Champlain mall confirms and apologizes for unfair treatment of Mount Allison students

Erica Butler - CHMA - SackvilleNB | 25-09-2020
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The management of the Champlain Mall has acknowledged that two students who were kicked out of the food court on September 12th were not in violation of the mall’s COVID-inspired seating protocols, and has apologized for the incident.

CHMA first reported the story of Sandra and Megan (not the students’ real names) on September 17, 2020.

On a Saturday afternoon, after doing some shopping at Champlain Mall in Dieppe, Sandra and Megan say they sat down in a food court seating area and were immediately approached by a staff person who told them they needed a drink in order to sit where they were.

The mall policy is that patrons cannot sit down without having purchased food or drink, and that people can only sit for a maximum of 30 minutes.

Sandra told the staff person she had a drink with her that she had purchased previously at the food court, but couldn’t finish at the time. She also told him they had not been sitting there for 30 minutes.

After leaving and coming back, the staff person continued to insist the two shoppers leave, telling them he would call security if they did not. Sandra and Megan pointed out that another person, a white girl, was sitting at a nearby table with no food or drink and not being asked to leave.

Eventually three security guards arrived and, after trying to plea their case with the guards to no avail, the girls left.

Since CHMA first spoke with Sandra and Megan, they’ve had two letters and a phone call from mall staff and contractors.

Dealing with the outfall of the incident has been hard to manage, says Sandra.

“A lot has happened,” she says. “It’s quite overwhelming for me, because I’m also working and studying at the same time.”

One of the things that happened is related to CHMA’s coverage.

A woman who identified herself as the “white girl” in the story contacted CHMA on September 20 to relay her perspective of events as they unfolded.

Brandy Dobson says Sandra and Megan were actually seated in the food court area for longer than they claimed, and that the security guards did not approach her to ask what had happened, but rather to ask her to stop recording with her phone. Brandy wasn’t recording, and so the request was moot.

Brandy says she herself has since been asked to leave the Champlain Mall’s main food court area, and feels strongly that the incident with Sandra and Megan was not racially motivated, but instead a result of COVID rules enforcement.

Sandra says that although her memories might be a bit blurry in terms of the exact timing of the incident, she and her friend Megan are both very confident that the pair did not break the mall’s rules, which were posted everywhere.

And the mall’s manager, Brian MacMullin, has confirmed that they didn’t.

In a phone call from MacMullin to Sandra and Megan lat week, the manager told them he had investigated the incident by speaking with staff and looking at security camera footage. He acknowledged that they did not break the 30-minute rule, and also that they did have a drink purchased at the food court.

MacMullin acknowledged that the enforcement of the policy was too strong and took ‘full responsibility’ for the incident. He said the mall will be changing its policy and no longer asking contract staff to enforce seating protocols in the food court. Instead, they will rely on signage and the good will of customers to follow the rules.

MacMullin also told Sandra and Megan that in their investigation the mall didn’t determine any “racism” to be involved, though they acknowledged “poor judgement.”

Sandra and Megan feel very strongly that this was an incident of racial discrimination. They say the staff person involved told them at one point, “with all this COVID stuff happening, we can’t have you sitting here.” In the context of the moment, with a white person sitting nearby in what they perceived to be the same situation as themselves, they came to the obvious conclusion: their race was the issue.

In their conversation with Brian MacMullin, Sandra and Megan asked for an apology from the staff person involved. Shortly thereafter they received an apology letter from the cleaning company that employs the person. The letter said the company, GDI Integrated Facility Services, had disciplined the employee in question and that its entire Champlain Mall staff had reviewed and signed off on a respect in the workplace policy.

Probably more importantly, the company’s workers will no longer be responsible for monitoring the mall’s 30-minute seating limit, as had previously been the case.

In their apology letter, the mall also offered the girls some gift cards, which Sandra and Megan declined.

“I just felt like it wasn’t in line with my moral values,” says Sandra. She says that in a letter to the mall, the two woman said, “although we appreciate your offer, we believe that this issue is bigger than money, as racism is an issue that can’t be settled on monetary benefits.”

Sandra says she doesn’t want to go back to the mall.

“We cannot bring ourselves to dine in a facility that discriminated against us and kicked us out when we weren’t breaking any rules. It’s hard to enter a place that considers you as a great enough threat to escort you out with a full team of security, just simply based on your race.”

Sandra is now in touch with Mount Allison’s Anti-Racism Education and Response Team. She is unsure of how things will move forward, and trying to take her time.

“I’m not really sure how to really respond to something like this,” she says. “So that’s why I’m seeking some advice and guidance on what the next steps would be.”

“It’s a really hard process,” she says. “It’s a balance of trying to get justice and taking care of myself at the same time.”