KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – For Juanna Ricketts, shopping at La Senza, a fashion retailer chain with a store in the Halifax Shopping Centre, was something she always enjoyed. But no more.
When she visited the store in On November 5th of last year, Juanna, who is Black, felt racially profiled. Deeply perturbed by what happened, she has filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.
This is how Juanna tells it.
While she was waiting in line to pay, a store employee positioned herself very near her. Juanna, who like any Black Nova Scotian, knows all about being racially profiled, thought, “I am not in the mood for this today.” “I may even have told her something like “You gotta be kidding,” she says.”
Juanna alleges that she was monitored by staff because of her race, and dealt with differently than other (white) customers at the store.
“It’s so embarrassing,” Juanna explains. “She wasn’t at all discrete about it, the shadowing was a preventative thing. There were customers in front of me and behind me. And [Juanna felt] there’s no way that these customers didn’t know that this lady was standing there watching me.”
She decided to step out of her place in the lineup for the cashier to pick up two more items. Juanna assumed the staff person had left, but after she paid for her purchases and looked over her shoulder, there she was again.
“That’s when I freaked out,” she says. “I yelled at her, “what are you doing? What do you want? This is 2019, this is not acceptable.””
Next, while Juanna, who felt very frazzled and agitated, was talking to another staff person about why she was upset, a shopping centre security person arrived on the scene.
“When I turned around, (the store employee) was there right behind me again. I was so upset. I asked her, ‘You called security on me?’”
Feeling put on the spot, Juanna returned the merchandise and asked for, and received, a refund. The security guard followed her while she walked out of the store.
Being racially profiled while shopping is a much more common experience in Nova Scotia for Black people, Indigenous people and Muslims then it is for white people, says a 2013 report issued by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (NSHRC).
For instance, a survey commissioned by the report’s authors found that 73% of Aboriginal people and 63% of Black people reported having been followed in a store during the previous year, much like Juanna. Only 24% of white people reported that experience.
The report notes how being profiled is profoundly disturbing for the people who are being subjected to it.
“They treat us awful and the impact on our sense of self, it scars you for life,” one frequent victim of racist profiling tells the authors of the report.
The experience at La Senza has certainly deeply hurt Juanna.
Juanna has turned her life-long experiences with mental health issues into advocacy on behalf of the Canadian Mental Health Association and the United Way. She has shared her life story with thousands, and has received awards in recognition of her efforts to lessen the stigma attached to people who live with depression and anxiety.
Life is hard for her at the best of times, and dealing with the November incident has been challenging. She tells me that just talking about and reliving what happened at La Senza is difficult.
“Right after, there was a point where I just had to pretend it never happened because it hurt so much. One thing I know, I am never going back to La Senza. I felt so humiliated, it was as if I was back in the days of slavery, to be singled out like that,” Juanna says.
“When security came in, I’m thinking, “well, what’s going to happen next? Are the police going to come to arrest me now because I’m yelling because I’ve been racially profiled?” It was fear.”
Juanna believes that although racial profiling is common anywhere in Canada, it is especially pronounced in Nova Scotia.
“I’ve lived in Ontario for 25 years and yes, I remember being in some stores and someone was following me and I’d be like, “can I help you?” And then they go away, you don’t see them anymore,” she says. “Unlike Halifax, which these days is a very multicultural city. So how can there still be so much racism here?”
Juanna’s efforts to contact and discuss her experience with La Senza have not been satisfactory, she says. She has filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, which has initiated an investigation.
A La Senza store manager told us they did not want to respond to Juanna’s allegations. La Senza Corporation and its owner, the private equity firm Regent LP, did not reply to our repeated requests for comment on Juanna’s allegations. We will update this story if and when we do receive a response.
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