There has been an outpouring of support from the Kingston community after a local coffee shop owner said one of his employees was the victim of racist abuse for asking a customer to put on a mask.
Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health's (KFLAPH) policy on mandatory masks inside commercial businesses came into effect on Saturday.
Gunjan Arora was working at Kingston Coffee House on Princess Street that morning. She says she was prepared to face questions, but was unprepared for what allegedly unfolded shortly after they opened.
A customer came in without a mask, and Arora says she started yelling racist abuse when asked if she had one.
“Go back to your country, you are a bloody Indian, you are taking all our jobs here, we don’t want you here, who asked you to come here,” Arora said she was told.
Arora, who has been living in Kingston for a year and a half after moving from India for college, says she was alone in the store with the woman at the time.
She says the comments the woman made about her parents were the most hurtful.
“She said my parents didn’t raise me right, that I’m an illegitimate child of my parents. She knew nothing about me.”
Arora says she kept calm, even as the woman began banging and yelling.
“It continued for five to seven minutes,” she explained. “It was too much and, at the end, I was saying nothing, I said, ‘is there anything else you want to speak, or not?’”
Feeling she had to protect her fellow employees, Arora told the coffee shop’s owner, Vid Banerjee.
Banerjee then went to Facebook to voice his support, posting a lengthy message on the coffee shop's page.
“As a BIPOC-owned business, we would do our best to track her down and make her responsible. Bringing race into the picture was uncalled for and the ensuing racial slurs were horrid and inhumane,” the statement reads, in part.
“My purpose of putting this on social media was to acknowledge that such things happen,” said Banerjee, “and to ensure people would know that we would not stop from speaking out; that we would call out such irresponsible actions. Why would race come into play for a policy that’s being mandated by the health department?”
No police report has been filed and there is no video footage of the alleged incident, but Banerjee said the woman would not be welcome inside the store again.
"Unfortunately we don't have a camera in store and she didn't make a purchase for us to track her through the card details," Banerjee said in reply to a comment on the Facebook post. "We will be keeping an eye out for sure based on the physical description we have received."
The Facebook post has since been shared hundreds of times, and Arora says she has received an outpouring of support in the days following.
Customers, strangers, and her fellow employees, all sending words of support.
“I’m coming from a different country and I definitely didn’t have this kind of perspective that people would treat me like this,” Arora said, “but I know that there are other people that are good to me, so, it’s fine.”
She says this kind of behaviour has not been her experience in Kingston, and she has moved on and forgiven the woman.
Still, she won’t forget it, and it’s encouraged her to use her voice.
“If we face these kinds of problems, we need to speak up,” she said.