NORTH BATTLEFORD, SK — A First Nations elder says he was humiliated when an employee searched him at a Canadian Tire store in Saskatchewan earlier this week.
“They really, really embarrassed us,” said Gordon Albert, 78, of the Sweetgrass First Nation Thursday. “They thought that since we’re native we’d steal something.”
Albert was in North Battleford shopping for a gift with his wife Marlene and son Deryk on Monday, but they didn’t find what they were looking for.
The anti-theft sensor by the door beeped as they left and an employee stopped them and asked him to take off his coat, his wife said.
“That lady took his cigarettes out, took his phone out. She was just going through his pockets,” she said. “He said, ‘What else do you want me to take off? My clothes?”’
The employee never explicitly accused her husband of stealing, but the encounter was upsetting, she said.
The couple have been driving buses on the Sweetgrass reserve and in town for decades and are well known for their work with the local minor hockey team, she said.
They go to Canadian Tire often to shop for gardening supplies or things for their vehicle and have never had an experience like this.
Gordon Albert said the suggestion that he would steal makes no sense.
“I make enough money that I can buy whatever I want. I don’t have to go that route,” he said.
Canadian Tire said in a statement that staff asked to inspect Albert’s belongings, as they normally would when an alarm goes off.
They determined that the sensor was triggered by something they had bought elsewhere.
“Recent conversations between the store and Mr. Albert and his family have been positive and productive, and the store considered the matter to have been resolved,” the company said.
Albert said the store manager called to apologize the next day.
“He said ‘sorry, sorry sorry.’ I said ‘that’s not going to help,”’ he said.
He said he told the manager that Canadian Tire had been one of his favourite stores in North Battleford.
Albert said he won’t shop there again.
But he said he can also understand why the store would want to crack down on theft.
Deryk Albert said he got a call from the manager, too.
“He said, ‘It wasn’t a race thing’ and I said, ‘It was a race thing,”’ he said.
It was embarrassing to have everyone in the store looking at them, he said.
“It just offended me … I was pretty upset all that day.”
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said the retail industry needs a wake-up call.
“The family is still considering their options, but at the very least, I am recommending that they file a human rights complaint,” said Chief Bobby Cameron.
Gordon Albert said he’s not keen on doing that.
“I’m kind of forgetting about it,” he said. “Why cry over spilled milk?”