An aboriginal outreach worker said he is not yet ready to meet with officials from an Edmonton mall after he was banned from the property, in what he believes was a case of racial profiling.
“I need time. I’m going to be going home to family this weekend. Just process this, and pray and give them a call on Monday,” Gary Moostoos told CBC News Wednesday.
He said he was quietly eating in the mall’s food court Monday afternoon when he was approached by two security officers who accused him of acting suspiciously and of having previously been banned from the building.
They also said he had been seen associating with others who had caused trouble in the mall. Moostoos told them he works as an outreach worker for a local shelter and often speaks with homeless people who gather in the mall.
Moostoos said he was falsely accused of being aggressive with a mall supervisor in the past, was escorted from the property and banned for six months.
“It was humiliating and it hurt me,” he said.
Following a social media backlash, Oxford Properties Group, which manages the mall, sent out a release apologizing to Moostoos on Wednesday.
“It is clear mistakes were made and we should have acted differently,” Greg Burns, Oxford’s marketing director, wrote.
Burns declined an interview, but did say that the ban would be lifted once the mall was able to meet with Moostoos.
Moostoos said he has received support from people across the country, many of whom have shared their own experiences with being targeted or profiled in Canada.
“People across the country are outraged and they are talking about what is going on,” he said.
“It’s just a lot of sharing of a lot of the pain. You’re feeling that hurt.”
He said while he is still feeling shaken by what happened, he feels the news of his experience has forced others to think about the prejudices faced by First Nations in Canada and how they can be changed.
“In order to get to the light, you have to go through the storm,” he said.
Profiling 'typical' in city
Moostoos’ allegations of being targeted by security because of his race are not surprising for many members of Edmonton’s aboriginal community.
Joseph Cardinal, who spent Wednesday at a job fair geared towards First Nations job-seekers, said he feels he is watched closely by security officers and police “almost on a daily basis.”
“It doesn't really surprise me, it’s kind of typical,” he said.
Cardinal said he has frequently been followed by undercover security at shopping malls and stores. He also says he has been approached by security on Edmonton’s public transit system, while friends who are not visibly aboriginal have been ignored.
HEAR: Edmontonians on their experiences being racially profiled
And others, like Cindy Breland, said they get the same treatment from others around Edmonton.
"Body language, they will turn away, they will grab their bag and put it close to you,” she said.
"There are several indicators that I've seen where I'm like 'that's them, it's not me.'"
Rob Houle, a liaison with the Confederacy of Treaty Six Nations, has called on the mall to be open about how it trains its security staff and about its policies on dealing with minorities.
He said the mall is “in the heart of Treaty Six territory” and it is visited by many aboriginal people.
“We don’t feel our membership, or any First nation’s person … should be treated that way without due process,” Houle said.
A 'much deeper' problem, mayor says
Mayor Don Iveson, who in March proclaimed a year of reconciliation in Edmonton, said he was disappointed to hear about the incident.
“I’m not happy hearing about any citizen of our city experiencing discrimination based on who they associate with or what they look like,” he said.
Iveson said he has heard many complaints and concerns from aboriginal people in the city who feel singled out or ostracized.
“This is not the first time I’ve heard that," he said. "This is a much deeper."
Iveson said the city has recently been developing its materials to help train its staff in cultural sensitivity and that he has offered to share that material with City Centre Mall staff.
Burns said the mall has accepted the offer.