Alberta A&W criticized after stopping customer from buying meal for Indigenous senior

A&W Canada has apologized after a cashier at one of its Alberta restaurants allegedly called police when a customer tried to buy a meal for an elderly, disabled Indigenous woman.

Company said it's taking incident 'very seriously'

A&W came under fire on social media after a staff member at its Cardston, Alta., location allegedly called police when a customer tried to order a meal for an elderly Indigenous woman who had been loitering outside the restaurant. (Google Maps)

An Alberta A&W came under heavy criticism on social media this week after a customer said he was told it was the restaurant's policy not to let him buy a meal for an elderly, disabled Indigenous woman.

Nick Driedger said he was waiting in line to purchase breakfast at the Cardston A&W on Friday morning when he saw an older Indigenous couple trying to buy a meal for the elderly woman with a walker.

He said the cashier wouldn't let the couple buy the woman a meal, and then she left the store.

Driedger went outside to speak to the woman who said she was hungry. So he went back inside and ordered an extra meal for her.

"At that point, the [cashier] picked up the phone and I thought I heard her say something to the effect of, 'hello, police,'" Driedger said.

"At which point I kind of interrupted her while she was on the phone and said, 'I'd rather you not call police. I just don't think that's necessary. I'm just buying someone a meal.'"

Driedger said the cashier then began arguing with him, first saying there was a store policy in regard to loitering, then saying there was a law against loitering, and finally saying it was the store manager's orders.

He eventually got his food and brought some outside to the woman. He said police then drove through the parking lot and a bystander approached the car and spoke to them for a few minutes, before the officers left.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Jeremie Landry told CBC News that members from the Cardston detachment did not respond to the A&W. He said it was possible another police force may have attended the call.

"It's a tremendously disheartening and frustrating situation," said Driedger.

Distraught over the incident, Driedger posted about it on social media, prompting a public outcry and a response from A&W.

"Thanks for everyone's concerns and questions about the incident at our restaurant in Cardston. We're reaching out to the woman who's experiencing hardships to see how we can provide assistance, and we are sorry the kind offer by guests to buy her breakfast was not honoured," the company wrote on Twitter. 

"We are taking this incident very seriously and the franchisee is working with his staff to ensure they receive the training and support they need to do the right thing."

CBC News contacted the Cardston franchise and A&W, and Josée Belzil, business manager for A&W Canada, provided similar comments in an emailed statement, concluding:

"Consequently, we will be meeting with all of our employees to ensure they have the training and support they need to do the right thing. While this appears to be an isolated incident, we are taking it very seriously and will be examining our staff training program to ensure we do a better job at communicating our procedures and values."

Driedger said, "I mean it did surprise me … I've seen now that A&W is replying and they're saying this wasn't racially motivated. I don't buy it. I'm skeptical of that line."

He said an A&W representative contacted him and said the woman was denied service because she had made a scene in the restaurant before.

"They used the word menacing to describe her," he said. "I don't think there was anything menacing about her. She was maybe five-feet tall, maybe 100 pounds, and I don't know about you but I've never felt threatened by someone in a walker before."

'Blatant racism,' says Indigenous activist

Shauna Fox is one of the founders of the Niitsitapi Peace Camp in Cardston, a group trying to address racism and foster discussion between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the town.

Cardston is about 230 kilometres south of Calgary. 

Members of the peace camp met outside the restaurant Saturday to call for education to stem racism in the community.

"There's been racism and discrimination throughout the years. It's often very subtle, and often it's blatant. The incident at A&W — that's blatant racism," Fox said. 

​Fox said she and other protesters would like to educate the restaurant manager and staff  "to help them to understand and hear some of those stories that our people have dealt with and are dealing with."