Manitoba

First Nations man wants apology after being flagged as shoplifter, asked to leave Canadian Tire store

A First Nations man is calling for an apology from Canadian Tire after he says he was flagged by a camera for allegedly stealing months earlier — something he maintains he never did.

Company will not say if it is using facial recognition technology to identify shoplifters at Grant Park store

Josh Soika and his girlfriend, Courtney Settee, were asked to leave the Canadian Tire Grant Park location in Winnipeg earlier this month. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

A First Nations man is calling for an apology from Canadian Tire after he says he was flagged by a camera for allegedly stealing months earlier — something he maintains he never did.

Josh Soika said he went into the Canadian Tire Grant Park location in Winnipeg with his girlfriend on Oct. 8 to buy tire plugs and an air compressor for his work truck.

Soika, 31, said his girlfriend Courtney Settee noticed a security guard staring at them from down the empty aisle with two employees, which he thought was unusual.

"We went and walked past him, and they stopped us and they said there was an incident back in the summer where I was caught stealing stuff on camera and so they pretty much said I could buy what I had in my hands and we had to get out," Soika said.

Soika said he heard the store staff say "the camera flagged me when I walked in the store as a shoplifter."

The company has not responded to repeated requests for comment over the last week.

WATCH | Courtney Settee starts filming after boyfriend is asked to leave Canadian Tire store:

Couple escorted out of Canadian Tire after being flagged for shoplifting

2 months ago
Duration 2:28
A First Nations man is calling for an apology from Canadian Tire after he says he was flagged by a camera for allegedly stealing months earlier — something he maintains he never did.

Canadian Tire told CTV News Winnipeg in 2019 it was using facial recognition technology in six of its seven Winnipeg stores for loss prevention. The company didn't specify which stores were using the software. It's not clear if the Grant Park location uses the controversial technology.

A sign on the front door of the Winnipeg store alerts customers to the fact surveillance cameras are in place. It makes no mention of facial recognition software, which is controversial due to privacy concerns, misidentification and issues with accuracy specifically with non-white skin.

CCLA wants moratorium

"In many cases it doesn't work as well on Black faces. It doesn't work as well on Indigenous faces. It doesn't work as well on faces that are brown or female or young," said Dr. Brenda McPhail, the director of the privacy, technology and surveillance program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

In an interview from Toronto, McPhail said the CCLA has been advocating for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology for some time.

Last year, the association published a report on facial recognition technology. The research cited reports that Canadian Tire had been known to use the technology in at least two stores since as early as 2010.

A four-page case study on the technology, uploaded by the Guardian in 2016, details how Canadian Tire was trying to combat theft and fraud.

The document quotes a Toronto Canadian Tire franchise owner saying it allows the retailer to catch three to five thieves a week.

McPhail said there are privacy concerns with the technology, which has been used in the past by other major retailers, such as Rexall in Canada and Rite-Aid in the United States.

"We need to think about how would we feel if we had to give fingerprints at the door of a store. Is that OK?"

Former Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian says facial recognition technology is extremely problematic. (Onnig Cavoukian)

Former Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian echoed McPhail's concerns.

She said people used to come to her for help after being wrongly identified as a person of interest by a camera.

Cavoukian said federal privacy legislation for the private sector from 2002 is outdated.

"We desperately need to upgrade this law and include specific concrete actions relating to facial recognition, and how you can clear your name if you've been falsely identified."

Cavoukian said there are serious privacy concerns at play with the technology because a person's face is among the most sensitive pieces of information.

"You want to protect it very strongly. You don't want it to be compromised. You don't want to be usurped by someone else in some other context. So facial images are extremely sensitive, and you want to have that data protected as strongly as possible."

Soika said he was humiliated and wants an apology from the store.

He said when he asked to see the apparent footage of him stealing, a store employee said that wouldn't be possible.

Settee said she talked to a manager on the phone after the incident and the staffer wasn't sure what she was referring to and didn't apologize.

Settee, who started filming as they were escorted out of the store, said as a First Nations woman, she is used to being profiled while shopping.

Increase in complaints

"Being an Indigenous person, they, a lot of the employees or security guards, tend to just watch us a little bit closer, as soon as I'm in the store," she said.

The couple said they are considering filing a human rights complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission over the incident.

"We got kicked out of a store. Whether or not he looked like somebody that was a thief, they should have had a better way of going about it," Settee said.

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission said whether or not facial recognition technology was used, consumer racial profiling remains a significant concern.

"We've seen an increase in the number of complaints that allege consumer racial profiling over the last five years," said Karen Sharma, the commission's executive director.

Sharma encourages everyone who believes they were profiled while shopping to file a complaint with the commission.

"Retail service providers have an obligation to ensure that they're providing their services in a manner that's free from discrimination."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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