Toronto

Indigenous man a longtime Giant Tiger customer — until he says he was falsely accused of stealing

Hector King Jr. says he was told a man that looks, dresses and rides a bike like him had been stealing, and Giant Tiger had issued a no-trespass notice against him. He believes he was racially profiled. “That kind of degraded me, you know?” King says.

Hector King Jr. says he's a victim of racial profiling and still hasn’t received an apology

Hector King Jr., 62, who is Anishinaabe, says he was a victim of racial profiling when he was falsely accused of stealing from a Giant Tiger store near his home in east Toronto. The retailer says he can return, but King insists he won't be back until he receives an apology. (Christopher Langenzarde/CBC)

When Hector King Jr. stopped by a Giant Tiger store in east Toronto to pick up bananas one afternoon in December, he says he felt as though he was being watched.

The 62-year-old Anishinaabe man from Gull Bay First Nation, near Thunder Bay, Ont., said he noticed a security guard and staff hovering nearby.

But it wasn't until after King made the $1.68 purchase that he said he was stopped by an employee.

He said he was told never to return or he'd be charged with trespassing.

King was confused. He'd been riding his electric scooter from his Scarborough home to the store for years, spending up to $40 at a time on clothes or food, and said he has never stolen anything in his life. And while he noticed staff sometimes seemed to treat him differently than other customers — peering into his shopping basket or following him down aisles — they never raised any concerns.

So King called the discount chain's customer service department and a few weeks later was advised to go back and talk to the store's manager. He said she informed him that a man who looks, dresses and rides a scooter like him had been stealing. It had been captured on security video, but he was told he wasn't allowed to see it.

"That kind of degraded me, you know?" King said. "When I was always spending money in that store."

He said he believes he was racially profiled, especially after he learned an Indigenous man reported being followed by an employee at a Regina Giant Tiger in 2017.

"I thought, why are they not following anybody else? I see other people in that store. And they didn't pick anybody else," King said.

'Your shopping habits are no longer welcome'

Wanting to clear his name and be allowed to shop in the store again, King continued to push Giant Tiger for an explanation on Facebook. However, it took nearly eight weeks from the initial encounter for someone to respond.

In an email to King dated Jan. 26, Giant Tiger said that after "careful review and consideration [the store] has instituted a trespass notice as your shopping habits are no longer welcome.... If you choose to disregard the trespass notice the police will be called to enforce the trespass notice."

When CBC News contacted Giant Tiger for this story, spokesperson Aaron Wade said the ban has since been lifted.

"I am happy to confirm that Mr. King is welcome to continue shopping at any Giant Tiger location," Wade said. 

He said Giant Tiger sent King an email on Feb. 10, but hasn't received a response.

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Montreal group Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, says the 'hurtful' practice directed at King happens often in commercial settings, from department stores to small businesses across Canada. (CBC)

This is all news to King, who said he hasn't received any further calls or emails. 

"They never said sorry or I could come back," he said, adding that once he receives an apology, he'll shop there again.

Three experts said that what happened to King appears to be an example of racial profiling.

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Montreal civil rights organization Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, said the "hurtful" practice happens often in commercial settings, from department stores to small businesses across Canada.

"Where the customer or the person coming to the store — because of the way they look, their skin colour, their physical traits, in addition to the way they dress — they are treated from the outset as being suspicious," said Niemi, who helps victims of discrimination file complaints and supports them if they sue.

"It erodes a person's dignity. And their reputation is at stake."

Store employees will receive additional training

After the 2017 incident in Regina, Wade said Giant Tiger updated its internal policies to create "a welcoming shopping environment and providing exceptional customer services to everyone that enters our stores."

It also mandated annual diversity, equity and inclusion training for all employees and created a staff-led group that focuses on race and building awareness about unconscious bias, he said.

When asked about King's case specifically, Wade said the trespass notice was "administrative only," and no official or legal order was obtained against King.

He said Giant Tiger will apologize to King for how long it took for his concerns to be heard and attributed the delay to a high volume of calls during the holiday season.

All Scarborough store employees will receive additional training from a third-party company, Wade said.

However, the retailer did not apologize for how King was treated in the store and declined to explain what prompted the no trespassing order, citing privacy and safety concerns.

Company's response 'dismissive,' advocate says

Lori Campbell, a longtime advocate for Indigenous social justice issues and the University of Regina's associate vice-president for Indigenous engagement, said Giant Tiger's delay in responding to King's concerns is problematic.

"It's dismissive of the impact of their actions and also the impact of what that does to Indigenous peoples or any other racialized people that are profiled and how that impacts their mental health and well-being," she said.

Lori Campbell, a longtime advocate for Indigenous social justice issues and the University of Regina's associate vice-president for Indigenous engagement, says she's concerned about the length of time it took Giant Tiger to respond to King's complaint. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

"We should just be able to run out and buy some food and not feel that stress of: Are we going to be followed today? Is somebody going to accuse us?"

Tia Kennedy, who is from Oneida Nation of the Thames and Walpole Island First Nation in southern Ontario, is the director of Kiinew Kwe Consulting, which provides organizations with diversity and anti-racism training.

She said she's also experienced racial profiling in stores and has noticed that she's watched closely by employees when she wears her beaded earrings and moccasins. At self check-outs she's been questioned about whether she's actually scanned all of her items, so she now avoids them altogether.

Tia Kennedy, director of Kiinew Kwe Consulting, which provides organizations with diversity and anti-racism training, says the retail chain needs to apologize to King and to the public. (Submitted by Tia Kennedy)

"We have these feelings of shame, frustration, confusion, embarrassment that come up during these incidents," Kennedy said.

Giant Tiger needs to issue a public and private apology for its treatment of King and recognize that for every racial-profiling case reported, there are likely many more people who don't come forward, Kennedy said.

"I don't think it's something that should just be brushed off," she said. "It's something that definitely needs to be addressed, and it's quite sad the lack of urgency the business is taking to try to address this."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Beattie is a journalist based in Toronto. She has worked as a Senior Reporter at HuffPost Canada and before that at the Toronto Star covering city hall.

now