Nova Scotia

Bible Hill woman subjected to racist remarks wants businesses to do more

A woman who lives in Bible Hill, N.S., says she's tired of hearing racist remarks from customers at a local Tim Hortons and frustrated that more isn't being done to ensure businesses are welcoming and safe for everyone. 

'Being brown is definitely a burden in a small, mostly white rural town,' says Levina Austin

Levina Austin is meeting with the Truro chief of police on Friday about the racist remarks she says she hears far too often in public spaces. (Submitted by Levina Austin)

A woman who lives in Bible Hill, N.S., says she's tired of hearing racist remarks from customers at a local Tim Hortons and frustrated that more isn't being done to ensure the area's businesses are welcoming and safe. 

Levina Austin was in line at the Tim Hortons on Inglis Place in Truro on Dec. 2 when she says two white men commented that her "presence makes them feel that they're living in downtown Toronto and they should be carrying a gun."

Austin told CBC's Information Morning that two other people of colour were also in line and that the comment was loud enough for them to hear. 

It's not the first time she's heard customers at Tim Hortons make racist comments.

"Being brown is definitely a burden in a small, mostly white rural town," Austin said, adding that she's never heard those comments from staff. 

"I have been pointed out for being a woman of colour and I've been called a border jumper at that Tim Hortons by someone sitting in the restaurant."

Austin filed a complaint with the Truro Police Service and is planning to meet with the chief of police on Friday about the intimidation and harassment she says she regularly faces.

"Being harassed and verbally intimidated in public spaces, it's definitely exhausting," she said.

Sadness, disbelief, fear

Austin said the encounter earlier this month left her feeling "shock, sadness, disbelief, fear, anger."

"The places of business with the privilege and the power have the responsibility to make it a safe place for everyone and so we can't sweep the issues under the carpet any longer. We have to talk about it," she said. 

A spokesperson for Tim Hortons said staff members have been told to "pay special attention to any guests who are acting or talking in a manner that isn’t aligned with our values and is not tolerated inside our restaurants." (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Austin left messages with both the local Tim Hortons and the company's head office. She said she wasn't able to speak with anyone, but that a police officer followed up with the restaurant's manager.

"The Tim Horton's manager asked why I didn't stay and have a conversation with the manager about it," she said. "When you're in a situation where you're definitely feeling intimidated and harassed, the only thing you want to do is leave."

A spokesperson for Tim Horton's head office said in an email that the owner of the franchise has been informed of Austin's complaint and that they've contacted her to apologize for "our lack of communication."

"At Tim Hortons, we strive to provide a welcoming environment for all guests and we do not tolerate racist or harassing words or actions of any kind," the statement said. 

"We regret the experience this guest had and we have asked the restaurant owner to ensure team members remain diligent in addressing any offensive behaviour witnessed inside our restaurants."

Chief says Truro is 'very welcoming'

Dave MacNeil, chief of the Truro Police Service, said that these types of complaints are not common in Truro.

"Truro is a very welcoming community with a diverse population," MacNeil said in an email.

However, the town has recently acknowledged it needs to improve its relationship with black residents.

This fall, council committed to creating a special committee to better address concerns from the black community after three women who were admiring deer were stopped and questioned by police.

Austin says she was inspired to speak up about racism because she wants to create a more inclusive community for her 10-year-old daughter, Talia. (Submitted by Levina Austin)

Austin moved to Bible Hill from Toronto five years ago and admits living in a rural town is hard. But she doesn't regret her choice to live there. 

"This is where I'm raising my beautiful family and I want to live, work and be successful here, and I would like to be able to be free of intimidation and harassment and not to be treated differently because of my skin colour," she said. 

With files from CBC's Information Morning

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