The simple act of going to the grocery store near her home alone is something Calgary woman Tianna Hay is now too afraid to do, after she was spit on and called a racial slur by a stranger outside a Dollarama in the northeast.
The incident happened back in February, but Hay shared through tears on Thursday how the racist attack has impacted her life in ways she didn’t know were possible, including making her feel paranoid and anxious in her daily life.
“An unmasked stranger, who felt that my blackness was a menace to his presence, thought it’d be OK to assault me. He locked eyes with me, approached me and spat in my face and body. Shortly after shouting: ‘You N-word.’”
Hay said the stranger then repeated himself: “Yeah, I called you an effing N-word.”
The 22-year-old Jamaican-Canadian said she can’t escape the memory of his voice and the image of his face.
“That racial slur is not something that I savour or retain in my vocabulary. It carries centuries of anguish and hostility towards people that came before me and who look just like me.”
Police are investigating the incident, which happened at the Dollarama in the 5400 block of Temple Drive Northeast at around 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 11, and hoping to identify the man believed to be involved.
Hay was approaching the entrance of the store and was about to walk inside, but police said she paused when she noticed there was a man exiting, which is when he yelled and spat at her.
“Being a Black woman in Canada has its struggles. I’ve been stereotyped on multiple occasions – more than I can count. Whether it be being racially profiled as a retail employee follows me around the store assuming I’m going to shoplift, along with discrimination and systematic biases that are still prevalent in today’s society,” she said while speaking to media, supported by her sister.
“But never, until Feb. 11, 2021, on my own mother’s birthday, did I have another human being completely disregard my right to decency and respect.”
“In the worst possible way, I was racially targeted simply because of the dark brown complexion of my skin.”
Hay said she now won’t to go to the store to simply get necessities alone, for fear she will be the target of another attack.
“I feel humiliated, dehumanized, disempowered and silenced to this day,” she said.
“I have to frequently remind myself that I did not instigate or provoke such an indecent offence.
“It has become impossible for me to shop at my local grocery store, just three minutes away from my home, in a community that I grew up in and love. This is now a luxury that I can no longer afford and no longer feel safe doing.”
Investigators used CCTV footage from the scene to determine what the man looked like and distributed photos of him to other officers and Calgary Transit employees, but haven’t been able to identify him.
Police also said a sample of the saliva from the victim’s clothing was submitted to an RCMP DNA laboratory in hopes of obtaining a match.
“Results from such tests can take several months to obtain and we are still waiting for information,” the news release stated.
The suspect is described as being about six feet tall with a medium build. At the time of the incident, he had on a grey jacket and was carrying a white plastic bag.
On Thursday, police released photos of the suspect to the public.
Sr. Const. Craig Collins with the hate crimes unit said the police service is seeing an uptick in hateful behaviour.
“We are seeing an increase in hate-motivated coming through the service. That’s a trend that’s being followed… through all police services in North America and if you look further,” he said.
Collins said in light of high-profile incidents where people of colour have been targeted, such as the death of George Floyd, people are becoming more aware of what constitutes a hate crime.
In Canada, if hate is deemed to be a motivating factor of a crime, it is considered by the courts and can be a factor in a person’s sentence, if they’re found guilty.
Anyone with information on his identity is asked to call the Calgary Police Service’s non-emergency line at 403-266-1234 or to contact Crime Stoppers anonymously.