Restaurant fined for making black diners pay before eating

A Canadian human rights tribunal has ruled that a restaurant discriminated against black customers by ordering them to pay for their meal in advance.

Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant, in Toronto’s Chinatown, was ordered to pay C$10,000 (£5,700) to Emile Wickham, who brought the complaint after trying to get a late-night dinner with friends to celebrate his birthday.

According to court documents, Mr Wickham picked the restaurant after seeing other diners inside at a late hour in May 2014.

He and three friends – all black – sat down and ordered food but were asked by a waiter to pre-pay.

The waiter said it was restaurant policy.

In his complaint to Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, Mr Wickham said the request “didn’t sit well” with him so he began canvassing other tables to see if they had also been asked to pay in advance.

None of the three or more groups he approached had experienced the same request. And no one else in the restaurant was black.

“That’s really messed up,” one diner told Mr Wickham.

“Upon learning that no other patrons had been asked to prepay for their meals they asked the waiter to explain why they had to pay and no one else had been expected to do so,” court documents said.

The waiter admitted they were the only ones asked and offered them their money back.

Mr Wickham filed his complaint shortly afterwards.

For its part, the restaurant told the tribunal it sometimes asked new customers to pay in advance.

“Because of its location, the restaurant attracts something of a transient crowd, and unfortunately it was very common in the past that customers “dine and dash” – that is, eat their meals, and leave the restaurant without paying,” it said in its response to the tribunal.

However, Esi Codjoe, the adjudicator, found no evidence that the other customers that night were regulars.

Instead, in her ruling, Ms Codjoe wrote that Mr Wickham was treated as a "thief in waiting" because of his race.

"His mere presence as a black man in a restaurant was presumed to be sufficient evidence of his presumed propensity to engage in criminal behaviour," she wrote.

The ruling came days after Starbucks announced it was holding a day of training for staff after two black men were arrested inside a branch for trespassing while waiting for a friend.

 

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