Woman alleges racism at Regina Walmart; retailer concludes claim ‘unsubstantiated’

Joyce Keepness is calling for an apology after an investigation into a 2021 incident at Walmart called her claims of racism "unsubstantiated". Dave Parsons / Global News

After receiving the results of an investigation into what she calls a “racist” incident at a Regina Walmart, Joyce Keepness is calling for an apology from the retailer.

“I’m disappointed, I have to say,” the 69-year-old Saulteaux elder said at a media event held in the Walmart’s parking lot Friday morning. She added she’d like a chance to talk to the employees she alleges caused the incident about her culture as well.

In a report outlining the conclusions of the investigation, a Walmart Canada investigator called the claims “unsubstantiated,” and said its discrimination and harassment policy was not violated and that no significant action would be taken against the employees involved.

Keepness was joined by several supporters and colleagues Friday morning. Dave Parsons / Global News

Keepness said she was shopping at the Walmart on Prince of Wales Drive on Oct. 21, 2021. She spoke to an employee about buying $1,000 in gift cards but said that the employee was skeptical about the purchase.

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“He looked at me and said ‘what do you want them for?’ I said ‘gifts’. I was shocked,” Keepness said.

“He said ‘you know there’s people scamming old people. You know you could be buying them for someone who is going to scam old people.'”

She said the employee then told her that the gift cards weren’t in stock that day, which the Walmart investigator also stated in her conclusions.

However, Keepness said that soon after, on that same day, a light-skinned coworker went to the same Walmart by herself and “got the gift cards, no question.”

Keepness says she returned to the Walmart with the coworker afterward to confront the employee.

“I said ‘is it because her skin is white and mine is brown?’ And instead of talking to me, I didn’t exist again. He started talking to her and trying to explain his reasoning,” Keepness said. “I thought that was so ignorant of him because I was standing right there.”

The whole experience motivated Keepness to contact the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism (SCAR), which helped her file a formal complaint about the incident with Walmart Canada.

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An internal investigation ensued over the following months and was concluded in March of this year.

The Walmart investigator said in her report that “this value of gift cards (at or over $1000) can raise concern that the purchaser may be a victim of fraud. In such circumstances, the associate may contact a manager to take appropriate steps to help safeguard the customer.”

The investigator added that the employees in question have been informed they should have contacted a manager in the case, instead of “inquiring directly” with Keepness.

Click to play video: 'Woman scammed out of $5,000, warning others'
Woman scammed out of $5,000, warning others

In a statement, a Walmart spokesperson added that “we take concerns of this nature seriously and investigate them thoroughly.”

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“The customer was contacted and spoken with as part of the investigation into the alleged incident. She was also provided with a copy of the results in March 2022. The investigation did not substantiate that the customer was treated in a discriminatory manner. There appeared to be a misunderstanding about our processes related to ordering large quantities of gift cards.”

Keepness called the incident just another in a long line of racist experiences she’s endured throughout her life.

“At times I’ve even said ‘is it my white hair?’ Do I look like some stupid old FN woman who won’t speak up,” Keepness told reporters.

“It’s not a good feeling to go into a place and have that happen to you. I don’t think I’ll ever go to another Walmart unless there are changes.”

“Hopefully as a community we can come together, various cultures and races, to carry on Joyce’s efforts,” SCAR President Bob Hughes added.

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