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Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission issues reminder to retailers about anti-discrimination law

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission is reminding companies that discrimination is illegal.
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission is reminding companies that discrimination is illegal. Getty Images

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission issued a statement on Wednesday reminding the province’s retailers that under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, it is illegal to discriminate against people based on their race or colour.

Jeff Overmars, a spokesperson with the commission, told Global News the press release was unrelated to the arrest of Santina Rao, a Halifax woman who says her interaction with police at a store last week left her with a broken wrist, a concussion and injuries to her neck and arms.

“The commission has received a number of inquiries related to consumer racial profiling over the past several months,” Overmars said in an email.

“This is an ongoing trend reported regularly in the media and is preventable through education.”

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Rao, 23, alleges she was racially profiled by workers and physically abused by Halifax Regional Police (HRP) after she was reportedly accused of “concealing items” while at a Walmart on Mumford Road.

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READ MORE: Halifax mother alleges she was racially profiled at store, ‘aggressively punched’ by police officer

According to Rao, she paid for all her items in the electronics section of the store except for her produce, which had to be weighed.

After stopping at the toy section on her way to the cashier, Rao says she was approached by HRP officers and Walmart staff, who allegedly claimed she was “concealing items.”

Rao says she urged officers and staff to check her bag, but they declined and asked for her identification. When she refused, Rao alleges officers used “excessive force” to put her in handcuffs.

A video shot by a bystander shows Rao being thrown to the ground. It has been widely shared on social media.

Halifax mother says she was physically assaulted by Halifax police
Halifax mother says she was physically assaulted by Halifax police

The HRP have since referred the incident to Nova Scotia’s independent police watchdog.

On Tuesday the Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT) confirmed they are now investigating Rao’s arrest.

In response to a social media post from Rao about the incident, HRP issued a statement last Thursday in relation to her arrest.

Global News reached out to the Walmart on Mumford Road for comment on the incident but did not receive a response.

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Police apologize for decades of discrimination against black community in N.S.
Police apologize for decades of discrimination against black community in N.S.

The commission also took the opportunity to promote a free online course aimed at educating front-line service staff about how to prevent racial profiling, which it says more than 15,000 people have taken since 2017.

“Consumer racial profiling appears as a variety of behaviours targeting individuals who may be seen as a visible minority,” the agency’s statement said.

“They include refusal of service, degrading comments, following in stores and searching without cause.”

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In 2013, a human rights commission survey of 1,200 Nova Scotians found members of visible minority groups were three times more likely to be followed and four times more likely to be searched while shopping.

— With files from the Canadian Press and Global News’ Alexa Maclean and Aya Al-Hakim