Ottawa

Kingston café owner enraged by racist anti-mask diatribe

The day after health officials in Kingston, Ont., declared masks mandatory in almost all indoor public spaces, an employee at the Kingston Coffee House asked a customer to put one on. What happened next still weighs on owner Vid Banerjee's mind.

Vid Banerjee says customer hurled insults at worker after being asked to wear mask

The owner of a Kingston, Ont., coffee shop says one of his young workers received a barrage of insults — some of them racist — after she asked a customer to put on a mask. The local health unit made mask use mandatory indoors for most people in late June. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

The day after health officials in Kingston, Ont., declared masks mandatory in almost all indoor public spaces, an employee at the Kingston Coffee House asked a customer to put one on.

What happened next still weighs on owner Vid Banerjee's mind, more than a week later.

"We had planned for, obviously, the mandatory mask policy the night before. Disposable masks [were] available," Banerjee told CBC Radio's All In A Day on Friday.

When his young worker requested one of the café's patrons use one, the customer got upset, waited until the coffee shop was nearly empty, and then launched into a "verbal barrage," Banerjee said.

"[It started] with things like, 'Your coffee shop sucks. You suck.' And then that quickly [took on] a racial angle," he said.

"She goes on to say, 'Why are you here? You should go back to your country. You guys are taking our jobs.' And then it just went downhill from there for the next six to seven minutes."

An employee was verbally attacked for several minutes after asking a customer to abide by mandatory mask rules 9:33

'Taken aback'

Kingston is one of an increasing number of Ontario municipalities that has made indoor mask use mandatory almost across the board, as it tries to stem a COVID-19 outbreak tied to a local nail salon.

Banerjee said he was "taken aback" and "enraged" when his employee — who was working alone at the time, in order to observe physical distancing guidelines — informed him about what had happened.

He took to the coffee shop's Facebook page, describing the woman's actions as "inhuman" and urging other café customers to not take out their frustration with COVID-19 restrictions on service industry staff. 

Banerjee told CBC he felt compelled to point out that those who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour (BIPOC) are increasingly the target of anti-mask invective.

"I can completely get the perspective that everyone ... all of us, are a little bit stressed. And that somehow translates to higher tempers," he said. 

"It's not only with our shop. We've been reading reports from the GTA, from Vancouver, from Canada and from south of the border of BIPOC staff, BIPOC owners being targeted more."

His post led to an "overwhelming" response from the local community, Banerjee said. Other businesses offered support both online and in-person, he said. One greenhouse even dropped off a planter filled with flowers.

Kingston Coffee House owner Vid Banerjee said he felt compelled to speak up about the racism one of his employees experienced after she asked a customer to put on a mask. (Kingston Coffee House)

The woman was not a regular, Banerjee said, and the coffee shop has no cameras so it would be difficult to identify her.

The worker also did not want to press charges, he added.

"People need to know that acts of micro-aggression do happen. And they [can] have a racial angle to them," Banerjee said. "And this should be brought to light."

now