Man accuses liquor store of racism

He says in the statement that he feels he was wrongly put under scrutiny and followed by a security guard in a crowded liquor store at Bay and Dundas Streets because he and a friend he was with are black.

The Globe and Mail
July 19, 2004

Man accuses liquor store of racism
Guard at Ontario government outlet used racial profiling, complaint says
Colin Freeze


Human-rights crusader Selwyn Pieters has launched the latest in a series of anti-racism battles, this time against the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.

During the past decade, Mr. Pieters, a 36-year-old Torontonian, has filed formal complaints alleging racism by Toronto police officers, Canada Customs inspectors, the University of Toronto, the school board he once worked for, the jail system he once worked in, and this year, the federal refugee board that employs him.

Now Mr. Pieters sees racial profiling at work in an Ontario's liquor store. This week, he circulated a statement that one evening near Christmas last year, he was buying a $27.95 bottle of rum when he had a run-in with a security guard.

He says in the statement that he feels he was wrongly put under scrutiny and followed by a security guard in a crowded liquor store at Bay and Dundas Streets because he and a friend he was with are black.

Mr. Pieters says he told this to the security guard, who denied doing anything racist.

A few months later, Mr. Pieters launched a formal complaint against the LCBO with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

"The fact is, I'm the wrong person to stereotype," Mr. Pieters said in an interview. "Anyone who knows me will tell you I don't take fools gladly — and I don't take racial profiling."

He said he probably has filed "about 10" such complaints against institutions.

The Dec. 23 LCBO case, he said, is a clear-cut case of racism. "I mean, would they have done it if it was two white women wearing Louis Vuitton bags?"

In the text of his complaint, he adds: "Black, African, Canadian male customers are viewed suspiciously and treated as such by security and store personnel at the LCBO," which he says is "official practice."

The LCBO, in documents filed with the human-rights commission, denies its security guards engage in racial profiling. It says it keeps a close eye on patrons during the busy holiday season — especially in the store in question, which is its most frequently robbed outlet.

"The surveillance had everything to do with the fact that vigilance was high, many customers were being observed and these two individuals happened to be in a part of Store 568 [that is] more susceptible to theft."

Mr. Pieters says in the documents that the guard ran toward him to ensure he was not stealing, and later quipped that he "caught a couple of black people stealing liquor."

The LCBO denies this.

Despite the fracas and his expression of displeasure to the guard, Mr. Pieters left with the rum, paying for it at 7:55 p.m, according to a receipt he filed with his complaint.

In the complaint documents, Mr. Pieters notes he has been quoted saying he will always fight racism, no matter where he encounters it.

"Every time I'm profiled … I'm going to file a complaint. I'm going to go through the judicial process. Whether I win or lose there's a public record of it, and that's the way it is."

The human-rights commission, one of several bodies to which Mr. Pieters has complained, generally tries to mediate such disputes rather than proceed formally. It will not comment on the matter.

Two years ago, Mr. Pieters won a landmark battle after accusing Canada Customs inspectors of racial profiling. He received an apology, an undisclosed cash settlement and promises that the agency would educate its officers to be more sensitive.

Terse exchanges and overheard words by Mr. Pieters have figured in many of his actions.

He alleged that one co-worker at the Immigration and Refugee Board called him "a spook," and that a Canada Customs officer called him "Billy Jack" — a reference to a character in a 1971 movie who is a part-native karate expert who avenges bigotry with his feet.

He has said that co-workers at a jail displayed Ku Klux Klan signs and that Toronto Police officers put him under surveillance because he is black.

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