Video of racially charged argument at Lethbridge restaurant sparks outrage on social media
Woman fired from her job after she's recorded telling a group of men they are not welcome in Canada
WARNING: Story contains graphic language
A woman has been fired from her job after a video of a racially charged argument between her and what appears to be a group of four men in a Lethbridge, Alta., restaurant garnered strong reaction online.
"Well shut your f--king mouth then, cause you know what, you're dealing with a Canadian woman right now and I will leap across the table and punch you right in your f--king mouth," the woman says at the start of the video.
"You're the one who started," a man can be heard saying in response.
The five-minute, 14-second video was posted Tuesday night and had been viewed more than 120,000 times by midday Wednesday. It shows the two sides arguing back and forth, with the woman accusing the men of "not being Canadian."
The two sides are seated in adjoining booths and the woman stands up several times, threatening to strike the men.
"Go back to your f--king country; we don't need you here," she says.
"It doesn't matter, we're all Canadians," a man responds. "We're all the same, you're a human being, I'm a human being."
WARNING: This video contains graphic language
The video doesn't show what started the argument and ends with the woman and a male companion getting up from their booth after she asks to be seated in another part of the Denny's restaurant.
"Speak English or don't speak at all," she can be heard saying.
Earlier on the video, the men say they are going to call police, and a post on social media says they were the ones asked to leave the diner when officers arrived.
Monir Omerzai, the man who shot the video, said he would love to see the woman who yelled at him and his friends reach out to people from different cultures.
"She should not judge people by their colour. She should not go out there and take it out on somebody else," he said. "You should get to know people before you judge them."
The 26-year-old Canadian citizen said he had never experienced anything like this in the 13 years he's lived in the country.
He said he's not sure what triggered the events of the video, which was shot on April 21.
"She started looking like this toward us, we just said 'Is everything OK?' or 'Is there any problem?' From there she started going off. We were laughing and talking in our own language … but obviously we were not saying anything about her," Omerzai said.
'Why is there so much hate in her?'
"What's going through my head is why is there so much hate in her?" he said. "Why would she even say that, to go back to my country? We're all immigrants here."
Omerzai said when police arrived, both parties were asked to leave the diner. He told police that he had recorded the altercation and asked police if her hate speech was against the law. He said police told him no.
"The food was there, we did not even grab our food, and the management was like 'You guys have to grab your food, pay for it, and leave," he said. "I am not happy about the waitress, she was apologizing to the lady instead of coming to us and telling us … the management should have handled it better because he should have listened to our story."
Denny's says manager followed protocol
Denny's corporate office said in a statement the company was disturbed by the incident and that the company has zero tolerance for discrimination.
"Our managers are trained to intervene with disruptive guests in these types of situations. Based on our initial internal investigation, it appears our manager followed proper protocol but was unable to de-escalate the situation, and thus contacted local law enforcement," the statement said.
"We do apologize and regret that our guests had to endure this customer's terrible behaviour and continue to work with local officials on their investigation of this incident."
In an interview with Lethbridge News Now, the woman — who identifies herself as Kelly Pocha from Cranbrook, B.C. — admits her comments were racist, but says she was provoked and her actions aren't indicative of who she really is.
"If I could take it back, I would. But I can't," she says.
She admits she had been drinking that night.
Lethbridge police investigating
The woman said the argument commenced when the men "started talking in their own language" and began laughing, which she thought was directed at her.
Lethbridge police said in a release Wednesday evening they are aware of the incident and are investigating.
Police confirmed that when they responded on April 21 they were told that staff had "separated the two groups following a verbal dispute where the parties had been yelling at each other and one individual used racial slurs."
Police said staff refused service to both groups and asked them to leave, adding that information circulating on social media suggesting police advised only one group to leave is false.
Lethbridge Police Service media release: <a href="https://t.co/MrOUYTX1YY">pic.twitter.com/MrOUYTX1YY</a>—@lethpolice
Pocha's employer, Cranbrook Dodge, posted on Facebook Wednesday afternoon that she has been fired.
"We are deeply concerned about the content of this video and want all of our friends, families, colleagues, and customers to know that this behaviour does not reflect the values of Cranbrook Dodge in any way," the company wrote. "The employee in question has been terminated and we deeply apologize for her actions."
The company later deleted the post and deleted Pocha's employee profile ftrom the company website.
Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman issued a statement on social media.
The statement also mentions work done by the Lethbridge Immigration Partnership and a recent expansion of the Lethbridge Family Services building.
"The work continues," Spearman's statement reads.
Lethbridge member of the legislature and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said the video doesn't reflect the city she knows.
"The Lethbridge I know is a welcoming and inclusive city," she told CBC Edmonton.
Online reaction was swift, with many posters condemning the woman's language and behaviour and apologizing to the men.
Alberta Minister for the Status of Women Stephanie McLean also weighed in with a tweet that was later deleted.
"She was definitely not right and was saying horrible bigoted things. That being said - I hearing right? At the beginning of the video does the man on the left say to her "you ask to speak". Then says something about her mother."
Before the tweet was deleted, several comments said McLean likely misheard the tape and the man said "it doesn't matter" rather than something about the woman's mother.
McLean later apologized on Twitter.
I apologize for my comments. My tweet shouldn’t have implied there could be an excuse for the behaviour in that video. There is no excuse!Albertans must stand against racism and bigotry. I believe deeply there is never any possible justification for racist and hateful remarks.—@NDPStephanie
Premier Rachel Notley condemned the woman's language in a statement posted to Twitter, as did United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney.
"Racist, bigoted comments have no place in Alberta," the premier wrote.
"In Alberta we measure people not based on who they love, where they come from, or how they pray, but on how they treat others. The disturbing sentiments on display in this video are an affront to Albertans' belief in the dignity of all human beings," Kenney said.
Racist, bigoted comments have no place in Alberta. <br>Our government is always working to foster acceptance and better understanding of our differences. <br>By working together, we can make life better for all. <br>Everyone is welcome in Alberta.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ableg?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ableg</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/abpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#abpoli</a> <a href="https://t.co/ogyXFnZ7fM">https://t.co/ogyXFnZ7fM</a>—@RachelNotley
My statement on the racist incident that occurred in Lethbridge. This incident is a reminder that we as a province must continue to work against racism. <a href="https://t.co/N1JFeu8Hzi">pic.twitter.com/N1JFeu8Hzi</a>—@jkenney
Kenney also voiced concerns with McLean's tweet at the legislature Wednesday afternoon, asking for a government apology.
Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman apologized for McLean's remarks.
Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark used the video as an opportunity to question what he said was a lack of action on the province's part when it comes to anti-racist action.
"That sort of vile racism has absolutely no place in our society," Clark said.
"What I'm really frustrated by is the premier asked the minister of education to undertake a review of anti-racist actions and activities the province could take a year-and-a-half ago. That report was due last fall. It just fell off the radar."
The Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council says it's appalled by the video and has reached out to the group involved.
Omerzai said the strong response to the video made him glad he decided to post it.
"It's beautiful support; it's amazing how there's so many good people out there," he said. "I'm just thankful I'm in Canada and with people; there's still good people out there. We should be good to each other and respect all races, all nationalities. We're all humans."
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With files from The Canadian Press, CBC Edmonton, Erin Collins