The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has ordered a popular Toronto restaurant to pay a black man $10,000 for a rights violation after the establishment asked him and three friends to prepay for their meal.
In May 2014, Emile Wickham, who identifies an Afro-Caribbean male, went to Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant for a birthday meal with three of his friends.
Upon placing their orders, their server told them they would need to prepay for their meals. When they asked whether that was necessary, the server said it was restaurant policy, so the four men obliged.
After making their payment, Wickham said that the decision did not sit well with him, according to the tribunal decision. He decided to ask other patrons if they had been required to prepay, which none of them had been asked to do. Wickham said no other patrons in the restaurant were black.
Upon questioning their server, he admitted they were the only table that had been required to prepay. Another server joined the discussion and the group was eventually offered a refund, but with no explanation as to why they had been required to prepay. The men accepted the refund and left the restaurant. Wickham eventually filed a suit with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
In her decision, adjudicator Esi Codjoe concluded section 1 of the province’s human-rights code, which ensures every person’s right to equal treatment to services, goods and facilities, had been violated by the restaurant.
According to the tribunal decision, the incident had a profound impact on Wickham:
“In essence, the applicant was presumed to be a potential thief in waiting despite any evidence to that effect. His mere presence as a Black man in a restaurant was presumed to be sufficient evidence of his presumed propensity to engage in criminal behaviour,” wrote adjudicator Esi Codjoe in the decision
“It has fundamentally changed the way that he perceives Toronto, and the level of the city’s inclusiveness. The applicant feels less accepted in the city as a result. The incident was a rude awakening.”
The restaurant did not have anyone present at the tribunal hearing but they did submit response six months after Wickham filed his complaint:
“Because of its location, the restaurant attracts something of a transient crowd, and unfortunately it was very common in the past that customers ‘dine and dash’ – that is, eat their meals, and leave the restaurant without paying,” the respondent filed by legal counsel. “Accordingly, the respondent many years ago adopted a policy that where the staff on duty did not know the patron as a regular customer, they would ask for pre-payment for the food being ordered before it was served. There was never any intent to discriminate against the applicant; all customers who are not know to be regulars are treated the same way.”
Codjoe rejected this explanation, saying in her decision that “there is no evidence that the policy even exists.”
Since then, the company has responded on Twitter:
This issue, from four years ago when we were under different management is deeply concerning and is under legal appeal.(Please see attached statement)
Our commitment to our community is strong and we offer assurance that all our customers are appreciated and treated respectfully pic.twitter.com/2t14EKpkhv
— Hong Shing (@HongShingTO) April 30, 2018
Wickham has expressed his thoughts on the decision via social media:
being asked if I'm happy about decision, tbh no, more grateful that we were heard and believed. I would trade of this for the two hours of bonding taken away from us that night
— Emile Wickham (@emile_wickham) April 30, 2018
The story also resonated with many across Twitter:
"I feel a lot of Canadians feel like [they aren’t racist] because they don’t say the n-word" – @emile_wickham
— _______ (@gfors) April 30, 2018
I’m honestly sorry that happened, the fact that people can pass such quick judgement is baffling. I’ve seen a similar situation previously as a student and being asked to prepay for meals in restaurants.
Judge not, lest ye be judged.
Be proud, you helped affect change.
— KING3R (@Kinger2Point0) April 30, 2018
You GO Emile Wickham!! Thank you for your courage, you're an example to all young minorities in Canada. If everyone didn't prepay, why should 4 young black kids. #WeAreTorontotheGood
— Glomoisha (@Glomoisha2) April 30, 2018
Have you ever had a racist encounter in Canada? Tell us in the comments below.