Sobeys Racial Profiling in Nova Scotia

On May 26, 2009, Andrella David, a Hammonds Plains woman, was accused of shoplifting at a Sobeys in Tantallon, a community within the Halifax Regional Municipality in Nova Scotia. This incident is an example of racial profiling in Nova Scotia. Throughout this story, there is evidence of racial profiling, racial grammar, and white fragility.
The Case of Andrella David
On May 26, 2009, Andrella David, a Hammonds Plains woman, was accused of shoplifting at a Sobeys in Tantallon. Andrella David was confronted by a Sobeys employee, Jenny Barnhill, when she was simply trying to purchase some ice cream for her daughter. David, in disbelief, told Barnhill that she must have her mistaken for someone else and demanded to be shown the video footage that “portrayed” David as the said shoplifter. David immediately noticed the differences between herself and the actual shoplifter in the video. The shoplifter had a darker skin, was slimmer, had a different hairdo, and had a different facial shape. While David was in the security room watching the video footage, Barnhill insulted her with racialized and stereotyped comments on David’s community and suggesting that she is on welfare. After this incident, David reported the Tantallon Sobeys as well as Jenny Barnhill. Although the Sobeys apologized for the fact that Barnhill publicly humiliated and falsely accused David, the Sobeys still decided to stand beside its employee. This event triggered the commencement of a settlement hearing, but this said settlement took longer than expected.

In 2016, it was decided that David would receive a sum of more than $21 000 from Sobeys as part of a settlement agreement. Marion Hill, an independent human rights chair board member, inquired into Andrella David’s case against Sobeys. Hill ordered Sobeys to do four things: issue a written apology to David for the discriminatory comments and actions that were held against her, pay for the emotional damages done to David (the sum of $21 000 and interest dating back to 2009), participate in specialized training against racial profiling, and deliver a report to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission confirming details of the discriminatory training.

Christine Hanson, director of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, confirmed that people from the African Nova Scotian communities and the Aboriginal communities are more susceptible to be victims of racial profiling in shopping centres. Hanson proclaimed that she is pleased that the story of Andrella David has shed light on this topic and is now coming up with ways to ensure that employees are properly trained and do not discriminate against people simply based on their own stereotypical preconceptions. This issue has even gathered hundreds of people to protest against the Hammonds Plains road Sobeys.
Sobeys apologizes that it has taken seven years to come to a conclusion, but Sobeys says that the delay is due to all the things the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission asked Sobeys to adhere to. The African United Baptist Association of Nova Scotia agreed to start a boycott against the Sobeys chain until they formally apologize to Andrella David. The African United Baptist Association of Nova Scotia’s boycotts and protests are being made in an attempt to economically impact Sobeys until they apologize to David. This association hoped that people of other racial groups would come together to support their actions until justice was provided.
In November of 2016, the African United Baptist Association of Nova Scotia boycotts got called off. Sobeys has offered, after complying with specialized training against racial profiling, to train employees within the 1500 stores. The Sobeys store where the incident originally occurred has decided to throw a “welcome back” lunch, as a way to apologize to the Tantallon community for being profiled as a “racist” community.
Racial profiling
Janet Chan, from the University of New South Wales, describes racial profiling in her article called “Racial Profiling and Police Subculture”. Racial profiling consists of overly observing certain groups of people based on racial or ethnic appearances. Racial profiling is done when one punishes a person simply based on suspicion because of their race or ethnicity instead of reasonable suspicion.
With Chan’s definition in mind, when we examine the situation that occurred in the Sobeys store, it strongly suggests that Andrella David was profiled based on her race. The evidence being that the store employee failed to recognize that the woman in the video that did pilfer goods was not Andrella David and that the only common factor between them was the fact that they were both black women. Furthermore, the employee made comments that were racialized and that stereotyped David. For example, suggesting that she was on welfare and from a certain racialized and less-prosperous community. These events indicate that David was racially profiled because she in fact did not pilfer any goods, she had little in common with the thief in the video, and more importantly, the employee treated David as if she was guilty before any proof was provided. Overall David was mistreated from the start simply because she was a black woman.
Racial Grammar
Bonilla-Silva suggests that “‘racial domination’ generates a grammar that helps reproduce social order as just the way things are” (2012, p.174). He explains the impact that this invisible concept has on particular groups in society and says that the only way to truly become multicultural would be to fight back and break this ideology. Bonilla-Silva’s concept of racial grammar also can be applied in David’s case. With focus on the violent nature of the Sobey’s employee that profiled David, David was also subject to racialized comments during the viewing of the security tape and Sobey’s decided to stand along side their employee rather than to take proper action against this violation of human rights. All of these aspects are related to the mindsets of whites and the ways in which they see it appropriate to treat blacks and other non-white people. The behaviour of the employee portrays this very mindset that leads to the ill-treatment of nonwhites. More specifically, the assumption that David was guilty was evident from the initial interaction in that the employee approached David in a manner that was inappropriate. This type of behaviour is a direct example of the concept of racial grammar, as Bonilla-Silva uses. This idea translates into the way that Sobeys and the employee treated David and it took extensive effort for David to receive any form of compensation and respect that she should have received in the first place as a basic human right.
White Fragility
The concept of white fragility can be used to analyze David’s situation. White fragility becomes relevant because David is accused of a crime that she did not commit. David is mistreated during the entire process and no proper action takes place without extensive efforts by the accused. This is an example of white fragility because Sobeys aims to maintain a certain image for themselves and their brand. However, being that this was a case where race was at the forefront of the issue, Sobeys chose to stand firm with their employee which suggests that they believe that there was no wrongdoing other than the initial approach being too public and lacking subtlety. Sobeys, not wanting to be seen as a racist establishment or racially biased, maintains that there was little harm done at first, until further action was taken against them, and they were ordered to provide compensation for the occurrences that happened. Despite Sobeys being a large chain and part of a large company, the company is run by predominantly white people, therefore the company as an entity still experiences the stress that is associated with race related incidents that are described within the concept of white fragility. This helps to explain the reasons why Sobeys reacted the way that they did in that they defended their employee downplaying the situation to get past it as quickly as possible. This allows the least amount of time to be spent feeling the discomfort that results from white fragility.
< Prev   Next >