'Treated like a criminal': Yukon Indigenous woman accuses Vancouver Denny's of racism

Helaina Moses and her boyfriend went for a bite to eat after a night on the town, and were told to pay upfront. 'It kind of felt like they were assuming we didn't have the money to pay for our food because of our skin colour.'

Helaina Moses says she was told to pay for her food upfront. 'I was like, 'well that's unfair'

Helaina Moses and her boyfriend went to Denny's on Davie Street in Vancouver early Saturday morning, after a night out. She says the restaurant asked them to pay before they ate.

Helaina Moses says she just wanted some breakfast, after a fun night out in downtown Vancouver.

Instead, the Yukon woman ended up standing on the sidewalk outside a Denny's restaurant, in tears and answering to police. She feels the restaurant discriminated against her because she's an Indigenous woman.

"Basically, I got treated like a criminal, to go and have breakfast," she said.

'Basically, I got treated like a criminal, to go and have breakfast,' says Helaina Moses, pictured here with her boyfriend. (Helaina Moses/Facebook)

Moses and her boyfriend were visiting the city for the weekend. They had a late night out on Friday, and decided to grab a bite to eat before heading back to their hotel.

It was sometime after 4 a.m., so they found a 24-hour Denny's on Davie St. They sat down and ordered some food and drinks.

"About five minutes later, the server comes back and says that we can't place your order at the kitchen because you need to pay for your food first," Moses recalled.

"I was like, 'well that's unfair.'"

She admits that she and her boyfriend had been drinking earlier that night, but says they were not unruly.

"We were fine, right. We weren't very intoxicated at all. But I'm not going to lie — like, we were drinking," she says.

"Honestly, everybody else in there was. Like, who else would be going for breakfast at four o'clock in the morning, right? It's after-bar."

According to Moses, though, she and her boyfriend seemed to be the only ones asked to pay upfront.

"Me being my outgoing self, I stood up and asked the other customers if they had to do this as well. And they all agreed with me, and said that they did not pay for their food yet," she said.

"I don't know — it kind of felt like [Denny's staff] were assuming we didn't have the money to pay for our food because of our skin colour, and it just kind of made me feel, like, degraded.

"I just got very upset and embarrassed, so I left the building."

'Just a big scene'

That wasn't the end of it, though.

She says just after she got outside, her boyfriend followed with another family that had been sitting at a nearby table. That family had been kicked out, she said, because one of them had stood up for Moses in the restaurant.

"He got really upset and actually raised his voice, and he actually cried for me. It was just a big scene, and I'm so glad there's so much supportive people around me," Moses said.

Within minutes, she says, a police car arrived and started questioning them on the sidewalk, and checking them for weapons.

"My boyfriend has his hands up and everything."

She says the police told them that a restaurant employee said they were armed and dangerous.

"I assume they said that so the cops could come faster. Because, I don't know, maybe they were trying to cover up their racist acts they did to me?" Moses said.

"I didn't do anything wrong, I was just trying to go have breakfast."

A spokesperson from the Vancouver Police Department confirms that someone had called 911 to report a "disturbance" at that Denny's location, just after 5 a.m. on Saturday.

"The initial caller reported they thought one of the people involved may have had pointed object in their pocket," Cst. Jason Doucette says in an email to CBC.

"Although it's not completely clear what led to the disturbance, the customers were cooperative with police. It was determined there was no weapon involved, and there was no evidence that a criminal offence had taken place."

Nobody was arrested and police went on their way.

Moses and her boyfriend, still hungry, went to an A&W.

'Zero tolerance' for discrimination, says Denny's

CBC contacted Denny's to ask about Moses' story. The company sent a response by email. 

"Denny's Canada is troubled by accusations of discrimination and takes them very seriously. The experience Ms. Moses has described is not reflective of the Denny's Canada culture or of the values our team shares every day," reads the email from Kayle Hepworth, the chain's communications manager.

Hepworth also says the restaurant is conducting a "full investigation."

"We've reached out to Ms. Moses to speak with her directly, talked with our team members, and we're reaching out to other guests who were in the restaurant to gather as much information as we can."

Moses says she is also filing a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

"This is the first time I ever experienced racism and I took it pretty hard," she says.

"I'm a professional person, I work full time ... I'm independent, and it was just very hurtful to get treated like that."


  • This story has been edited to remove a photo of a woman incorrectly identified as Helaina Moses.
    Nov 21, 2017 10:03 AM CT

With files from Mike Rudyk