Protesters challenging the sale of costumes depicting stereotypes of First Nations people in Montreal stores ended up stuck with a hefty bill Friday night.
According to organizer Jessica Deer, police made the group pay $1,500 or face arrest for mischief for affixing stickers reading "We're not costumes: Say no to cultural appropriation" to the packaging of numerous costumes at one store.
"I got out my credit card, and now we have 20 of the most ridiculous costumes that are worth over $1,500," she told CBC News in an interview.
Montreal police spokesman Const. Benoit Boisselle said he did not have information about the incident.
'Inaccurate and dehumanizing'
The tour of stores was organized by the Kahnawake Youth Forum along with the group Missing Justice, which works to combat violence and discrimination against Indigenous women.
One group visited stores in the downtown core, and another went to stores in the Plateau–Mont-Royal neighbourhood.
"We were targeting not only the consumers of these costumes but the managers of stores that sell them," Deer said.
Earlier on Friday, Deer told CBC News that the groups wanted to help generate a broader understanding that such costumes are "deeply offensive" to Indigenous peoples.
"When they're highly inaccurate and dehumanizing — the way a lot of these Halloween costumes are — all they do is create more layers of misinformation about who we really are as Indigenous people," Deer said.
She acknowledged it can be a difficult conversation to have with store managers and people who buy the costumes.
"Even when they don't have harmful intentions, they're still perpetuating these harmful stereotypes of our people," Deer said.
'We don't want to feel like we're, like, the buzzkill police, but this is just a small thing that we feel can have a positive impact.' - Jessica Deer, member of the Kahnawake Youth Forum
Deer said she once spoke to a store manager herself about the sale of offensive costumes, and it didn't go well.
"He mentioned how he was Egyptian and how he wasn't offended by Egyptian costumes. He said 'What's next? Are people going to be offended by clowns and other costumes?'"
"I walked out of that store feeling like I didn't accomplish anything and I didn't convince him of anything. I felt even worse about myself," Deer said.
Deer said such costumes are especially offensive in light of the federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
"There's a lot of those stereotypical 'Poca-hottie' costumes is what we call them, and that hypersexualizes, victimizes and exploits Indigenous women," she said.
The Kahnawake Youth Forum has been mounting a sticker campaign against such costumes for a few years, but this is the first time they visited stores in person, Deer explained.
Deer said attitudes are starting to change. She said the point of today's tour is to get a conversation going without being too heavy-handed.
"We don't want to feel like we're, like, the buzzkill police, but this is just a small thing that we feel can have a positive impact," she said.