Indigenous woman alleges racial profiling at local store; company says social media post doesn’t tell whole story and investigation revealed no wrongdoing

Elysha Bear-Morin, 32, alleged she was racially-profiled during a visit to a Prince Albert store on December 4, 2020. The store denied the allegations. Screen capture.

An Indigenous woman says she was racially profiled during a recent visit to a Prince Albert Shoppers Drug Mart.

Shoppers, though, through its parent company Loblaw Companies Limited, denied the allegation and says that after an investigation, they found no evidence of racial profiling and discrimination. They said the video and social media post don’t portray the whole story, though they acknowledge that a response from one of the employees at the end of the video was inappropriate and has been dealt with appropriately.

The allegations stem from a trip made by Elysha Bear-Morin, 32, to a Shoppers Drug Mart in Prince Albert last Friday.

In a Facebook post and video that has been viewed over 53,000 times, Bear-Morin detailed her experience.

Bear-Morin alleged that she was shopping with her sisters when she was told, while in the makeup section, that she was “stinking up the place,” and of having a guilty conscience.

She alleges she was followed for three aisles, and asked the employee to stop because she felt uncomfortable. Bear-Morin said she told the employees that she was a paying customer buying makeup and pads for her sisters, and had no intention of stealing.

At that point, Bear-Morin says, she turned on her phone and began to record the encounter. She said in a subsequent video that she noticed she was being followed by store clerks, and that’s when she realized “That they were suspecting me of stealing”

The initial, four-minute video shows Bear-Morin walking towards the self-checkout and purchasing her goods. When she goes to leave the store, several people can be seen in the frame heading through the exit when the store’s anti-theft alarm goes off.

Bear-Morin walks back through the exit and shows that neither she nor the bag she’s carrying, set off the alarm.

She has a conversation with the store employees and there is some confusion about whether she had a second bag from a previous stop at Winners. Her sisters say that bag never entered the store. She refuses to produce the alleged second bag. The employees refuse to give her the purchased items.

When Bear-Morin goes to leave — without her purchased items — the argument continues with the store employees in the exit.

As she and her sisters leave, the employee is seen gives Bear-Morin the middle finger.

In a subsequent video, labelled “Media Response,” Bear-Morin says she is a law student at the University of Windsor and was home visiting family for Christmas break. She’s a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation from Treaty 10 territory.

“I’ve been home enjoying my Christmas break. This is the last thing I thought would happen,” she said.

Bear-Morin said she believes the video resonated with so many “mostly because it goes to show that this is something that too many of us experience.”

She raised her concerns with Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) leadership and with Prince Albert City Coun. Tony Head. She also said she plans to file a complaint with the human rights commission.

“This experience will have a significant influence on my studies,” she said.

“More than ever before I’m looking forward to getting back to the books and working as an advocate for others.”

Reached over Facebook, Bear-Morin declined further comment.

In a written statement, Loblaw Public Relations said that the video posted to Facebook wasn’t a true reflection of the events at the store last Friday. Loblaw Companies Limited owns Shoppers Drug Mart.

“Shoppers Drug Mart stores take pride in their commitment to diversity, and to being inclusive, equitable and accessible in interactions with their customers,” the statement, signed by senior director of external communication Catherine Thomas, said.

“The store has reviewed video of the incident, as well as conducting a thorough investigation with the store team. There was no evidence of racial profiling or discriminatory conduct from staff, and there was more to the incident than what was posted on social media.

“That said, the response from the employee at the end of the video was unacceptable and does not align with the store’s values or expectation for customer service, and the employee has been dealt with appropriately.” 

The PAGC said in a Thursday statement that they were also reviewing the incident and asked for a meeting with store management.

A statement by Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte echoed by vice chiefs Christopher Jobb and Joseph Tsannie expresses concern about the possibility of racial profiling. They allege that it’s clear Bear-Morin was singled out. He expressed concerns that First Nations residents “continue to be treated like thieves when they’re out doing their normal day-to-day business.”

 “This kind of racial stereotyping happens far too often, and I am glad that this young woman knew enough to record what happened to her. Shopping should be an enjoyable experience for everyone, but this was unfairly taken away from her. This should not be an everyday issue for our First Nation consumers. We expect to be treated equally as this young woman represents one of thousands of our members who bring millions of dollars to the economy of this city,” said Hardlotte.

The PAGC said they plan to work with the city and the chamber of commerce to raise the issue of racial profiling in general and work to address it at all levels.

The Herald reached out to the PAGC for further comment and had not received a response as of press time Friday. The Herald was unable to confirm through PAGC or Shoppers whether the pharmacy and PAGC leadership have been able to arrange a meeting.