British Columbia

Visitor to B.C. village calls out restaurant for racist stickers

Tom Kato was travelling with friends through Keremeos when they stopped at a local bar for something to eat. They saw a sticker that said, “It’s OK to be white” paired with an image of a hand giving the OK sign, which has been declared a racist symbol by the Anti-Defamation League. 

‘It’s OK to be white’ on stickers displayed in Keremeos bar

When Tom Kato and his friends walked into a Keremeos, B.C., bar, they found two of these stickers on the walls. (Tom Kato)

A Vancouver man is speaking out against a pair of stickers with racist messaging displayed at a B.C. bar.

Tom Kato, who is Japanese-Canadian, was travelling with friends through Keremeos, 100 kilometres south of Kelowna, when they stopped at a local bar for something to eat. They noticed a sticker near an emergency exit that said, "It's OK to be white" paired with an image of a hand giving the OK sign, which, the Anti-Defamation League says, has been used to express white supremacy.

"When I saw the first sticker everybody kind of went a little quiet and it was a little uncomfortable for us," Kato said. 

Then, they saw another sticker behind the bar, which made him think they were put up by bar staff. 

A second sticker, found behind the bar, made Kato believe they were put there intentionally by bar staff. (Tom Kato)

He said he thought about the stickers the whole time he was in the restaurant. 

"It's not right," Kato said. "As a visible minority, people in that situation shouldn't feel uncomfortable over the colour of your skin or your culture or anything like that."

Branding Iron Bar & Grill owner Karl Schorb said he doesn't think the stickers are racist.

"I'm not a racist. I have nothing against anybody. I love everybody, I'm a happy person and that's all that counts for me," he said, encouraging anyone who takes issue with the stickers to talk to him about it. 

He said someone questioned him about the sticker more than a year ago, but otherwise, the stickers have been up for three years and no one else has complained. 

Schorb said he was unaware of the sticker's racist undertones, but when asked if he would take it down, he said he would only do so if forced to. 

"If the law forces me to take it down, I'll take it down, but it has to be by the law, not by me," he said. 

Mayor wants stickers removed

Kato said he and the owner had a conversation about the meaning behind the sticker while he was in the restaurant.

"The fact that he's putting it up and he knows that it's offensive to other people  … he doesn't really care about it. [It] kind of just shows a little bit of his character," Kato said.

Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer said he would like to see the stickers removed — and he has asked Schorb to remove them — but the village can't take any further action.

"It's not like we can just pull a business licence because someone has a sticker like that in their restaurant," he said. 

"I would prefer if any kind of racial comments, whether it's in writing, a picture, or a rhetoric is not in this community and I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of people do not approve of that kind of thing."

Kato said that in the current political climate, with Black Lives Matter and other anti-discrimination messaging making headlines, it's hard to believe someone would be unaware of the meaning of those stickers.

"Even if he was to take down the sticker, it's not going to change what he thinks," Kato said. 

"I'm a realistic person. I know there's tons of people out there that think the way he does, and you know there's nothing that you can really do but just speak out."

With files from Sarah Penton, Christine Coulter and Radio West