A Metro Vancouver woman with albinism has launched a human rights complaint against a popular chain restaurant, saying the restaurant's "albino" branding of menu items is going too far.
Ikponwosa (I.K.) Ero filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal against Earls Restaurants over its "Albino Rhino" line of beer and "Albino Wings Wednesdays."
The complaint alleges that the marketing of the "Albino" line is demeaning to Ero and all people with the genetic condition known as albinism and is being done deliberately to evoke a sense of oddness about being albino.
Ero said naming menu items after medical or genetic conditions is not commonly acceptable.
"You go into a restaurant and someone says, 'Can I get a palsy? Give me a palsy,'" she said. "And what it stands for is a cerebral palsy cocktail. I don't think that would fly well at all with anybody with cerebral palsy, or their families, who have to live with the condition.
"So how does it work, in [the case of albinism] that you can market food with a medical condition?"
In her complaint, Ero noted that she was born in Nigeria, where people with albinism are often targeted for ritualistic murder. The threat of violent persecution was part of the reason she and her family fled to Canada when she was a teenager.
Earls defends 'Albino' branding
Mark Barry, vice-president of human resources with Earls Restaurants, issued a statement that said Earls created and named its house beer "Albino Rhino" 25 years ago and in no way meant to be discriminatory or offend.
"The name was chosen because it was fun and whimsical in sound and denoted something rare and special – we felt proud to have such a beautiful animal, the white rhino, representing our brand," Barry said.
"It did not occur to us that the name would be associated with albinism, nor did it occur to us it would offend, and in the 25 years we have been serving our beer we have never had a complaint about the name until now."
He said Earls does not believe that the use of the white rhino logo on beer or the name Albino Rhino reflects any intended or unintended discrimination against people with albinism.
Albinism is caused by one of several genetic variations that make the body unable to either produce or distribute melanin, the substance that gives colour to hair, skin and the iris of the eyes.