Restaurant fined for making black customers pay in advance for meals

Staff 'motivated by a stereotype that black persons are criminal or deviant', says judgment

Emile Wickham and three of his friends went to Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant in Toronto for a birthday meal in May 2014
Emile Wickham and three of his friends went to Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant in Toronto for a birthday meal in May 2014

A Chinese restaurant in Canada has been fined C$10,000 (£5,700) by a human rights tribunal for making black customers pay in advance for their meals.

Emile Wickham and three of his friends went to Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant in Toronto’s Chinatown for a birthday meal in May 2014.

After the waiter took their order, he told the group they would need to pay for them upfront, Mr Wickham told the tribunal.

When they questioned him, he said it was restaurant policy and the group paid for their meals.

But Mr Wickham became suspicious and asked the other diners in the restaurant, who were all white, whether they had prepaid for their food. They said they had not, the tribunal was told.

Mr Wickham then questioned the waiter about the policy and he admitted they were the only ones who had paid in advance.

He and another restaurant employee offered Mr Wickham and his friends a refund, which they accepted before leaving.

Soon after the incident, Mr Wickham filed a complaint with the human rights tribunal.

Responding to the official complaint, the restaurant said it had introduced a new policy for customers who were not regulars to prevent them from leaving without paying.

But adjudicator Esi Codjoe said there was no evidence the other customers in the restaurant were regulars.

She concluded that the actions of Hong Shing violated the first section of the province’s human rights code, which bans discrimination when providing a service.

In her judgment she concluded the behaviour of the restaurant staff “suggests that their treatment of the applicant was motivated by a stereotype that black persons are criminal, or deviant".

“The applicant and his friends appear to be the only persons in the restaurant at the time who were subjected to the requirement to pre-pay for their meals,” she said.

“Their mere presence in the restaurant as persons who are black seems to have been enough to warrant the application of the pre-payment requirement.”

Mr Wickham told Canadian TV channel CP24 he and his friends had been “denied our dignity” during the incident.

“I would say that I would give all of this back to just spend two hours with my friends, just bonding for my birthday. That experience was taken away from me,” he said.

He said the Canadian public needed to have a “frank discussion” about the treatment of black and indigenous people.

In a statement to CTV News, the current owner of Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant said the tribunal's decision was under appeal.

“We are deeply concerned about the situation and the people affected, with an added consideration that the reported claim occurred four years ago when the restaurant was under different management,” spokesman Colin Li said.

“There are a number of sensitivities and considerations about this situation, and for that reason, the tribunal outcome is under appeal by legal representatives.”

The judgment follows protests at the arrests of two black men at a Starbucks cafe in Philadelphia. A shop employee called the police to say they were trespassing, but the men said they were waiting for a friend.

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