A First Nations man says he wants to be treated with dignity just like any other shopper.
However, Rex Smallboy felt that he was belittled at a Mr. Big & Tall menswear shop.
Smallboy believed that he was demeaned and humiliated because of his race when he tried to return a vest he bought for a powwow celebration.
Grafton Apparel owns Mr. Big & Tall, which has several stores across Canada.
In B.C., the menswear shop has locations in Vancouver, Coquitlam, and Surrey.
Grafton denies discriminating against Smallboy, asserting that its employees were simply following store rules.
It also said that Smallboy got what he asked for, which was to return the vest and receive an apology.
Smallboy filed a complaint against Grafton Apparel before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
The company asked the tribunal to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Smallboy has no prospect of succeeding.
Grafton also said that proceeding with the complaint will not advance the purposes of the B.C. Human Rights Code.
Tribunal member Devyn Cousineau dismissed the company’s application, and called for a hearing of Smallboy’s complaint.
Cousineau wrote in her reasons for decision that because of conflicting versions of what happened, she agrees with Smallboy’s position that a hearing is required to establish findings of fact.
Cousineau related that the man described the sales associate’s “behaviour bears the hallmarks of racial profiling and that Grafton’s description of his demeanour as ‘aggressive’, ‘intimidating’ and ‘confrontational’ is evidence that his conduct was being assessed through a lens of stereotype about Indigenous people”.
Smallboy felt that he was treated like “some sort of thief up to some sort of clothing crime scam”.
Two days after buying the vest, he tried to return the item.
However, the sales associate did not want to accept the vest, claiming it looked worn, and was dirty. The tag was also missing and the man did not have the receipt.
Smallboy claimed that he did not wear the vest, and that his dog played with the bag where the vest was in.
The sales associate said that she is not racist and that she is married to "a Muslim".
Grafton argued in its submission to the tribunal that it “responded promptly, proportionately, and reasonably to resolve” Smallboy’s concerns.
The sales associate who dealt with him as well as the manager apologized to the First Nations man.
The manager arranged for the return of the vest “without further questioning about its condition”.
“Ultimately, Grafton says that it gave Mr. Smallboy everything he asked for,” Cousineau wrote.
However, Smallboy believes that the company’s response did not remedy the alleged discrimination he faced.
“He says that Grafton continues to deny that his Indigenous identity played any role in the events underlying this complaint and, in those circumstances, they cannot be said to have addressed discrimination,” the tribunal member noted.
According to Smallboy, the company “continues to focus on its return policy and not the manner in which he was treated, which he says is the source of injury to his dignity”.
“For Mr. Smallboy, the issue is not whether or not he could return the vest but whether he could shop at a clothing store with dignity,” Cousineau noted.
Cousineau agrees with Smallboy.
“Mr. Smallboy’s complaint arises in a social context of pervasive discrimination against Indigenous people in Canada and a complaint mechanism that has been largely ineffective in addressing it,” the tribunal member wrote.
She noted what Smallboy said in his complaint, which was: “Other races don’t have to fight for equal treatment to be treated with respect and dignity as a person or human being when they go out shopping.”
For her part, Cousineau stated: “The allegations in this complaint bear the hallmarks of the micro‐discriminations which many Indigenous people experience in daily life.”
Therefore, the purposes of the B.C. Human Rights Code could be served by granting Smallboy a hearing.