Human rights complaint dismissed after B.C. customer allegedly told to ‘speak English’

Incident involved dispute between customer and manager at a Canadian Tire store in 2020
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A human rights complaint against a Canadian Tire store on Vancouver Island and one of its managers has been dismissed. (inthecitysandiego file photo)

A human rights complaint has been thrown out after a customer at a Canadian Tire store on Vancouver Island was allegedly told to “speak English” during a dispute with a manager.

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, in a decision issued May 7, dismissed a complaint against the store and its staff member stemming from an incident in 2020. The store location was not specified.

A customer came in with a flat tire which was repaired that same day, but the customer was then advised that no employee was available to install the repaired tire until the next day. The parties argued about the customer’s expectations. The customer, of South American origin, contended that he spoke to his grandchild in Spanish and the manager shouted something to the effect of “speak English,” to which the customer responded with “a series of Spanish expletives.” The customer, in his rights complaint, said being spoken to in that way in front of his grandchild “made him feel very bad, unwelcome, rejected and insulted.”

The respondent argued that it was the complainant who verbally abused the manager, denied that the “speak English” comment was made, and denied that the customer was accompanied by his grandson during the incident. The tribunal was also advised that the store’s general manager apologized to the complainant via e-mail two months later.

The tribunal acknowledged that the comment, if it was made, was directed against a member of a group historically discriminated against and was “deeply upsetting,” but was an isolated comment made in the context of an escalating argument.

“Even if [the manager] told [the customer] to ‘speak English,’ it is unlikely that this one comment would rise to the level of discrimination requiring state intervention,” the tribunal noted. “This decision should not be taken to condone the use of inappropriate or offensive utterances. However, it is not the purpose of the [human rights] code or the tribunal to sanction all incivility which occurs in society.”

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