A&W Canada has apologized after a staff member at one of its Alberta locations allegedly called police when a man tried to buy a meal for an elderly, Indigenous woman with a disability who was standing outside the restaurant.
Nick Driedger said on Friday morning he was waiting in line to purchase breakfast at the Cardston A&W when he saw an older Indigenous couple attempting to buy a meal for an elderly woman with a walker.
He said the cashier wouldn’t let the couple buy the woman a meal, and then the woman left the store.
Driedger left the store and spoke to the woman, who said she was hungry. So, he went back inside and ordered an extra meal for her.
“At that point, the [cashier] picked up the phone and I thought I heard her say something to the effect of, ‘hello, police,'” Driedger said.
“At which point I kind of interrupted her while she was on the phone and said, ‘I’d rather you not call police, I just don’t think that’s necessary, I’m just buying someone a meal.'”
Driedger said the cashier then began arguing with him, first saying there was a store policy in regards to loitering, then saying there was a law against loitering, and finally saying it was the store manager’s orders.
He eventually got his food and brought some outside to the woman. He said RCMP then drove through the parking lot and a bystander approached the car and spoke to them for a few minutes, before the officers left.
RCMP Staff Sgt. Jeremie Landry told CBC News that members from the Cardston detachment did not respond to the A&W. He said it was possible another police force may have attended the call.
“It’s a tremendously disheartening and frustrating situation,” said Driedger.
Distraught over the incident, Driedger posted about it on social media, prompting public outcry and a response from A&W.
Hey <a href=”https://twitter.com/AWCanada?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@AWCanada</a>- do all your restaurants have a policy of refusing to serve elderly indigenous people and then calling the cops on folks who tries to help them? Or is that just a special policy at your Cardston location.
“Thanks for everyone’s concerns and questions about the incident at our restaurant in Cardston. We’re reaching out to the woman who’s experiencing hardships to see how we can provide assistance, and we are sorry the kind offer by guests to buy her breakfast was not honoured,” the company wrote.
“We are taking this incident very seriously and the franchisee is working with his staff to ensure they receive the training and support they need to do the right thing.”
CBC News reached out to A&W for comment but had not received a response by the time of publication.
Thanks for everyone’s concerns and questions about the incident at our restaurant in Cardston. We’re reaching out to the woman who’s experiencing hardships to see how we can provide assistance, and we are sorry the kind offer by guests to buy her breakfast was not honoured.
“I mean it did surprise me … I’ve seen now that A&W is replying and they’re saying this wasn’t racially motivated. I don’t buy it, I’m sceptical of that line,” he said.
He said an A&W representative contacted him and said the woman was denied service because she had made a scene in the restaurant before.
“They used the word menacing to describe her,” he said. “I don’t think there was anything menacing about her, she was maybe 5 feet tall, maybe 100 pounds, and I don’t know about you but I’ve never felt threatened by someone in a walker before.”
‘Blatant racism’, says Indigenous activist
Shauna Fox is one of the founders of the Niitsitapi Peace Camp in Cardston, a group trying to address racism and foster discussion between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the town.
Cardston is about 230 kilometres south of Calgary.
Members of the peace camp met outside the restaurant Saturday to call for education to stem racism in the community.
“There’s been racism and discrimination throughout the years. It’s often very subtle, and often it’s blatant. The incident at A&W, that’s blatant racism,” Fox said. “This isn’t about panhandling and loitering. This is about the manager of A&W in Cardston.”
Fox said she has heard first-hand accounts from Indigenous staff at the restaurant that the manager has made anti-Indigenous comments.
CBC News has reached out to the franchise for comment and has not yet received a response.
While Fox said she and other protesters would like to see the manager fired, what they’d like even more is for her to learn and change her policies.
“We’d like to educate this lady and her staff and help them to understand and hear some of those stories that our people have dealt with and are dealing with,” Fox said.