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B.C. tribunal accepts racial profiling complaint against Hudson's Bay

A Black Vancouver man who says he was racially profiled for suspected shoplifting will get his day before B.C.'s Human Rights Tribunal after it accepted a complaint against Hudson's Bay Company
A Black Vancouver man alleges he was racially profiled at downtown Vancouver's Hudson's Bay store.

B.C.'s Human Rights Tribunal has accepted the complaint from a Vancouver man who claims a Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) employee racially profiled him when he was singled out for suspected shoplifting.

Bento Matias, who describes himself as a Black, African male, alleged that due to employee's conduct, HBC discriminated against him based on his race, colour, and sex, in violation of B.C.'s Human Rights Code.

"Mr. Matias' complaint arises in a social context of persistent patterns of anti‐Black racism," tribunal member Amber Prince said. "It is widely recognized that racial profiling is one form of anti‐Black racism and that racialized groups are disproportionately criminalized and targeted, stopped, and subjected to pointed scrutiny."

The complaint names HBC and manager Nick Tessari, who Matias says did not adequately respond to his complaint.

Matias said the incident occurred while he was at an HBC store carrying jackets from his security work.

He alleges an HBC employee, described only as GC, followed him when he left the store.

When Matias asked the employee if she was following him, he said she ignored him and appeared to be on the phone to the police.

As the police arrived on scene, Mathias and GC approached the officers separately.

"It became clear to Mr. Matias in his conversation with police that GC suspected that Mr. Matias had stolen jackets from HBC, but she was mistaken," Prince's Jan. 26 decision said.

Matias alleged that due to GC's conduct, HBC discriminated against him based on his race, colour, and sex, in violation of B.C.'s Human Rights Code.

HBC tasked James Petrowsky with investigating the situation. He found GC had not followed company guidelines for handling suspected shoplifters.
Petrowsky recommended GC be fired, but she resigned before that could happen.

"HBC considered GC's conduct so off‐side that it decided to terminate her employment," Prince said. "GC's conduct towards Mr. Matias cannot be viewed as reasonable in light of HBC's policies."

However, the tribunal member found the complaint against Tessari did not have a reasonable prospect of succeeding as the manager had offered assistance in pursuing a complaint.

HBC responded that Matias had not set out any allegations connecting his age or sex to his treatment at HBC and that race, ancestry, colour, sex, and age played no role in his treatment at HBC.

The company offered Matias $1,250 to settle his complaint on the condition that he withdraw his human rights complaint and remove any social media posts about HBC.

Matias rejected that offer.

Prince disagreed with HBC that its settlement offer of $1,250 is comparable to what Matias could expect the tribunal to award if he proved his complaint. That could run from $2,000 to $35,000, Prince said.

Matias told the tribunal he feels afraid to shop at HBC, has lost sleep, and feels shamed, anxious, depressed and violated after being falsely suspected of shoplifting.

In a statement to Glacier Media, HBC spokesperson Tiffany Bourre said that the company is "committed to creating an inclusive shopping environment in which all individuals are treated with respect.

"All HBC associates are required to abide by company policies which explicitly prohibit discrimination based on race, age, gender identity, gender expression, and all characteristics protected under the Human Rights Code," Bourre said