A&W has stated its Cardston franchise's actions were not racially motivated after a Facebook post by Athabascan Nick Driedger went viral, describing an exchange where staff phoned police after people tried to purchase food for an Indigenous woman.
The Aug. 10 post describes Driedger's encounter at the A&W in the southern Alberta town. In the post, Driedger said an Indigenous couple tried to buy a meal for an older Indigenous woman who was using a walker and who was not with them. Driedger said the person behind the counter stated store policy "did not allow for such things."
Driedger said in the post he decided to purchase a meal for the older Indigenous woman, who was waiting outside the restaurant. After his order was taken, the lady behind the counter called the police regarding her, he said.
"That is when I got angry," Driedger said in the post. "I told the girl on the phone that the lady outside did nothing wrong and that she should get a meal. She then said it was store policy, I said that was a racist policy. She said it wasn’t, I asked why I could buy the lady breakfast but the couple before me couldn’t."
The post has since been shared more than 800 times in the 24 hours since it was posted.
A&W vice president of operations Neil Farmer said there is no policy at this franchise preventing someone from buying food for somebody else. The issue was the woman who Driedger and the couple purchased food for was banned from the restaurant. He also said the ban on the woman was not racially motivated.
"It relates entirely to a pattern of behaviour and actions that just never changed. It’s not racially motivated at all," he said.
Farmer said he would not add more details about what the problematic behaviour was.
"At this restaurant with this particular individual, it's a difficult situation. This is somebody who's facing some hardship. We try to handle these things delicately," Farmer said. "This person has been at the restaurant on a number of occasions and their actions and behaviours have been somewhat menacing and disruptive and unsanitary to other guests."
Farmer said the couple's order was served, but when they pointed out the banned woman in the restaurant they wanted the food given to, staff requested the woman leave the facility.
Driedger said in an interview he was able to give the meal to the banned woman outside the restaurant. He also said police responded to the scene, but by that point, everyone had left.
"It was pretty anti-climatic with the police," Driedger said. "She was calling the police with regards to this lady who had done nothing to make any scene or any trouble for anybody and left as soon as they told her to leave."
He added the police left the scene after someone relayed to them everyone else had already gone.
"The fact that this person felt compelled to call the police over what was completely a non-incident, its pretty appalling," Driedger said.
Farmer said the A&W head office has been investigating the incident and hearing from the parties involved, including Driedger and staff at the Cardston A&W. He said although the background of what occurred goes a bit deeper than what the post relayed, there were "no big discrepancies" from the incident as described in the post and the incident as described by staff.
"Staff asked her to leave, as they always do given her past behaviour. I think the whole thing may have been either misinterpreted or not communicated by the employees as well as maybe we would have liked," Farmer said.
Driedger said he is not really satisfied with the explanation from A&W.
"The lady in question was five feet tall and maybe 100 pounds. She had a walker. If she was 'menacing,' their clerks have a problem," Driedger said. "They could have still let the couple buy her food."
He added staff also called police after she had left peacefully.
"They also called the police after she was off the property and gone. She complied with what they asked. There was no scene," Driedger said, adding staff never mentioned anything about the woman being banned from the facility.
Cardston RCMP Cpl. Ryan Hodge said the detachment received no calls to the Cardston A&W Aug. 10 and did not have any knowledge of the incident Driedger described.
Driedger said he does not know why RCMP would deny responding to the scene.
"I saw them in the parking lot. They talked to someone when I was standing ten feet away," Driedger said. "I have no idea why the cops would be there if they were not called and the young lady (at the A&W counter) sounded like they were calling them right in front of me."
Farmer said the franchisee will be reviewing all policies and procedures in response to this incident.
"We'll be looking at all our procedures and processes and make sure they're aligned to make sure we deliver on that. I don't think there's any reason to think this is racially charged at all," Farmer said.
Driedger said it is a little awkward to see his Facebook post go viral, but he said it is likely important that it did. He added he hopes it might mean A&W gives more sensitivity training to its employees.
"Making sure the people who do this kind of work are actually trained to be a little bit more sensitive and considerate and not just simply jump to calling police anytime a situation gets beyond awkward," Driedger said. "That would be really positive."
Town of Athabasca Mayor Colleen Powell said she plans to take a copy of the post to a truth and reconciliation meeting the town is having with the Athabasca Native Friendship Centre Aug. 13.
"I don't think this is limited to Cardston," Powell said in an interview. "There's still work to be done and I'm not saying Athabascans are behaving in this matter, but let's use this as an example of how not to behave."
Driedger added he is considering filing a human rights complaint on the issue. The Facebook post also contributes to a bigger conversation, he said.
"It also does contribute to a broader conversation about racism and our history. It's something I think we all got to talk to and own up to," Driedger said.