright, I put them up on the Facebook page.”
Haupt also shared the photos to the Penticton community Facebook page, which has more than 19,000 members.
He believes someone offended by the photographs forwarded the images to senior management at the Cherry Lane Shopping Centre. Haupt was to resume his duties as mall Santa Claus for his second consecutive year this Saturday.
But Santa Claus won’t be coming to town. Haupt said his contract was terminated on Thursday.
“They said that there was a complaint and Facebook was mentioned so I’m going to presume that somebody was on and saw it,” he told Global News.
It isn’t Bad Santa’s first offence. Last Christmas, he was approached at the mall by a group of young women requesting a photo of Santa spanking them. He obliged.
“There was a concern expressed by somebody and so that was addressed in the spring of this year,” he said. “We were told ‘don’t do that anymore’ and we agreed, that was all fine.”
Haupt said the images were meant to be humorous.
“Life is short, right? I think that putting up pictures that show the human side of things, people having fun, I think that is important,” Haupt said.
“I just don’t feel that I should be afraid of posting pictures that mean no harm. I don’t think that anybody should be afraid of that.”
Haupt said he is disappointed by the termination and is out $5,000.
“This kind of makes me feel dirty, it kind of makes me feel like I’ve really let somebody down, like I’ve really done something I shouldn’t have done,” he said.
Prystay, one of the women in the scrutinized photos, said Haupt shouldn’t be on the naughty list.
“I don’t think that is fair at all. Not at all,” she said.
“If there are movies out there of this kind of comedy going on, this is just humour.”
Regardless of whether the photos were naughty or nice, Haupt is hoping to be reinstated.
“On one hand, I want a fairytale ending to this, I want them to phone and say ‘oh my god we made a terrible mistake, please forgive us, here’s a cheque for $5,000 come and be Santa,’ and I would do that in a heartbeat,” he said.
It’s unknown if a new Santa will be hired by Saturday.
Global News has reached out to the Cherry Lane Shopping Centre for comment.