A Black woman who alleges she was racially profiled and detained by security guards demanding to search her purse as she tried to leave a casino in Burnaby, B.C., has filed a human rights complaint.
Siobhan Barker says she was trying to make her way to the parking garage after an event at a restaurant in the Grand Villa Casino on June 18, 2019 when she was stopped by a security guard who said he needed to check inside her bag for alcohol or weapons.
She alleges that when she declined to let the guard look inside her purse, she was prevented from leaving to find her car for between 20 and 45 minutes as more security personnel arrived on the scene.
"I think that I was racially profiled as a Black-presenting person to have my bag searched when there was no grounds for suspicion," Barker, who is of mixed ancestry, told CBC News.
"Even the fact that I was saying that I was leaving didn't seem to sway the security guard."
Barker filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal against the casino's parent company, Gateway Casinos and Entertainment, earlier this summer, after her attempts to resolve the issue through other means failed.
In it, she alleges discrimination on the basis of ancestry, colour, race and physical disability — she also has a disability that makes it uncomfortable to stand for long periods of time.
'No tolerance' for discrimination
Gateway spokesperson Tanya Gabara told CBC News she could not comment on Barker's experience for privacy reasons, and said the company has not received the formal complaint.
"Gateway has no tolerance for any type of discrimination and applies all policies universally to ensure we provide a safe and secure environment for all patrons and employees," Gabara wrote in an email.
Barker, who works as a consultant on issues of diversity and inclusion, said she has plenty of experience with being racially profiled. She said it hurts every time.
"It was horrible. I'm literally hired to help organizations with this, and yet this was still perpetrated against me," she said.
"There's no degree of respectability ... that makes a Black-presenting person exempt from discriminatory treatment."
When Barker was stopped by security, she says she asked why she was under suspicion.
"All the other non-Black people that went by with bags that were larger than mine were not stopped," she said.
When she asked to speak to a supervisor, Barker alleges the manager on duty told her racial prejudice couldn't be a factor because the security guard who stopped her was not white. Barker describes that logic as flawed.
"In the end I said that I was leaving, that I was not consenting to a bag search, that I lived with disability and I needed the escalator or elevator," she said.
She says the security personnel finally let her leave at that point.
Barker said she knows some people will ask why she didn't just let the guard look in her purse.
"That argument is problematic in that it supports the anti-Black racism that was actually being perpetuated," she said.
"Yes, it would have been that bad to comply, to say that yes, there is grounds to view me as a threat, to view my property as suspect based on my appearance."
'My hope is to educate and guide'
The human rights tribunal wasn't Barker's first choice for addressing the incident.
A few days after it happened, she wrote a letter to casino management expressing her disappointment about what had happened.
She told CBC News she wanted some acknowledgement that a mistake had been made and training would be improved.
"In my professional capacity, my hope is to educate and guide. In a personal capacity I felt an apology was due to me for horrible inconvenience, intimidation and threat," Barker said.
But no apology or acknowledgement was forthcoming.
The Grand Villa's general manager, Lisa Mak, replied in a letter to Barker on July 17, 2019, saying it is the casino's policy to check the bags of people trying to enter the casino floor, but purses should not be checked "except in exceptional circumstances."
Mak denies that Barker was detained for 45 minutes but acknowledges she was stopped by security.
The letter does not address Barker's allegation that she was actually trying to leave the facility, but says that management is confident her race was not a factor.
The tribunal is now reviewing Barker's complaint to determine if it can proceed.
Barker said she hopes her complaint will result in new training for casino staff, better communication of the policy on bag checks, as well as compensation for counselling she's undergone as a result of what happened.