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

A police car at the scene of a child’s death Friday, April 9, at the Falcon Nest Motel in Duncan. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
RCMP investigating child’s death at Duncan’s Falcon Nest Motel

First responders responded to a call about an unresponsive child at the… Continue reading

Town of Lake Cowichan looking to form tourism and housing committees

Decision not related to the Lake Cowichan Visitor Information Centre closure

“Representing the school district, legion, and Kaatza Station Museum left to right are Georgie Clark of the museum, Wilma Rowbottom of School District #66 and Ernie Spencer, representing the Legion. The museum and Legion, along with the Village will each take a piece of the old wood shop.” (The Lake News)
Lake Flashback: Soapboxes, woodshop split, taxes down

Remember these stories from Lake Cowichan?

Tim Schewe
Drivesmart column: Rules around bicycle lanes

The lane is often painted green to distinguish it from lanes intended for motor vehicles.

Robert’s column
Robert Barron column: New hospital shouldn’t charge for parking

Paying a parking meter is the last thing people visiting a hospital should have to worry about.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Most Read