Emile Wickham is a 31-year-old man who was rewarded $10,000 dollars in a settlement after the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal found a Chinese restaurant guilty of discrimination. According to ABC News, it was on May 3, 2014, when Emile and his three friends went to Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant in Toronto for his late night birthday dinner and were forced to prepay before their meals even arrived. Hong Shing is a popular Chinese restaurant that is located just east of Toronto’s Chinatown. It was while Emile and his three friends were ordering when the server informed them that they had to pay for their meals in full before receiving them. According to an article done by the Globe and Mail, Emile questioned the server and when he was told that it was ‘policy,’ he and his three friends obliged. The Globe and Mail article stated: ‘Mr. Wickham was unsettled by this. Realizing he and his companions were the only black people in the restaurant, he approached other diners to ask if they’d been required to prepay and all said no.’
When Emile confronted the server and asked him if they were the only ones who had prepaid, the server admitted that it was the case and offered the three men a refund. The men took their refund and left the establishment. According to ABC News, Emile filed a complaint in May of 2015 saying that he had never dined at that restaurant before and that ‘the server told them that they would need to pay in advance of being served their meals. They asked the server whether this was necessary, and he said that it was their policy.’
Roger Love, who is a lawyer with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, and who represented Emile, said: “unfortunately, there’s the notion that some races are more valued than others and often the idea is that blacks are the least worthy,” he said. “So whoever else feels like they’re above a black person on that hierarchy can subject black people to anti-black racism.”
It was later in a tribunal hearing in April when the adjudicator, Esi Codjoe, said that the restaurant had violated Section 1 of the province’s human-rights code. This code guarantees equal treatment when accessing goods, services and facilities, and it was violated by the restaurant when they treated Mr. Wickham as “a potential thief in waiting,” according to the Globe and Mail. Codjoe added in her decision: “His mere presence as a Black man in a restaurant was presumed to be sufficient evidence of his presumed propensity to engage in criminal behavior.”
Approximately six months after Emile filed a human-rights complaint, the restaurant, through a lawyer, issued a response that stated that the restaurant attracts a ‘transient crowd’ and that because of that ‘crowd’, dine-and-dashes were common so the eatery employed a policy whereby customers who weren’t recognized as ‘regulars’ were forced to prepay. The response read: ‘Many years ago, [the restaurant] adopted a policy that where the staff on duty did not know the patron as a regular customer, they would ask for pre-payment for the food being ordered before it was served. There was never any intent to discriminate against the applicant.’ However, the adjudicator, Esi Codjoe, said that that explanation was insufficient since there was no proof that a policy like that existed nor were Emile and his friends notified of this ‘policy’ prior to their ordering.
None of the staff at Hong Shing attended the tribunal hearing nor did they hire or send legal representation. The Globe and Mail reported that when reached by phone or mail, the staff at the restaurant claimed that they were unfamiliar with the incident and that ownership had changed since then. They also did not respond to any media inquiries.
In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Emile said: ‘I feel a lot of Canadians feel like because they don’t say the N-word or they have that black colleague or they like to eat Jamaican food and know about roti and doubles they think they’re not racist. Before the camera on the cellphone became a popular thing…all we had was our word. And us calling out how we were treated, our word wasn’t good enough, right?’
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