Conflicting accounts over an Indigenous guest who was denied use of a restroom at Vancouver's Hyatt Regency Hotel has Indigenous groups claiming anti-Indigenous racism and moving to drop the hotel as a venue for a conference of 1,000 Indigenous youths taking place in two weeks.
At a press conference Friday, B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres (BCAAFC) Executive Director Leslie Varley said the man, a cultural advisor in his early 40s, suffered humiliation and trauma when a Hyatt employee denied him entry to the restroom four times on the night of Feb. 24.
"The cultural advisor recounts how the hotel employee mocked him and smirked at him, noticing his wet clothing," said Varley.
Hyatt general manager Patrick Gosselin said in a statement that the employee was locking up the second floor restroom after 11 p.m. when the man approached. Gosselin said the employee initially asked the man to use the lobby restroom instead.
"Within approximately 20 seconds of first encountering the man, and as soon as our colleague learned that he was a guest who urgently needed to use the restroom, our colleague gave him immediate access to the restroom," he said.
Gosselin said a hotel investigation concluded the employee was following overnight protocols by closing restrooms in unused areas of the hotel and by redirecting the man to an open restroom.
The hotel has shared the CCTV video of the incident with the BCAAFC, said Varley, along with a letter denying any wrongdoing.
"It said, in summary, our colleague was only doing his job. Here's a breakfast voucher and we hope you have a pleasant rest of your stay," she said.
Varley said without an assurance of change, the incident proves the Hyatt is not a safe space for young delegates attending the Gathering of Voices conference March 22 to 25.
"The BCAAFC does not want the Hyatt hotel to address this merely as one employees' actions, we want to see all staff trained to understand their biases against Indigenous people, and we want to see measures to make sure systemic racism is addressed throughout the Hyatt organization," said Varley.
Gosselin said the Hyatt Regency Vancouver has worked with Indigenous groups for many years and is proud of its records.
"As an organization, we have taken the reconciliation with Indigenous people very seriously with a focus on educating our colleagues," he said.
The Gathering of Voices website lists the Hyatt and Fairmont Hotel Vancouver as the two host hotels for the conference. Varley said organizers were working to move attendees out of the Hyatt to other hotels, adding an additional $1 million to the original $2 million cost of the conference.
"Whatever it's going to cost us, it's going to cost us," she said.
"I really need to stand on principle and make sure Indigenous people feel safe."