Actress claims she was discriminated against by theatre — while going to see film about race

Actress claims she was discriminated against by theatre — while going to see film about race

A Canadian actress claims she was denied entry to a independent movie theatre in Toronto and discriminated against — while going to see an Oscar-nominated film about race.

Toronto-born Olunike Adeliyi, who has had roles on television series Flashpoint, Republic of Doyle and currently stars on the CBC's Workin' Moms, says she was refused a ticket at the Kingsway Theatre unless she agreed to surrender her backpack — something the theatre doesn't allow inside auditoriums.

But instead of coming to a peaceful solution, she says the situation exploded, with the owner phoning police and telling them a black woman was threatening them.

"I'm not sure he understood the magnitude of that. It made me very scared and unsafe," Adeliyi said, adding she felt "completely targeted."

Adeliyi says she wasn't comfortable leaving behind her bag because her laptop and other valuables were inside. Leaving bags at the door was a policy she says she'd never heard of before, so she inquired about it with the woman at the desk.

The woman explained the rule was to prevent people from sneaking food and alcohol into the theatre, which has its own liquor licence.

"If that's all it is, then please feel free to go through my backpack," Adeliyi says she told the woman. "I'm giving you full authority."

But the woman refused, she said, telling her rules were rules and that if she wasn't going to buy a ticket, she'd need to step out of the line.

Adeliyi says she asked to speak with the higher-ups, but that she was brushed off.

'I grabbed my things and I started to walk out'

"So I grabbed my things and I started to walk out. But then I came back because this is the only theatre that has that film," she said, adding it was important to her to see the movie Loving, whose lead actress, Ethiopian-Irish Ruth Negga received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

But when she returned, she says the woman at the counter told her she wouldn't sell her a ticket because she was no longer welcome at the theatre and that she had to leave because she wasn't complying with the rules.

Moments later she says a man bolted out of the back room telling her, "Get the f--k off the premises or I'm going to call the police."

Adeliyi said she responded that it's best he did just that. "I'm willing to stay around and wait," she said she told him as he began filming and dialling 911.

Toronto police confirm they were called to the theatre on Friday afternoon around 3:45 p.m. for reports of an unwanted guest behaving in a threatening manner, who was refusing to leave. She was described to police as Black, in her 30s, with black clothing and a toque.

No arrests were made and no charges were laid, Const. Allyson Douglas-Cook told CBC Toronto.

"Just to be clear, them having a policy of no backpacks or large bags in the auditorium, that's not racism. It's a policy," Adeliyi told CBC Toronto, speaking about the experience. "It's not racism to even call the police."

What she says she found discriminatory was the description given of her to police.

"What I found to be racist.... is how he described me to 911. Because now we're going through the territory of, I'm being labelled as dangerous."

Theatre owner says race not an issue

Rui Pereira, the theatre's owner, calls Adeliyi's version of events a "false narrative," saying that at no time was race part of the issue. Pereira said he simply gave the description based on the questions he was asked over 911.

"I called the police, they asked me who was here, I gave a description," Pereira says.

"At no time was any of this brought up about race, or whether she was a black woman… The only thing that matters here is that this person refused to comply with the rules, the rules that apply to every single person who walks into this theatre."

It didn't end there.

Pereira admits he posted two separate posts on Kingsway Theatre's Facebook page, actions he says he took to provide his side of the story because according to him, Adeliyi threatened to take to social media and ruin the theatre's name.

He also admits he sent Adeliyi a direct message on Facebook saying she would be arrested if she ever returned to the theatre, a move he says was "highly appropriate," given the behaviour he calls "abusive" and "bullying."

Racial discrimination can be subtle: lawyer

Kate Sellar is a lawyer at the Human Rights Legal Support Centre. She says racial discrimination can be a subtle thing.

"It's not always overt. It's not always the use of a racial slur. It can sometimes be much more nuanced and subtle examples where people are treated differently because of their race," says Sellar.

"Sometimes asking yourself whether the same scrutiny would have occurred to a white person in the same situation is one way to think about whether you might dealing with racial profiling or racial discrimination."

One option for people who feel they've been discriminated against is to file a report with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal for mediation. The tribunal can also make orders for future compliance, which include changes to policy or implementing training.

For her part, Adeliyi says she's now considering her options. The actress would not elaborate on specifics.