Indigenous

Former Superstore security guard says staff routinely flag Indigenous shoppers as suspicious

A First Nations man's claims that he was racially profiled at a Winnipeg Superstore are being backed up by a former security guard who says three locations he has worked at routinely flag Indigenous shoppers as suspicious. 

Man says '9 times out of 10' the shoppers that employees ask security to monitor are Indigenous

Chris Wescoupe has filed a Manitoba Human Rights Commission complaint against a Winnipeg Real Canadian Superstore location. He says he was racially profiled because he is First Nations. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

A First Nations man's claims that he was racially profiled at a Winnipeg Superstore are being backed up by a former security guard who says three locations he has worked at routinely flag Indigenous shoppers as suspicious. 

On Wednesday, Chris Wescoupe filed a complaint against the Real Canadian Superstore with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

Wescoupe's complaint alleges he was racially profiled at the Bison Drive location, based on him being visibly First Nations.

He visited the store twice on Dec. 1, and once on Dec. 7. He was asked to leave each time because Winnipeg police special duty officers hired by the Superstore were told by the manager that he had stolen in the past.

Wescoupe denied the allegations. 

On Wednesday, Winnipeg police spokesperson Jay Murray said the decision to not allow Wescoupe to shop at the store was a case of mistaken identity by Superstore staff. 

A spokesperson for Loblaws, the parent company of The Real Canadian Superstore, said in an emailed statement "The manager has reached out to him on a number of occasions to apologize for any confusion and to assure him that he is always welcome in the store," said the statement.

"Mr. Wescoupe will be treated with the respect and dignity we trained our colleagues to extend all of our customers."

Employees call in 'suspicious' shoppers

On Thursday, a former Real Canadian Superstore loss prevention officer told CBC News that the majority of the customers that he was asked to monitor were visibly Indigenous.

CBC News has agreed to withhold his name as he fears job loss. The officer is still working in the loss prevention industry. 

The officer said he worked for Real Canadian Superstores for a year, at three different Winnipeg locations, and was responsible for monitoring thefts.

A former Real Canadian Superstore loss prevention officer told CBC News that the majority of the customers that he was asked to monitor were visibly Indigenous. (Warren Kay/CBC)

He said he spent a good portion of his work days surveilling shoppers through CCTV and would often field calls from Superstore employees on the floor, who would phone security about "suspicious" customers and ask them to monitor them.

The officer said that customers are usually deemed suspicious if they are constantly looking up at the cameras or if they are adding too much of one product into their cart.

"I wouldn't even be at work for 15 minutes and somebody would call upstairs and say 'Hey, you know there's some Aboriginal people acting suspicious in the store, check them out,'" said the officer. 

"And that would occur mostly throughout the day. I [would] get plenty of calls during my eight-and-a-half-hour shift."

The officer said a majority of the people being reported as suspicious were Indigenous.

A lot of them would be Aboriginal, like nine times out of 10, all Aboriginal​- Loss prevention officer

"When I'd get a phone call they'd say 'This person's acting suspicious' or 'These people are acting suspicious.' A lot of them would be Aboriginal, like nine times out of 10, all Aboriginal," said the officer. 

The officer said he also witnessed other forms of racism while working at the store.

In one incident, he said another loss prevention officer had tried to stop a theft and was physically threatened with a needle. After the incident, he said the other officer said "F--king Indians, man." 

"That's what he had said to me. He looked me dead in the eye and said that and I was shocked," said the officer. 

"I had told my supervisor and she didn't really do anything about it, in my opinion." 

He said a lot of employees were uneducated about contemporary Indigenous issues and that he suggested to management that they offer Indigenous sensitivity training to its workforce to address the issue of bias among employees. 

Loblaws had not responded to a request for comment on the officer's allegations by the time of publishing.

About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine and has been an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit for three years. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1