Winnipeg man accuses grocery store of racial profiling, files human rights complaint

An Aboriginal man is saying he was racially profiled after several shopping trips at a Winnipeg grocery store, and has taken his fight to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

Chris Wescoupe has had to find a new place to shop after he was accused of theft at a Superstore on Dec. 1.

Wescoupe said he walked into the grocery store and struck up a conversation with a police officer. Approximately 10 minutes later a second officer came up to the two and told him to leave.

“[He] basically said to me that I had to leave as the manager of the store identified me as someone that was stealing before,” Wescoupe explained. “As I never stole anything ever I found it funny and then he was actually serious…I was taken aback a bit.”

Wescoupe then asked to speak with a manager but was denied. He went back to the store later that day hoping to resolve the issue but was told by the officer if he came back he would be arrested.

Despite this he went back six days later and says the same officer told him to leave again.

Wescoupe felt humiliated.

“I was wondering why me, why now? After all these years why confront me this way?” said Wescoupe.

“[They] could have just asked me to step aside away from the front of the store and talk to me.”

He filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission on Wednesday citing he believed he was discriminated against because of his race.

However, Winnipeg Police say it wasn’t profiling – it was a misunderstanding.

“It had nothing to do with this person’s race… had pointed out this person was barred from the store before,” said Cst. Jay Murray.

“So, mistaken identity, yes. Anything beyond that, no.”

Winnipeg Police say reported instances of retail theft have nearly tripled from 2014 to 2019 citing a variable of reasons including the rising use of methamphetamine in the city.

A recent study looking at race relations in Canada shows instances like Wescoupe’s are not uncommon.

The study, conducted by Environics Institute for Survey Research in partnership with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, found 28 per cent of people who experienced discrimination did so in a store or a restaurant setting. The most common incidences at 38 per cent were everyday occurrences on the street.

Tomee Sojourner-Campbell specializes in diversity and inclusion training.

She said these situations have psychological impacts on the people including, high levels of stress, fear of security guards, fear of the actual location itself and fear of law enforcement.

Companies also have to be held accountable.

“They have a corporate responsibility to be socially responsible to the communities that they are a part of, to listen to the community members and individuals that go into those retail locations to make purchases,” said Sojourner-Campbell.

She adds conversations around consumer racial profiling need to happen in a public forum setting but it’s something that isn’t being done right now.

In an email to APTN a spokesperson for Loblaw, a parent company of Superstore, wrote, “all of our colleagues are required to complete training to ensure that everyone, colleague and customer, is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

They added the issue is resolved and Wescoupe is welcome back to the store.

But he says he plans to take his business elsewhere.

Reporter / Winnipeg

Brittany joined the APTN news team in October 2016. She is Ojibway and a member of the Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba. Before coming to APTN, she graduated with a joint degree in communications from the University of Winnipeg and Red River College.