Nova Scotia

Black-owned food truck gets licence back, but doesn't have money to reopen

A Black-owned food truck in Greenwood, N.S., had its food licence restored this week after the owner spoke out against an inspector who called him "you people" as he took his licence last month.

Rejean Cromwell says he lost $25K in dispute, must earn more cash before he can restart Greenwood business

Rejean Cromwell says he's lost about $25,000 in the dispute with the province. He hopes to reopen his food truck later this month. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

A Black-owned food truck in Greenwood, N.S., had its food licence restored this week after the owner spoke out against an inspector who called him "you people" after taking his licence last month.

But Rejean Cromwell says he doesn't have the money to reopen Seafood by Rejean after losing income for two weeks, and twice having to give away fresh seafood. 

"They think just because they're government officials, they can do whatever they want — slander and bash people down and crush them to the ground. But, meanwhile, it takes a little guy to stand up," Cromwell said Tuesday. 

"Stage 1 was to get my licence back to cook food. Stage 2 is to make sure people who are involved in this are penalized. Stage 3 is to ask for reimbursement for wages lost."

Cromwell said the inspector at the centre of his complaint told him "you people cause all kinds of trouble" and told his mother she should wear diapers if she couldn't work at the truck all day without needing an on-site toilet.

He estimates he's lost $25,000 in the dispute.

He considered just letting it go, but said he spoke up because he knows it's happened to other food businesses run by ethnic minorities. Cromwell said people don't usually speak out because their livelihood is at stake.

Government 'rejects all forms of discrimination'

Cromwell also exports Maritime seafood to Ontario and plans to make a delivery this week to earn enough money to reopen his food truck by Aug. 21. He plans to hire a band and host a celebration to thank the community members who supported him.   

After he spoke out, Nova Scotia Environment sent a different inspector, accompanied by staff from the government's African Nova Scotian Affairs. 

"They said there are no issues to be found. That basically tells me that he, the first inspector, didn't do his job," Cromwell said. 

Dozens of people turned out to Seafood by Rejean & More earlier this month to show support to owner, Rejean Cromwell. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

Nova Scotia Environment wouldn't speak about the dispute, but did email a statement. 

"Nova Scotia Environment rejects all forms of discrimination," it read. "Staff from Nova Scotia Environment and African Nova Scotian Affairs have met with Mr. Cromwell. Nova Scotia Environment staff completed a follow up inspection, and Mr. Cromwell has met our food safety requirements and is able to reopen."

The spokesperson wouldn't say if the rejection of discrimination amounted to an admission that Cromwell had been discriminated against as a Black person. 

'The community spoke loud and clear'

Cabinet minister Leo Glavine, the MLA for the area, said he heard from people across Nova Scotia and other parts of Canada after CBC reported on Cromwell's situation. 

"The community spoke loud and clear that they were supportive of Rejean's seafood outlet and didn't want to see him shut down," he said Tuesday. 

Glavine said the officials took a "very different" approach this time by working with Cromwell and ensuring everything met provincial standards. 

"My understanding at this point is the comments made by the inspector are under review by the department," he added. 

Glavine said he hopes Cromwell's case shows other ethnic minorities that they can and should speak out.

"They need to report, to not fear that they're going to be shut down, not get a permit," Glavine said. "They need to come forward, whether it's direct comments made, or subtleties that put these people down. There is no place for that."

Leo Glavine says people should speak out if government officials discriminate against them. (CBC)

Glavine said government officials should treat all Nova Scotians equally and respectfully. 

"And if we have inspectors who seem to only be reporting people of ethnicity, that's a real problem. And that's where the department, and myself as an MLA, will take notice."

Glavine said he's eaten Cromwell's seafood many times before and he hopes to dine there again once he reopens.

"There's no question Rejean knows how to prepare seafood very very well," he said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.