By Taylor MacPherson
A First Nations woman originally from Sturgeon Lake said she was racially profiled, insulted and ejected from the store while shopping at the Prince Albert Sears location.
Speaking exclusively to paNOW, B. Helen Ermine said she went to the Sears location at the Gateway Mall Wednesday evening hoping to purchase a comforter during their ongoing liquidation sale. When she picked up the comforter and started towards the till, Ermine said a store employee approached her and ordered her to put it down.
“He told me ‘put it down, put it down’ like I was going to steal,” Ermine said. “I said ‘I’m not stealing, I’m buying these things.’”
Ermine said the employee continued to harass her while she tried to shop, eventually calling her a “dumb Indian” and making other racially-charged comments while accusing her of not being able to afford the items. The man then tried to put his hand on her shoulder, Ermine said, while insisting she leave the store.
“He tried to grab me by my arm,” Ermine said. “I said ‘you’ll be sorry if you put a hand on me.’”
The man did not touch her, Ermine said, and she left the store intending to return with her husband and speak with the manager. When they arrived at the 15th St. W. entrance, she said the employee locked the door and did not let them enter, despite the fact the store was not scheduled to close until 6 p.m. and customers were still inside.
The employee shouted at the couple through the locked door, Ermine said, and they left in disgust after making a fruitless attempt to argue their case through the plate glass. Ermine said she cried when they arrived at home, as she had never before been the victim of racism.
“Never in my life have I ever been treated this way,” Ermine said. “If the store had any morals I think they would fire him.”
Although the man who allegedly profiled and insulted her was not wearing a uniform or nametag, Ermine said she believes the man was a loss-prevention officer – an ununiformed staff member who walks the sales floor in street clothing searching for shoplifters.
Ermine said she spoke with city police after the incident, but was encouraged to contact Sears’ management before filing an official report. Ermine said she has since made several attempts to contact the store by phone but her calls were not answered (paNOW also attempted to contact the store manager by phone on multiple occasions without success). Ermine said she is hesitant to go back to the store and speak with a manager in person, in case she runs into the same employee.
As a long-time Sears customer who has otherwise been treated well by the staff at the Prince Albert location, Ermine said she blames the employee and not the company for the incident. She said she would like to receive an apology and see the man lose his job, calling his alleged behaviour “unacceptable.”
Sears responds to allegations
Sears Canada spokesperson Vincent Power confirmed an incident occurred between a loss-prevention employee and Ermine, but said Sears would describe the incident quite differently.
“We believe that how our staff dealt with the couple was fair in light of the circumstances surrounding what occurred,” Power said in an email to paNOW. “We would not tolerate discrimination in any form.”
Power said he was unable to provide the media with a detailed description of the events from Sears’ perspective, citing privacy concerns. He encouraged Ermine and her husband to contact their management team directly to discuss the matter further, and said he has also brought the incident to the attention of their regional loss-prevention manager.
“We have been serving customers through a store location in P.A. since 1954, and we have always served our customers with dignity and respect,” Power said.
This is not the first time the Prince Albert Sears store has faced accusations of misconduct during their final days in the city. Earlier this month the P.A. Sears location came under fire on social media for allegedly marking up prices in advance of their liquidation sale in order to create the illusion of lower prices. Responding to the allegations, Sears Canada said the prices were raised chain-wide and were unrelated to the liquidation.
The Prince Albert Sears store, which moved to its current location in 1985, is set to be vacated by Oct. 12.