The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has ordered Shoppers Drug Mart to pay $8,000 to a customer over racial discrimination.
The tribunal ruled that a Shoppers employee searched a customer's bag because the employee was “influenced, consciously, or unconsciously, by the stereotype that Black people are thieves.”
According to court documents, Mary McCarthy walked into a Shoppers Drug Mart near Bloor and Spadina in Toronto in May, 2011, to buy some mouthwash.
She opened her bag at the counter to retrieve a paper with the name of the specific mouthwash she was looking for. As she was putting her bag away, a Shoppers employee approached her and demanded to look in the bag.
McCarthy initially refused, but eventually stood back as the employee rummaged through her bag. Finding nothing, the employee walked away without a word, according to an account at the Toronto Star.
McCarthy is black. The Shoppers employee in question was described as South Asian.
A crucial element of the case hinged on what time the event took place. The employee claimed she didn’t follow proper procedures for dealing with shoplifters because the incident took place after midnight, after the Shoppers pharmacy was closed. But McCarthy’s receipt showed she was in the store at 10:29 p.m.
In a statement to the press, McCarthy said she was “relieved” by the ruling but “frustrated and saddened at the same time. Is this going to keep happening? To me? To other people just trying to go about their daily lives?"
McCarthy’s lawyer, Beth Walden, said cases like this "are very difficult to prove. Mary's decision to see this through was difficult and courageous. A small measure of justice has been achieved and we hope retail managers and their security personnel take note."
Shoppers Drug Mart told the National Post that the employee at the centre of the case — Ujjaijini Balachandra — no longer works at the store.
In an emailed statement, the company said it’s “committed to being inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible in our interactions with each other and with our customers. The actions of this employee described in this case do not reflect the core values of Shoppers Drug Mart.”