Restaurant Fined $10,000 For Asking Black Customers to Prepay Before Ordering
Toronto, Canada — The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has slapped the owners of a Chinese restaurant with a $10,000 fine after confirming that they discriminated against Emile Wickham and his friends, whom all are Black men, requiring them to pay upfront for their meal.
In a decision released last month, Adjudicator Esi Codjoe ruled Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant violated the civil rights of Emile Wickham after its server “presumed [him] to be a potential thief in waiting despite any evidence to that effect.”
In May 2014, Wickham and his friends went to the restaurant to celebrate his 28th birthday after classes. But before they could order, a server told them to pay in advance saying it was a policy applied to all. After paying, their group was also asked to be taken a picture “as an exhibit.”
Wickham, now 31-years old, has testified in the tribunal case saying that when he asked at least three other patrons at that time about the pre-payment policy, they all said they were not asked to do the same.
Upon knowing that they were the only ones asked to pay in advance, they confronted the server “to explain why they had to pay and no one else had been expected to do so,” the decision says. But instead of explaining, the server simply offered them a refund.
The restaurant, whose representatives did not attend the tribunal case, claimed that they did not intend to discriminate against Wickham and his friends and that it was a years-long policy that the staff would ask for a prepayment if the patron was not a known regular customer. Codjoe, in her decision, said there was no evidence that policy ever existed.
“[Wickham’s] mere presence as a Black man in a restaurant was presumed to be sufficient evidence of his presumed propensity to engage in criminal behaviour,” Codjoe wrote in her decision. “At its core racial profiling is a form of short hand that enables the perpetrator of the behaviour to assume certain facts, and ignore others.”
Aside from the compensation, Codjoe also ordered Hong Shing Restaurant to display an Ontario Human Rights Commission Code card in a “prominent place” in their restaurant as a “visual reminder.”
After the release of the decision, Wickham was more than relieved. “For a number of Black persons who live in Toronto, who live in Canada, a lot of our stories aren’t believed unless there’s a video, there’s a picture, or there’s multiple witnesses,” he told The Star.
While Wickham’s case seems to be a success, it is just one of the many stories of Black people who can’t publicly dine in peace urging for a #DiningWhileBlack hashtag wherein many Black people share their own experiences on social media while eating out.