HALIFAX — The Hudson's Bay Company has agreed to educate its staff on racial profiling as part of a settlement in the case of a now-deceased Nova Scotia grandmother allegedly accused of shoplifting a rug.
Kathleen Viner, who is black, filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission alleging that two employees discriminated against her at a now-closed Zellers store in Greenwood, N.S., in 2008.
Viner, then a 77-year-old grandmother of 13, was stopped by a security guard "and made to feel she had stolen a rug," according to an affidavit from her daughters, Shelley and Donna.
Viner provided proof she had bought the rug, but the incident left her shaken, her daughters said.
"She repeatedly cried about this incident. She lost sleep and had a loss of appetite," the daughters said in their affidavit. "It also bothered her greatly that the security guard yelled at her during the course of her being stopped and questioned."
Viner died in 2011. Her daughters urged the commission's board of inquiry to hear the case anyway, and in 2012 it agreed.
On Tuesday, though, the commission and HBC — which owned the store — issued a joint statement saying they had settled the complaint.
Hudson's Bay said it has agreed to educate its Nova Scotia-based loss prevention officers about consumer racial profiling and train them appropriately.
The company did not admit to any wrongdoing, but said it expects its staff to treat customers "in a dignified, fair and understanding manner."
The new defunct Zellers chain was owned by HBC in its later years. (Canadian Press photo)
"Discrimination, harassment or the use of inappropriate language or action is not tolerated in any circumstance, and that while we are satisfied that the two Zellers associates did not discriminate against Ms. Viner ... on the basis of race and/or colour, this settlement with the commission will conclude the complaint," said HBC spokeswoman Tiffany Bourre.
The commission said the complaint drew attention to the problem of consumer racial profiling, and it is working with retailers to address the issue through an education campaign.
"It's always preferable when parties are able to come to a mutually agreeable settlement in instances where discrimination is claimed to have occurred," said Christine Hanson, the commission's CEO.
"These breakdowns in relationships, whether causing intentional or unintentional harms, can be resolved through meaningful dialogue. It allows all involved to better understand what went wrong, learn from the experience and prevent similar issues in the future."
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