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

Penticton Christian School. (Facebook)
COVID-19 exposure at Penticton independent school

The exposures are the latest in a quickly growing list in the Interior

Participants are encouraged to light a candle and watch the streamed event from home as speakers honor the lives of those lost to overdose from Gyro Bandshell in Penticton April 14, 2021. (Facebook photo)
Vigil for 5th anniversary of B.C. overdose crisis to be held in Penticton

To honor the lives lost to the overdose crisis and bring a call of action to policymakers

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen will speed up the process for hospitality businesses looking to set up patios during the latest COVID-19 restrictions. Under the most recent restrictions, indoor dining is prohibited, but patio dining is allowed. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen speeds up patio permit approval

Initiative to help hospitality businesses affected by latest COVID-19 restrictions

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

The Town of Oliver’s Town Offices, which the town wants to get designated a heritage site. (Black Press)
Oliver council to weigh nixing alerts for water leaks

Staff say the policy has served its purpose in fixing the majority of leaks

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

Winter driving conditions returned to the Coquihalla Highway on April 10. (ICBC image)
Coquihalla motorists warned of fresh snow

Five to 10 cm of snow is expected today for the mountain highway.

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Vernon Secondary School. (Google Maps)
Case of COVID-19 at North Okanagan high school

VSS exposure announced late Friday, April 9

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Bart and Tracey Larson enjoying a Begbie Cream Ale. The couple have been together for 40 years. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
The art of really good beer: Revelstoke brewery celebrates 25 years

Mt. Begbie Brewery owners Bart and Tracey Larson reflect on their company’s history

The Royal’s 1951 visit to Revelstoke. (Photo by Revelstoke Museum and Archives #17)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip visited Revelstoke – twice

The prince died April 9 at the age of 99

Most Read