Earls restaurant ditches Albino Rhino, won’t fight human rights complaint

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

In a win for albino rights, a popular Canadian restaurant chain is changing the name of its house brand of beer after an albino woman filed a human-rights complaint in British Columbia.

The Vancouver Province reports Earls Restaurant, with more than 50 locations in Canada and the United States, is complying with a request to alter the name Albino Rhino from its beer and also its chicken wings. By April 24, menus will refer to them simply as Rhino.

"The Albino Rhino brand was created 25 years ago and named after the white rhinoceros," Earls said in a statement on its web site.

"It did not occur to us that the name would be associated with albinism, neither did it occur to us it would offend. We do not believe the use of the word 'albino' reflects any intention to discriminate against persons with albinism.

"We have learned from participating in the human rights complaint process, however, that many persons with albinism are genuinely offended and feel that their dignity is negatively impacted by the use of the word “albino” in our marketing."

[ Related: 'Albino Rhino' beer at Earls Restaurants target of human rights complaint ]

The decision by the eatery is a victory for Ikponwosa Ero, who has the rare genetic mutation known as albinism. It leaves the body unable to produce the melanin that provides for skin, hair and eye colour. The inherited defect leaves albinos with higher risk for vision problems, skin cancer and less tolerance for the sun.

In Africa, albinos have been targeted for ritualistic murder. Ero was born in Nigeria and her family fled to Canada when she was a teenager because of threats of persecution.

Her complaint to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal said the name of Earls' Albino Rhino “has an adverse impact on persons with albinism in that it is demeaning and humiliating for the complainants to have their condition featured as a menu item," the Province said.

Sociologist Garth Mullins, a well-known Vancouver activist who has albinism and who filed an affidavit supporting Ero's complaint, told the Province he believes Earls reviewed her claim, which included weighty academic opinions, and decided not to fight.

Earls argued initially that Albino Rhino was not a reference to albinism but Ero's supporters pointed to the "parallels" in the beer-logo image of a white rhino sporting large sunglasses — like people with albinism often wear to protect their eyes — nosing out of jungle foliage.

“Businesses want to make their products edgy and different, and the complainants were saying don’t do that on our backs,” Mullins said.

When news reports of the human rights case first surfaced, said Mullins, the complainants were criticized for being politically correct whiners.

“But I think we are just engaging in the same dialogue of any group that is marginalized," he said.