A Toronto restaurant is being forced to cough up some serious cash to a black patron after it required him and three of his friends to pay in advance for their meals.
The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant violated the province’s human rights code and will have to pay Emile Wickham $10,000 for a 2014 incident in which he and his companions were asked by a server to pay for their meals in full before receiving them. As Newsweek reports, the server explained to the diners at the time that it was restaurant policy.
Wickham and his friends, who had gathered at the popular Chinatown restaurant that day to celebrate his birthday, paid for their meals but felt something wasn’t quite right. Noticing that they were the only black people in the restaurant, Wickham asked other patrons if they, too, had been asked to prepay.
They all said no.
The black diners questioned the server, who eventually confessed that their group was the only one asked to pay in advance for their meals. Wickham and his friends received a refund, but the racist incident unsettled Wickham deeply enough that he filed a complaint with Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal in 2015.
The tribunal ruled in favor of Wickham on April 18, finding that Hong Shing violated Ontario’s human rights code by treating the diner as a “potential thief in waiting.”
In the ruling, Adjudicator Esi Codjoe found that Hong Shing’s staff practiced anti-black racism, violating a rule that mandates equal treatment for all customers receiving goods and services and accessing facilities.
Wickham’s “mere presence as a black man in a restaurant was presumed to be sufficient evidence of his presumed propensity to engage in criminal behavior,” Codjoe wrote.
While Hong Shing didn’t have staff or legal representation at the tribunal hearing, the restaurant did defend its actions. The restaurant claimed it attracted a “transient crowd” and had suffered from dine-and-dash incidents in the past, prompting it to adopt a policy of asking customers whom staff didn’t recognize to pay for their food in advance.
Codjoe didn’t buy that explanation—writing that there was no evidence that such a policy was in place and no proof that the other patrons at the restaurant the night Wickham and his friends attempted to dine were “known customers.”
Wickham, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who moved to Canada 11 years ago, said he had never been treated like a second-class citizen because of his race until he immigrated to the country.
According to court documents, Wickham said that the restaurant’s discriminatory treatment prompted him to realize “no matter how well-dressed or educated or spoken you may be, you are still just seen as a nigger.”