Indigenous couple say they were racially profiled at Michaels store
TORONTO -- A Winnipeg woman is speaking out after she says she and her partner were racially profiled and told they looked like “thieves” by an employee in a Michaels craft store.
Desiree McIvor was looking to buy a present for her grandmother when she decided to visit a Michaels on Regent Avenue West on Monday.
But she and her partner had barely entered the store when she said a sales associate approached them.
McIvor, who is a member of Sagkeeng First Nation, said that she expected to be asked, “if we needed help or something.
“And instead (the sales associate) … straight out told us that we weren't welcome there and that we had to leave the store. That was the first thing she said.”
When McIvor and her partner asked why, she said the sales associate told them, “You look like the people who stole from us this morning.”
McIvor is eight months pregnant and said she was wearing a student ID badge with her face and name on it. She said it was the first time she and her partner had set foot in that Michaels location.
“I was just kind of shocked,” McIvor told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Saturday. “I've never been kicked out of a store before. It was pretty humiliating.”
When McIvor’s partner asked to see a manager, McIvor said the woman speaking to them said that she was a manager. McIvor said that she and her partner “were the only Indigenous people in the store at the time” and that other customers were staring.
Confused and embarrassed, McIvor and her partner left the store. From the parking lot, they tried to call the store’s general manager to make a complaint.
McIvor said that although the woman on the phone seemed very apologetic about what had happened, when McIvor and her partner brought up the term “racially profiled,” she became defensive, McIvor said.
“She just went on to say that they weren't racist,” McIvor said. “And (that) the woman that stopped us at the door actually has (an Indigenous) husband. She's not a racist.”
McIvor said her partner was upset because the conversation was being shifted away from what actually happened.
“There’s a huge difference between being racially profiled and being racist,” McIvor said. “We didn’t say (they) were racist. We said we felt we were the only Indigenous (people) at the time in the store. And (they) called us thieves right to our faces.
“And it wasn’t that she said, ‘You are the people that robbed us.’ She said, ‘You look like them.’”
McIvor is 31 years old and majors in urban and inner-city studies at the University of Winnipeg. She’s on the steering committee of Make Poverty History Manitoba. She said she’s lived in the city “my whole life,” and that she’s experienced discrimination before -- though never to this degree.
“When you're Indigenous, you kind of get used to being followed around by security and things like that,” she said.
But this experience was a first.
“I felt like I had no rights. I felt like I was this tiny little person that didn't matter.”
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, Michaels spokesperson Mallory Smith said that Michaels is “committed to treating each and every customer with dignity and respect,” and that they are “actively investigating” the incident.
“We are open to all and do not tolerate discrimination against any guest or team member and take any conduct to the contrary very seriously,” Smith wrote.
After McIvor posted about her experience on Facebook, she said numerous people reached out to her. Some merely wanted to express support and anger on her behalf, but others shared that they had experienced similar instances of racial profiling.
A similar situation occurred in Winnipeg weeks ago. Chris Wescoupe, 47, was misidentified as a shoplifter at a grocery store and told to leave.
When the Indigenous man tried to explain and defend himself, he told CTV News Winnipeg that a police officer said he’d “have to leave or be arrested.”
Police later said it had “nothing to do with this person’s race,” and called it a case of “mistaken identity.”
As for McIvor and her partner, they are planning to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.
“I just want other Indigenous people to not feel threatened or intimidated when they walk into a store,” she said.
“And (for others) to treat us all with just dignity and respect, instead of looking at us like we're all thieves and we steal. Because that's not fair to anybody.”
She said that she’s thankful for the support she’s received. And although hearing about how many times this has happened to other Indigenous people is sobering, she said that it’s “like they’re giving me the courage to speak out about it.
“Because a lot of them don’t have that (opportunity),” she said.