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Investigation finds that stores are racially profiling customers

Lizzy Hill is an internationally published writer, into writing about arts and entertainment, food and drink, feminism and her own misadventures. With a background in film and television production, journalism and visual arts, Lizzy's in...

What to do if you're treated differently while shopping because of your skin colour

From SheKnows Canada

A new investigation proves that store owners treat Canadian shoppers differently based on their skin colour, which is a discriminatory practice that violates our rights, as set out in Canada's Human Rights Act.

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You may have heard the phrase "shopping while black" on Vine, with Vine stars like Rashid Polo uploading videos that show his firsthand experiences with racial profiling while shopping. Polo posted a video of himself walking around a convenience store and getting followed by an employee who was conspicuously pretending to organize bags of chips while keeping a constant eye on the Minnesota teen.

A new CBC Marketplace investigation shows Canadian shoppers experiencing racial discrimination in stores as well. Marketplace spent months documenting how three men of three different races — black, Aboriginal and white — were treated when shopping in 15 different stores in five Canadian cities. The men all dressed the same, walked through the same aisles and displayed the same mannerisms in each store. Marketplace found that in some stores, the men were treated drastically differently.

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For instance, unlike Marketplace's undercover white shopper, their undercover Jamaican-Canadian shopper Mark Simms was followed around a New Brunswick Best Buy by an employee and asked multiple times if he needed help. And Leland Delorme, who's Aboriginal, reported different treatment than the undercover white shopper in a Regina Shoppers Drug Mart, where several staff members followed him around as he walked through the aisles of the store.

"They pretended to be scanning things and then just looking, glancing over," he tells CBC Marketplace. "It could not have been more obvious."

"I'm sorry to say I am not shocked at all," he adds. "But it still pisses me off."

The investigation revealed that some stores' security teams are using illegal and shockingly discriminatory practices. An anonymous security consultant gives Marketplace an example of just how systematic racial profiling can be: "We'd have a different code name for certain different people, of different ethnic backgrounds," he explains. "When certain ethnic backgrounds or a black minority would come in, that code name would be called out on the radio."

Canada's Human Rights Act explicitly prohibits discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin or skin colour. If a business provides someone with "goods, services, facilities or accommodation in a way that treats them adversely and differently," they're violating that person's human rights. The province you live in has its own human rights code as well.

For instance, according to Ontario's Human Rights Code: "Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race."

But what should you do if you're racially profiled while shopping?

1. Launch a complaint

If your rights are violated and you feel you've experienced racial profiling, you can launch a complaint to your provincial or federal Human Rights Tribunal. That's just what Ontario woman Mary McCarthy did when a Shoppers Drug Mart employee singled her out and asked her to open her knapsack. When McCarthy refused to do so, staff forcibly inspected her belongings. Ontario's Human Rights Tribunal ordered Shoppers to pay $8,000 to McCarthy. The Tribunal ruled that the employee was wrongfully “being influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by the stereotype that black people are thieves."

2. Reach out to the media

Don't be afraid to go public if you've faced discrimination. Nova Scotia woman Janeen Williams spoke to the press after claiming she was followed around a Sobey's grocery store by a security officer who, she says, insisted she'd stolen something from the store. Despite the fact that she showed him her receipt, he allegedly demanded to look through her bag. “I felt that I was being stereotyped simply because I was a black person,” Williams — who says she's filing a Human Rights complaint — tells CTV Atlantic.

3. Share your experiences

Thanks to social media, there's a building grassroots movement of people calling out businesses for discriminatory practices. You can take cue from Vine users who document their experiences or simply add your voice to the movement on Twitter, using trending hashtags such as #shoppingwhileblack or #FaceRacism. The more we raise awareness about this issue, the less likely stores are to get away with it.

Have you ever been racially profiled while shopping? Share your story in the comments section below.

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