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Edmonton hotel accused of racial discrimination against 4 young men

An Edmonton man says he and three friends were victims of racial discrimination after being denied access to a swimming pool in a downtown hotel.

'I just felt there was some discrimination from the start,' says man refused access to Sutton Place pool

Ardi Heydari, Zak Ismail, Stefan Mahabir, and Ahmed Ahmed (from left to right) believe they were the victims of racial discrimination at a downtown Edmonton hotel. (Stefan Mahabir)

An Edmonton man says he and three friends were victims of racial discrimination after being denied access to a swimming pool in a downtown hotel.

The four were turned away from the pool on the top floor of the Sutton Place Hotel on Monday evening even though they had health-club memberships that allow them to use the facility, Stefan Mahabir told CBC News.

"When we arrived, we were denied access right off the bat," said Mahabir, who is originally from the Caribbean. "The guy questioned our World Health membership."

The 25-year-old was with his friends Zakariya Ismail, Ahmed Ahmed and Ardi Heydari. Mahabir and Ismail are black. Ahmed and Heydari are of Middle Eastern descent.

Planning to use the pool, the group arrived at the downtown hotel around 9:30 p.m. Monday.

They were meeting a female friend, Kai-Lee Worsley, who is white. Worsley had already arrived and was waiting in the pool area.

Stefan Mahabir (left) and Ahmed Ahmed were with two other friends when they were refused access to the Sutton Place Hotel pool. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

Barred access

According to Mahabir, the hotel front desk clerk told the men there had been a security incident at the pool involving World Health members two days earlier, and that members were no longer allowed to use the facility. 

Mahabir questioned the explanation because Worsley, who is also a World Health member, had been allowed access to the pool an hour earlier.

Mahabir filmed part of the exchange with the front desk clerk because he was concerned with the way the situation was escalating, he said.

"My friend is up there right now. How did she get access to the pool if World Health members are not getting access to the pool?" Mahabir told CBC, recalling the incident.

"He wasn't speaking to us as equals, he was questioning us and wasn't believing us."

My friend who is Caucasian is up there, and he didn't believe us that she was up there, he didn't believe that we were members.- Stefan Mahabir

Mahabir said he called Worsley and passed the phone to a security guard, but it wasn't enough to convince the clerk to change his mind. 

"My friend who is Caucasian is up there, and he didn't believe us that she was up there, he didn't believe that we were members," Mahabir said.

"I just felt there was some discrimination from the start."

Group of friends are denied access to Sutton Place Hotel pool despite having gym membership allowing them to do so. 1:11

The group decided to leave to avoid more confrontation, he said. "We didn't feel welcome at the hotel anymore."

CBC could not confirm the identity of the employee in the video or reach him for comment. Hotel management did not respond to interview requests from CBC. 

Friend had no problems

Worsley told CBC her interaction with the hotel front desk staff was pleasant when she arrived around 8:30 p.m.

"I had a normal encounter with the hotel," said Worsley, who was signed in by a female employee. 

There were no indications that a security incident had taken place, she added. 

"I didn't see anything sketchy, or anything like that."

Worsley said she received a phone call from Mahabir while she was in the pool area, and spoke with a security guard.

"He was like, 'Are you a guest at the hotel?' and I was like, 'No, I'm a World Health member,' and he said, 'OK, have a good night, ma'am,' and handed the phone back to Stefan," Worsley recalled. 

"He didn't tell me that I had to leave the pool."

Worsley said she used the pool until 10 p.m. before signing out at the front desk without any issue.

'We are all equal'

Mahabir hopes that sharing his experience will motivate staff at the hotel to look at their behaviour and understand why it was hurtful. 

"Edmonton is a place that's so multicultural, when things like this happen, it kind of shocks the community," he said.

He said he contacted hotel management after the incident. The general manager assured him he would take appropriate action, he said. 

Mahabir hopes staff will be trained on how to handle these types of situations. 

"We should educate people about different cultures, and not to discriminate against different races," he said. "We are all equal."

About the Author

Josee St-Onge

Journalist

Josee St-Onge is a journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has also reported in French for Radio-Canada in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Reach her at josee.st-onge@cbc.ca