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Op-ed: Sobeys actions in racial profiling case reprehensible from beginning to end

Legislation and money almost allowed Sobeys to reach guilt-free settlement

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Sobeys came out fighting when in 2009 Andrella David, a Black woman falsely accused of shoplifting, charged that she was a victim of racial profiling by an assistant manager at its Tantallon store.

IMG_8730No apologies were forthcoming in the early days after Ms. David first raised the issue.

Then, when Ms. David didn’t go away, the grocery chain aggressively fought its way through the Nova Scotia Human Rights hearings. During these hearings the grocer consistently referred to Ms. David as a shoplifter, even though there was not a shred of evidence for that.

Next, when the Board of Inquiry chair found that Sobeys had indeed engaged in racial profiling, Sobeys appealed.

The company was pursuing this approach because the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission’s (NSHRC) rules and attitudes make it attractive for companies to fight until a settlement is reached.

That in doing so it greatly extended the suffering of Ms. David and the Upper Hammnds Plains residents was of no concern to the company.

“We want what Zellers got”

It worked for Zellers and Hudson Bay, it should work for us, the grocery chain must have thought when it launched its appeal.

In April 2008 Kathleen Viner was a victim of shopping while black at the Zellers store in Greenwood, Nova Scotia.

Viner, who is African Nova Scotian, was stopped by two security employees and searched, even though she provided a receipt for a small rug that she had bought. She was 78 years old at the time.

Deeply hurt, Kathleen Viner filed a complaint with the NSHRC in March 2009, and a Board of Inquiry was appointed in July of 2011.

Shortly after, Ms. Viner passed away, and the NSHRC continued the case on its own, denying Ms. Viner’s daughters the legal standing they requested and were morally entitled to.

To nobody’s surprise, the Human Rights Commission and Hudson Bay settled. Staff would receive training, but Hudson Bay, the legal successor to Zellers, did not have to admit to any wrongdoing.

When Sobeys launched its appeal, it must have wanted a similar deal. Settlements are typically secret, and parties are seldom required to admit guilt.

And in Nova Scotia you get a settlement by litigating to exhaustion. After all, human rights lawyers are expensive, as former firefighter Liane Tessier can testify. However, for large corporations legal representation is just another cost of doing business.

The Sobeys’ saga should cause Nova Scotia to take a closer look at the workings of its Human Rights Commission.

Is the Commission too quick to settle disputes? Should settlement agreements be in the public domain rather than secret? What can be done to counteract the often prohibitive legal cost of launching a human rights complaint?

Rally, talk of boycott made all the difference

In Sobeys case things didn’t go as planned. But the scheme fell apart only because the courageous Ms. David and the proud residents of the African Nova Scotian community of Upper Hammonds Plains refused to play along.

A large rally, talks of boycotts and media coverage generated a lot of bad publicity for Sobeys, and last week the company decided to withdraw its appeal.

According to Stephen Kimber, writing for Metro Halifax, this is the weasel-worded non-apology it issued: Sobeys regrets that this matter has taken so long to come to a conclusion.”

For crying out loud.

Sobeys behaviour has been absolutely reprehensible, from the very first to the very last.

But then again, Sobeys was simply working a flawed human rights system here in Nova Scotia.






  1. This is not the only abusive tactics Sobeys has been involved in a black community in Nova Scotia. A new building the community does not want is being built on Gottengen street and a condition is to NOT have a food store there because Sobeys used to own that site!! How clueless can Sobeys be?!! And ironically I have met two of them. Nova Scotia is smaller than the Sobey family might think!!

  2. Since the appeal, I have not shopped at Sobeys. I use to drop $ 50.00 a week minimum certainly not big money. If enough people stand up to the corporate bullshit of companies like Sobey’s that don’t care about people only money, then my actions and that of everybody that will do the same are the best message to send to the twits at Sobey’s. Yes all the bad press helps, I certainly do not mind spreading the word about Sobey’s actions. I have not and will not shop at any Sobey’s owned business, including Pete’s

    Shame on Sobey’s for this disgraceful attempt at an apology, then again they are proving they do not care about people all about the mighty buck…way to go Sobey’s not

  3. The current Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission complaint process that allows settlements to kept confidential and not subject to public scrutiny without any acknowledgement of wrongdoing by the perpetrator of the discrimination is deeply flawed and in need of immediate change. The provincial legislation needs to be amended and the NSHRC overhauled . At present, the NSHRC (and by proxy the Nova Scotia provincial government) is complicit in allowing racial discrimination to continue flourish in Nova Scotia.

    1. Ah, but was it a settlement? Apparently, it’s leaked out that they are paying the money to Ms. David, but not giving an apology and not retraining their workers. I forget where I heard this, wait a minute was it in the news?! Anyway, that’s not being kept confidential, and the Churches seem to still be supporting the boycott. No one is preventing the public from choosing to buy elsewhere if they are dissatisfied with Sobey’s standards of racism. No one is preventing the public from passing out pamphlets, or talking with their neighbours. Lets find ways of making Sobey’s more responsive to public pressure promoting equality and community values until they demonstrate that they understand; untikl they demonstrate that they care about Black people as much as they care about the rest of us.

  4. I have a friend well versed in the subject of human rights. She says that when Sobeys withdrew their appeal that meant that they were obligated by law to comply with all of the terms of the HRC judgment, which they were no longer contending. I’m guessing that Sobey’s isn’t doing that, are they?! It would seem to be out of character for them. I have been boycotting Sobey’s since I first heard of this case last year, sometime, and I had hoped that I’d be able to shop there again soon, but it looks to be that this is going to go on for some time. I invite all Nova Scotians with a conscience to join me, regardless of the colour of your skin. I don’t want to live in a province where racial profiling can mean that non-white people can be considered guilty without evidence and humiliated in public.
    This is the 21st century and racism has no place here. Why does Sobeys cling to it, even to the extent of spending large amounts of money, and loosing large numbers of sales to a boycott, rather than admitting they were wrong, apologising and taking measures to see that it doesn’t happen again, like providing training for their staff,… and administrators, it seems. If this had been done in the beginning, it all would have blown over in a few days and been long forgotten by now. Instead, their racism gets more and more exposed and they drop lower and lower in the eyes of good Nova Scotians who believe in love, respect, and equality. Lets show Sobeys that common decency is a minimum requirement for doing business here. Lets show Ms David and the NS Black community that they are indeed part of our society and no less than any others. Lets us stand up for their rights as we would stand up for our own, for as one people we are our own! Boycott Sobeys until they completely comply with the Human Rights Commission judgment.

  5. The latest news I have today is that Ms David need exert no more efforts. If Sobey’s doesn’t comply with all of the terms of the NSHRC judgment, then the HRC will go after them.

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