A Greenwood, N.S., man says his food truck has been driven out of business by a provincial inspector who called him "you people" and suspended his food licence.
Rejean Cromwell is Black and took the "you people" comment as a racial slur.
Two village commissioners for Greenwood said there is no racism in the community and Cromwell is "just frustrated." The local MLA said the incident was "disturbing."
Cromwell has had a long career in the food industry. He most recently exported seafood to Toronto, but the COVID-19 pandemic wrecked that business.
He invested his savings into a new business, Seafood by Rejean. He rented a lot, got the necessary permits, and opened for business about six weeks ago.
"I did phenomenal numbers that whole weekend," Cromwell said Friday. "People had fun. People enjoyed themselves."
But then inspectors started turning up from Nova Scotia Environment, the provincial body overseeing food safety. They told him he was violating bylaws in how he stored his water and his propane.
Cromwell said he fixed those problems, but the inspectors found new issues.
Things escalated when the inspector asked him if he had a washroom. Cromwell told him he'd installed a portable toilet so his mother, who works with him, wouldn't be uncomfortable.
"They sat there and told my mother that she should wear diapers if she can't hold her urine," he said. "When I was in an argument with these people, they called out, 'You people cause all kinds of trouble.' What's he mean by you people? What, you Black people? Is that what you mean?"
When the inspector came to suspend his licence, he turned up with a colleague and two police officers. Cromwell said that made him look like a criminal.
MLA 'disturbed' by situation
Brian Banks is chair of the village commission of Greenwood. Banks, who is white, spoke to Cromwell. "I think he's just frustrated," he told CBC News.
Asked about the "you people" remark, Banks said "you'd have to call the environmental people who inspect to see whether or not that actually happened."
He said he could not do anything to help Cromwell.
"I'm not aware that there is a racism problem in Greenwood. We have many different people here living contentedly in Greenwood," Banks said. "I guess I'm puzzled when he says that."
Leo Glavine, the MLA for Kings West, used to oversee the department responsible for food inspections and looked at Cromwell's case. Glavine said Cromwell's long experience in the food industry means he knows how to handle food.
He said most of the inspector's issues were "small items."
The inspectors said there was too much coliform in the water, which is why they took his licence. But they didn't provide the report.
"How do you tell someone you have water quality issues when you've never shown him that he actually does? And that for me was disturbing," Glavine said.
He said government officials should work with new business owners like Cromwell to help them stay safe and stay open.
"I'm told — in fact by the inspectors — that his place is spotless for the serving of food. If it's about water, show him what the problem is," Glavine said.
The MLA said racism is an issue in Kings County and that government officials should never use phrases with racist overtones.
He said he'd seen ethnic business owners face "undue" scrutiny, especially in the food business.
Environment department investigating
A spokesperson for Nova Scotia Environment said it rejects all forms of discrimination and is taking Cromwell's allegations "extremely seriously."
"We are investigating Mr. Cromwell's complaint and have reached out to ask him for a meeting," the spokesperson said.
Cromwell said he's out of business without his licence.
"Saturday's my birthday, Aug. 1. I'm opening up my food truck and I'm going to give food away. There's nothing in there saying I'm not allowed to have a private birthday party," he said.
Courtney Butler, a photographer, lives across the street from Cromwell's food truck and plans to attend Saturday's gathering.
"I think they're bullying him, they're harassing him, they're trying to get him out of town," she said Friday.
"It blows my mind that this is still happening. I've lived in this town since 2004. As a young teenager, I saw this happening, and it's still happening. It's sickening."
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