A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)

Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

A Vancouver restaurant owner was ordered by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal this month to pay each of four friends $1,000 after she uttered racist remarks while refusing them service.

Cyrilla Conforti – the owner of Toscani Coffee Bar on Commercial Drive – admitted to telling customer Walid Haouas she no longer wanted “you Arabs” as patrons on July 8, 2017.

Haouas, a customer for nearly 13 years, said the owner also encouraged him to “tell your friends” what she said.

Friend Ben Maaouia testified that when he went to Toscani later that day, Conforti told him she would not serve him, asking him to talk to Haouas as to why.

Along with Maaouia and Haouas, Bechir Gharbi and Aissa Dairy said they had been patrons of Toscani almost daily for 20 years – all are immigrants from North Africa and identify as Arab.

Ben Maaouia and Gharbi arrived at the coffee bar later that day – in tribunal filings, Conforti said she assumed they had spoken with Haouas and didn’t want her serving them pair.

In response, the restaurant owner said Maaouia approached her and said, “(Expletive) you, you piece of (expletive). Go back to the third world country where you belong.”

Conforti, herself, is woman of colour, brought up by a Muslim family in Indonesia. Maaouia denied making such a comment, saying that he is also from a so-called third-world country.

“She felt shocked, scared, and speechless,” tribunal member Devyn Cousineau acknowledged in his Feb. 23 decision.

READ MORE: Wave of racist emails ‘unleashed’ on B.C. researchers investigating racism in health care

Though Conforti agreed she did not want to serve Haouas, she denied it had anything to do with him or his friends being Arab.

The owner did however admit to saying she would no longer serve “you Arabs.”

The tribunal member said it was possible that Conforti uttered the wrong words at Haouas, in the spur of the moment, being that English is not her first language.

However, this did not change Cousineau’s ruling.

“This comment connected the complainants’ race to Ms. Conforti’s refusal to serve them,” Cousineau ruled. “This was a violation of the Human Rights Code.”

Cousineau said the restaurant was a place where the North African friends could gather among others from their community.

“Losing that space was significant to each of them,” the tribunal member said.

He acknowledged the difficulty Conforti has as a small business owner in Vancouver.

“I have accepted that some of the complainants made her feel disrespected in her own business and that was upsetting to her,” Cousineau said.

Conforti said on one occasion the complainants took the Toscani T.V. remote and changed it to play Arabic music. On another, his friends complained to her husband about her service.

The owner found this was inappropriate and disrespectful, Cousineau detailed.

“I recognize the gendered power dynamics that she talks about when she emphasizes that she felt intimidated, afraid and disrespected as a woman.”

The men have not returned to the Vancouver restaurant.

READ MORE: Victoria councillor faces racism after holiday travel



sarah.grochowski@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

racismVancouver

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Christine Perkins is the new superintendent of schools for the Vernon School District, effective Aug. 1. Perkins moves to the North Okanagan from the Kootenay Lake School District in Nelson. (Vernon School District photo)
Vernon School District names new superintendent

Dr. Christine Perkins moves from Kootenay Lake district to take over from the retiring Joe Rogers

Vernon Public Art Gallery executive director Dauna Kennedy and board member Kyle Britton accept a $43,400 grant from the BC Arts Council one-time StrongerBC fund amid the COVID-19 pandemic April 9, 2021. (VPAG)
$43K boost for Vernon gallery

Province backs local art gallery with one-time pandemic grant

A 46-year-old man from Armstrong died in Revelstoke hospital after being injured in the Lumby area. (File photo)
Armstrong snowmobiler dies in Revelstoke hospital

46-year-old man injured in Tsuius Mountain area of Monashees around Lumby area

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Spallumcheen landlord’s home trashed by tenants

Rooms filled with junk, garbage, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

B.C. wineries are open for indoor tasting despite new provincial health regulations. Photo- 
50th Parallel Winery, Instagram.
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

The Red Pill Rapper performs to the crowd gathered for the Rally For Food Security at Blackburn Park on Saturday, April 10, 2021. (Kristal Burgess Photography)
The Red Pill Rapper performs to the crowd gathered for the Rally For Food Security at Blackburn Park on Saturday, April 10, 2021. (Kristal Burgess Photography)
Suspicion of ‘fake news media’ makes rally uncomfortable for Salmon Arm event photographer

More than 300 people counted at city park for ‘Rally For Food Security’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

The former Summerland Asset Development Initiative building on Prairie Valley Road in Summerland was suggested as the site for a temporary transitional housing facility for the community. However, Summerland council has rejected this proposal. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Summerland council rejects transitional housing facility

Concerns raised about short timeline and condition of municipally-owned building

Shayla, an 8-pound black and grey Havanese, was stolen from outside a store on Banks Road on Saturday. (Contributed)
Stolen pup located, Kelowna RCMP confirms

Mounties said on April 12 that Shayla, the 8-pound, black and grey Havanese dog, has been located safe and sound

Penticton Vees continue their winning streak carrying a 5-0 win title as of Sunday night's hockey action. (Cherie Morgan/Cherie Morgan Photography)
Penticton Vees continue winning streak

Sunday night’s 6-1 win has them with five in a row since the start of the season

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Most Read