Restaurant ordered to pay $10,000 after asking Black patrons to pay in advance for their meals

Emile Wickham

A Chinese restaurant in Toronto was ordered by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal to pay $10,000 to a Black man after ruling that it discriminated against him by asking him and his three friends,  all  Black, to pay in  advance for their meals.

In the recent ruling, adjudicator  Esi Codjoe found that Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant  discriminated against Emile Wickham, then a York University student, who worked as an usher at the Ontario Legislative Assembly.

Codjoe said that Wickham  “was presumed to be a potential thief in waiting despite any evidence to that effect.”

On the night of  his 28th birthday, in May 2014, Trinidad-born Wickham and three friends went to the restaurant to celebrate.

After the group sat down, the server told them they would need to pay in advance of being served their meals. They asked the server whether this was necessary, and the server said it was their policy.

Wickham testified that he asked patrons at the restaurant in “at least three” other groups if they were asked to do the same. None said they were subject to the same request.

Emile Wickham and friends at the restaurant

According to the decision “upon learning that no other patrons had been asked to prepay for their meals they asked the waiter to explain why they had to pay and no one else had been expected to do so.”

“Rather than offer any explanation for the prepayment he [ the waiter]simply asked them whether they wanted their money back.”

No one from Hong Shing  Restaurant  testified at the tribunal hearing. But in  November 2015, six months after Wickham had filed his human-rights complaint, the restaurant submitted a response  through a lawyer.

In  a statement it said the restaurant was “very busy and at times short-staffed,” and that  “because of its location, the restaurant attracts something of a transient crowd, and unfortunately it was very common in the past that customers “dine and dash” – that is, eat their meals, and leave the restaurant without paying.”

It also noted that many years ago, the restaurant adopted a policy that staff  who did not know a  patron  as a regular customer would ask for pre-payment.

But Codjoe, in her decision, released  on  April 18, said there was no evidence such a policy existed.

The Tribunal also ordered  that an Ontario Human Rights Commission Code card be posted in a “prominent place” in the restaurant .

Wickham who works for “a provincial agency” in Toronto,  told the Caribbean Camera in a telephone interview from Trinidad where he is now on holidays, that the fact the Human Rights Tribunal believed his story  was more important to him that the “monetary compensation.”

He saw the decision of the Tribunal  ” as a victory for the Black community.”

Roger Love, the lawyer for Wickham ,  said  “this decision is important because it sheds the light on racial  profiling  in consumer services   which is often thought about as a problem that is  more prevalent in the United States.”

”  But sadly it’s also  an issue  that we have here in Canada  and in our own backyard in Toronto,” he told the Caribbean Camera.

The restaurant  has said it is appealing the outcome.