Sask. woman not satisfied with investigation into alleged racial discrimination at a Regina Walmart

A woman who alleges she was discriminated against due to her race at a Regina Walmart is not satisfied with the findings of an investigation into the incident.

Joyce Keepness, a Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation woman, said she was shopping at the store in east Regina in Oct. 2021 when the alleged incident occurred.

She said she needed to purchase 10 $100 gift cards as prizes for an event being hosted by the First Nation. She said she asked an employee where the gift cards were and was directed to customer service.

Keepness, who is turning 70 years old in July, said the employee working the desk would not sell her the cards for fear she was involved in a scam.

“I asked him, ‘Why would I want to scam an old person when I am old myself?’ And he said, ‘You could be buying them for someone who is getting scammed or going to scam older people.’ I was in shock,” she said.

Keepness said she left the store and asked her younger co-worker Emmalyn Olsen if she could buy the cards. Olsen said she had no issue in purchasing the cards.

“They just gave them to me right away,” Olsen said.

Keepness said she and Olsen returned to the store together to file a complaint to the store manager.

“I was so angry,” said Keepness. “I told [the employee], ‘I got the gift cards you wouldn’t sell to me because you sold them to my co-worker. Is it because her skin is white and mine is brown?’ He never addressed me, he only spoke to Emma.”

“I thought it was so ignorant of him as I was standing right there.”

Keepness took her complaint to the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism (SCAR) in the days following. SCAR said the complaint was referred to Walmart’s legal team in Toronto and referred a second time to an investigator.

In an emailed statement, Walmart Canada said the investigation did not substantiate that Keepness was treated in a discriminatory manner.

“There appeared to be a misunderstanding about our processes related to ordering large quantities of gift cards,” the company said.

Keepness received the finding of the investigation on March 16.

Keepness participated in the investigation through email and statements, but SCAR said she was not spoken to directly. SCAR advocate Bob Hughes said the process of the investigation was not complete and did not take Keepness’ experience into account.

“It seemed it wasn’t getting taken seriously,” he said. “The investigator never talked to Joyce or [Emmalyn] and they thanked her for her cooperation and participation.”

“All I wanted was an apology,” Keepness said.

Walmart said it takes concerns of this nature seriously and investigates them thoroughly.

“Respect is a core value at Walmart Canada and we do not condone any behaviour which contradicts this value, including racism and discrimination,” the company said.

“Walmart is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for our associates and our customers.”

Keepness wants to see better education for employees about Indigenous people in order to limit experiences like hers in the future.

“Let’s educate people about First Nations people,” she said. “I want to see our elders go in to work with their employees and let them know about treaty. Educate them about what our people experience.”