Toronto Restaurant Forced to Pay $10K to Black Customers After Demanding Prepay

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  • In May 2014, a restaurant in Toronto racially profiled four black customers. Now, it’s being ordered by the province of Ontario to pay $10,000 for their negative experience.

    Toronto resident Emile Wickham and three of his friends just wanted to enjoy a simple meal at Hong Shing Chinese restaurant. Their experience went awry, however, when the server came to take their order and asked them to pay in advance. Wickham and his friends obliged when the server explained that it was restaurant policy. However, something didn’t sit right with Wickham when he noticed that, among the other white and Asian diners, he and his friends were the only black patrons in the restaurant. He asked the other customers if they had also been asked to prepay. Their answer? No.

    Confronted with this information, the wait staff at the restaurant offered to refund their meal. Wickham and his friends left the restaurant, but they didn’t leave the issue there. They took the case to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (a Canadian court dedicated specifically to hearing cases involving discrimination, harassment, and other violations of the Human Rights Code).

    Usually, when a case is brought to the Tribunal, the parties involved are first offered the option of mediation. In this case, Hong Shing declined to participate. In fact, they didn’t even issue a statement until six months after the initial incident. They said that asking customers to prepay was a standard policy to avoid dine and dash customers. The Human Rights Tribunal wasn’t buying it though. They saw no evidence that this was a standard policy, and the resulting decision was to compensate Emile Wickham and his friends $10,000 for their experience.

    Hong Shing has said that the case is under appeal and noted that the restaurant is under new management. Selwyn Pieters, a lawyer involved in the case, however, wasn’t convinced, noting that the new owner is just the son of the previous owners. He tweeted: “Looks like a deliberate attempt to evade paying up on the judgment. Hopefully, the enforcement of the judgment moves ahead very quickly. They should pay up or be shut down.”

    The public response to Wickham’s experience has prompted a lot of people to share negative reviews of Hong Shing as well as their own experiences with racism in Toronto. This might come as a surprise to some given Toronto’s reputation as a progressive city.

    And what does Emile Wickham think of the outcome? Wickham said:

    “Being asked if I’m happy about the decision, to be honest no, more grateful that we were heard and believed. I would trade all of this for the two hours of bonding taken away from us that night.”

    Fortunately, there is some hope moving forward. In addition to the Human Rights Tribunal, the City of Toronto has also unveiled the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism aimed at removing systemic barriers that black residents of Toronto face.

    What do you guys think? Is $10,000 the right compensation for what Emile Wickham and his friends experienced? Let us know in the comments.

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