Winnipeg restaurant accused of discrimination against group of Indigenous diners

A group of young Indigenous adults is considering whether to file a human rights complaint after their experience at a Winnipeg restaurant this past weekend.

Kayla McPherson, Kaitlyn Sousa and four other friends were out for dinner at Montana’s on Regent Avenue on Sunday, a restaurant they have often visited. After finishing drinks and appetizers, the group was asked to pay that bill before getting their entrees.

The server said it was a new policy after a string of dine-and-dash incidents, but no one else seated near them appeared to have been asked to do the same, McPherson said.

“We all looked at each other in complete shock, mouths wide open, and were wondering if this is a joke. She said no and then I asked why this was necessary because this was never something that was asked previously,” McPherson told CBC Manitoba Information Radio guest host Faith Fundal on Wednesday.

“She just let me know that it wasn’t her decision, it was actually her manager’s, so I requested to speak to the manager.”

In the meantime, Sousa checked with another group to see if they had been asked the same thing. They had not.

“[The server] mentioned that this is a policy that they were implementing, so I just wanted to see if it was implemented on anybody else,” Sousa said.

When the manager eventually came out, the group was told the same thing — that it was a new policy to cut back on people running out without paying.

“They said they look for a certain group of people and we asked what kind of group,” McPherson said. “They didn’t give us any description or anything at all. They stayed silent and walked away.”

Sousa said she felt sick to have her group singled out in a restaurant full of people.

“People are looking at you and they don’t know what they are saying to us. They could have … thought that we were actually doing something wrong when in fact we weren’t. We were just trying to enjoy our evening,” she said.

Won’t go back

In the end, they didn’t end up eating their meals at the restaurant — and don’t plan to anytime soon.

“I had to leave. I just couldn’t stay there any longer because I didn’t want to get explained to that it was a policy, knowing in my heart that it was much more than that,” McPherson said.

“Discrimination of any kind, whether I’m referring to race, whether I’m referring to our age, whether I’m referring to our gender … those situations aren’t right.”

McPherson said the owner later apologized but the damage has been done.

“I think that we’re never planning to go back to Montana’s. We were kind of informed that the manager was the wife of one of the owners of all of the Montana’s in Winnipeg. That’s not the type of business that I would like to support,” she said.

“If you’re going to make a policy or you’re going to implement a rule, implement it to all your customers, not just a group of people you decide you want to look at and embarrass.”

In an email statement sent to CBC News, the company said it is looking into the incident and planning to give staff more diversity, equity and inclusion training “to ensure that no other guests experience something like this again.”

“We would like to reiterate that we are taking this matter very seriously as it does not align with our values at Montana’s or any policy that we have in place,” the statement said.

“We have reached out to the guest to hear about their experience and the impact it has had on them and have expressed our deepest apologies.”