Toronto restaurant Hong Shing ordered to pay $10,000 after asking black customers to prepay for their meal
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FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has ordered a Chinese restaurant in downtown Toronto to pay a black man $10,000 as compensation for a rights violation after it required him and three black companions to prepay for their meals.
In May, 2014, Emile Wickham went to Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant, a popular establishment just east of Toronto’s Chinatown, for a late-night birthday dinner with friends. After the server took their order, he told the group they would need to pay for their meals in full before receiving them, according to testimony Mr. Wickham gave at the April tribunal hearing. They questioned the server, who explained this was restaurant policy, and they obliged.
But Mr. Wickham was unsettled by this. Realizing he and his companions were the only black people in the restaurant, he approached other diners to ask if they’d been required to prepay and all said no.
When the server later returned to the table, Mr. Wickham and his friends questioned him about the policy, and the server admitted they were the only ones who had prepaid. He and another staff member asked Mr. Wickham and his friends if they wanted a refund. The group took their money and left the restaurant.
In her decision, adjudicator Esi Codjoe concluded that restaurant staff had violated section 1 of the province’s human-rights code – which guarantees equal treatment when accessing goods, services and facilities – when they treated Mr. Wickham as “a potential thief in waiting.”
“His mere presence as a Black man in a restaurant was presumed to be sufficient evidence of his presumed propensity to engage in criminal behaviour,” she wrote.
Staff from Hong Shing did not attend the tribunal hearing, nor did they send legal representation. But in November, 2015, six months after Mr. Wickham had filed his human-rights complaint, the restaurant submitted a response to the tribunal through a lawyer. In it, they explained the restaurant “attracts something of a transient crowd” and dine and dashes were common, so they adopted a policy requiring customers whom staff did not recognize as regulars to prepay for their food.
Ms. Codjoe rejected this explanation in her decision, saying there was no evidence such a policy existed, that the other patrons that night were regulars or that Mr. Wickham’s party was advised of this policy when they were at the restaurant.
When reached by phone and e-mail following the decision, staff at Hong Shing said they were unfamiliar with the incident and said ownership had changed since it occurred. They did not respond to any further questions.
A business licence search listed Colin Li as the sole director/officer of the restaurant, which was incorporated in January, 2018. A Toronto Star profile of the restaurant published in 2017 named Mr. Li as the son of Ron and Ann, a couple of immigrants from Guangzhou, China who opened the restaurant in 1997. The story chronicled Mr. Li’s efforts to revitalize his parents’ business. The restaurant sponsors a basketball team and its Instagram account is a mix of snapshots of menu items, such as deep-fried spicy squid, and black basketball players in jerseys emblazoned with the restaurant’s name.