Manitoba

'You're not welcome here': Winnipeg couple told they 'look like' thieves, asked to leave Winnipeg craft store

Desiree McIvor wants to see changes in how retail employees interact with Indigenous people

Posted: December 20, 2019

Desiree McIvor says she and her partner were asked to leave a Michaels craft store on Monday after a staff member said they looked like people who had stolen from the store earlier. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

A Winnipeg woman was hoping to buy a Christmas gift for her grandmother at a craft store earlier this week but was told she wasn't welcome to shop in the store.

Desiree McIvor and her partner were out shopping on Monday afternoon and stopped at the Michaels store on Regent Avenue West.

"We weren't even in the door for about five seconds and this lady approached us and I thought it was going to be the usual 'Hey, do you need any help or assistance?'" said McIvor, a member of Sagkeeng First Nation.

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"She said, 'Well, you're not welcome here and you guys have to leave.'"

"I was in complete shock, I couldn't believe what she said."

McIvor, who is eight months pregnant, said the employee then accused the couple of stealing from the store earlier that day.

"She said right to my face, 'You guys look like people who robbed us this morning,'" she said. "It was humiliating because everybody in the store stopped and stared at us."

McIvor said they tried to explain to the employee that they had never been to the store before but the employee insisted they leave. 

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"I felt like I had no rights. It felt like I was two feet tall and I was just tiny. It felt like I didn't matter."

Desiree McIvor is in the process of filing a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission against a Michaels store. She wants the store to implement measures so what happened to her doesn't happen to anyone else. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

McIvor said they asked to speak to a manager, and the employee said that she was a manager, so they decided to leave the store.

McIvor's partner called the store from the parking lot and asked for the general manager to try and make a formal complaint. That manager then admitted the employee made a mistake, McIvor said.

"They just apologized and said we can shop, get a discount for the day, but at that point, who wants to spend your hard earned money when somebody just basically straight out called you a thief?"

A spokeswoman for Michaels said the chain is committed to treating customers with dignity and respect but would not elaborate on their store policies surrounding these kinds of events, or say what recourse a customer has if they feel mistreated.

"We are open to all and do not tolerate discrimination against any guest or team member and take any conduct to the contrary very seriously," said Mallory Smith, manager of public relations at Michaels.

"We are actively investigating the situation and will take appropriate action as necessary."

'It was that we were Indigenous'

McIvor, a 31-year-old university student, said she's been followed around stores in the past, something she says is common for Indigenous people, but has never been asked to leave.

McIvor said she and her partner felt like they were racially profiled and singled out because of their appearance.

"The thing I didn't hear was, 'You are the people that stole from us and you need to leave.' It was, 'You look like, you resemble, those people,' and I didn't think that was fair," she said.

"I'm pretty sure she meant it was that we were Indigenous." 

Michaels said it is investigating the incident and take matters of discrimination seriously. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

McIvor said she went on Google reviews to write about her experience and found that she wasn't alone.

"I noticed that in the last year, there was more than one Indigenous person who had made a bad review," she said.

"I wonder how many people they've done that to before, and how many after me?"

McIvor said she won't ever shop at the store again, and is in the process of filing a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. She wants the store to change its policies so this doesn't happen to anyone else.

"I want them to stop treating Indigenous people… grouping them all together in the same category and saying because one stole everybody steals."

Racial profiling suspected in two other incidents

There have been other incidents in Winnipeg recently where Indigenous shoppers have felt singled out. Earlier this month, Jenna Comegan and her sister were pulled aside by police and asked to show a receipt for their items at the Superstore on St. Anne's Road.

She alleges that she and her sister were racially profiled by two Winnipeg police officers working inside of the grocery retailer.

In a separate incident, Chris Wescoupe, 47, believes he was racially profiled by Winnipeg police at the Real Canadian Superstore on 80 Bison Drive on Dec. 1.

Wescoupe said he was asked to leave the store and accused of being a shoplifter. Police later said it was a case of mistaken identity.

Retailers have responsibility

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission said complaints of racial profiling are common and continue, especially in retail and in law enforcement.

 "This kind of discrimination has been a steady source of complaints for the commission for a number of years," said Karen Sharma, executive director of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

"Anytime you're making those kinds of judgments based on who you think a person is, rather than on who they've proven themselves to be, you open yourself up to risk, whether that's a human rights complaint or some kind of other legal action," she said. 

Sharma said customers need to be aware of their rights, but, even more importantly, retailers need to ensure their staff are aware of their obligations.

"I think it's equally and perhaps even more important that store owners and customer service staff be aware of their obligations under human rights legislation," she said.

Sharma said training for retailers is available on the commission's website for free and she hopes more retailers will take advantage of it.

With files from Lenard Monkman