Indigenous man kicked out of Winnipeg supermarket wrongly identified as shoplifter
WINNIPEG -- An Indigenous man from Winnipeg is speaking out after he was wrongly identified as a shoplifter and kicked out of a city supermarket. It’s an incident the Winnipeg Police Service has chalked up to mistaken identity, but one the man said was caused by racial profiling.
It all started when Chris Wescoupe, 47, went to the Superstore on Bison Drive on Dec.1, hoping to do some shopping.
When he came across police officers stationed inside Wescoupe stopped and struck up a conversation that ended in a way he didn't see coming.
"[The police] said the manager of the store identified me as somebody that was stealing before, in the past and what not, and just arbitrarily asked me to leave,” said Wescoupe.
When he questioned the decision, Wescoupe said it was met with a warning.
"They told me I'd have to leave or be arrested,” he said. “So I left. I mean, who really wants to be arrested."
Wescoupe said the same thing happened at the same store six days later.
Despite efforts to show his driver's licence, he said he wasn't allowed to stay.
Turns out the store and police had it wrong. He wasn't banned, after all.
"I think it's biased. It's definitely profiling, prejudice,” said Wescoupe. It's a thing of the past that should be left in the past."
Police were stationed in the store as part of the special duty program. It allows businesses and organizations to pay $112 per hour to hire officers not on shift to provide extra security – a program Winnipeg police said is growing in popularity due to an increase in retail theft.
WPS spokesperson, Const. Jay Murray said it was a staff member who told officers Wescoupe had previously been banned.
Both the store and police have acknowledged the error after Wescoupe voiced concerns.
"That person did everything right,” said Murray. “They complained to management, it went up the chain. They spoke to the Winnipeg Police Service and it was ultimately determined this person wasn't in fact barred from the store and that's been remedied going forward."
Loblaw, the parent company of Superstore, said in an email to CTV News the store's manager has been in touch with Wescoupe, assuring him he's welcome.
POLICE CALL IT A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY
When asked during a news conference if it was racial profiling the WPS called it a case of mistaken identity.
"It had nothing to do with this person's race. It was somebody pointing out that this person had been barred from the store before,” said Murray. “So, mistaken identity, yes. Anything beyond that, no.”
Wescoupe has no immediate plans to shop again at the Superstore where it happened.
As for mistaken identity – he isn't buying that explanation
"I wasn't dancing around making noise or anything,” said Wescoupe. “It's just basically how I looked."
Loblaw said all of its workers are required to complete training to ensure everyone is treated with respect and dignity.
The company said having police in stores is a measure aimed at ensuring the well-being and safety of customers.