A Victoria man is claiming he was racially profiled in being physically blocked from entering a grocery store by a loss prevention officer.
Jonah Mamakeesic brought his German shepherd, Kai, along when he hopped on his bike May 23 and headed to Lifestyle Markets on Douglas Street to grab a few groceries.
“I’m all about healthy options,” says the Oji-Cree man, referring to the store he’s shopped in since he moved to Victoria seven years ago.
Mamakeesic says what happened next caught him totally off guard. He had barely made it past the entrance when a man dressed in plain clothes physically impeded his path and told him he had to leave. Upon questioning why, Mamakeesic says he was told by the man he wasn’t required to give a reason.
A cashier employed by the market recognized the longtime customer and told the man – a loss prevention officer employed by Templar Security – to let him in, but he refused, so Mamakeesic requested to speak with a manager.
“I’ve never had to deal with anyone being stopped at the door for no apparent reason,” says Carmine Sparanese, general manager of the store. “To have it come back as racially profiling, it’s unbelievable.”
Sparanese says staff have a list of former shoplifters or high-profile thieves that they keep an eye out for, but Mamakeesic isn’t one of them. He stresses everyone is welcome to shop in his store, but precautions have been taken over the last year after a rise in shoplifting and an increase in the presence of needles and other garbage outside the store.
“I don’t see how this is about race,” Sparanese says. “I didn’t know he was of any particular race.”
In diffusing the situation at the time, he told Mamakeesic he was welcome to shop, but understood if he wished to leave. The loss prevention officer, who employees later told both Mamakeesic and Sparanese has a history of being “aggressive,” was left on the floor to finish his shift.
Sparanese says he didn’t see Mamakeesic when he left, but felt “everything went well.”
“As soon as I left, I broke into tears,” says Mamakeesic, who is originally from Ontario.
He says he was in denial that the incident had anything to do with the colour of his skin. But, he regularly sees social media posts from family members back home who frequently encounter this kind of discrimination, often being asked to leave or barred from entering places, for no particular reason.
“I was in shock and disbelief, feeling like I didn’t have a reason to be upset,” he explains. “I felt privileged that I don’t deal with this behaviour as often as they do or as often as other people might.”
Sparanese says he is responsible for his employees, but not those of a third party contractor. It wasn’t until after the incident that he says his staff brought the actions of the officer to his attention, saying there have been minor issues in the past.
“I can’t account for how they think sometimes,” Sparanese says, adding that he spoke to the man’s supervisor at Templar and requested he not be assigned to work at Lifestyle Markets again.
“I’m not happy about any of this, we don’t deserve any of it,” he adds.
Mamakeesic says the responsibility ultimately lies at the hands of both companies, who he feels are equally responsible for customer experiences, and he’s hesitant to continue spending his money there.
A college graduate who has worked in the hospitality industry and is now studying computer science, he sees the issue clearly.
“Who I am in my community is not what came to the mind of that security guard.”
The News reached out to Templar Security, leaving multiple messages that went unanswered at deadline.