An Indigenous woman from Edmonton who was visiting Vancouver Island over the weekend says she was racially profiled at a Tim Hortons in Nanaimo while trying to use the restaurant’s washroom.
The incident happened Saturday at the Tim Hortons location on Fifth Street in the city’s south end.
Ashleigh Cardinal shared her frustration immediately after the incident in a Facebook video that had been viewed more than 125,000 times by Thursday afternoon.
“The guy (employee) specifically at the front counter told me that he couldn’t let me in because I look suspicious of having drug paraphernalia,” Cardinal says in the video.
She says she was kicked out of the restaurant after confronting the employee.
A customer who was also waiting to use the washroom, witnessed the altercation and says Cardinal was being racially profiled.
“I think if it had been me asking to use the washroom that he would have said OK,” customer Mary Lefebvre told CTV News.
“Because she was a young native girl, he could pick on her and direct his anger towards,” Lefebvre added.
Cardinal said it was the first time she had experienced racism first-hand.
“Racism is real and it hurts,” she said.
Cardinal said she is writing a formal complaint to the company and has been in contact with a human rights lawyer.
In a statement to CTV News, Tim Hortons says the company has “zero tolerance for racism” and says the whole ordeal was a “misunderstanding.”
“We quickly investigated the details of this situation and believe this is a true misunderstanding,” the company said.
“The restaurant manager and the owner each reached out to this guest to understand her point of view,” the statement said. “After looking into this carefully, we believe there was no racist intent or language involved.”
The company said the Nanaimo store location “has been dealing with inappropriate uses of the washroom facilities, has been trying to monitor it more closely, and could have done a better job of explaining that to the guest.”
Someone claiming to be the store employee involved in the incident wrote a social media post denying any racist intent, saying he was following store policy around bathroom use.
“It was decided that if you want to use the bathroom, you need to buy something,” he wrote.
The company said the franchise owner has apologized to Cardinal and is “undertaking retraining for all of his team members to ensure that situations like this one are better handled in the future.”