While the city reverberates with the echoes of the Gay and Lesbian Pride parade, another symbolic step down the path of societal acceptance, trouble brews in Calgary's downtown core at two well-known nightclubs.
"I've lived in Calgary for 24 years and I've never come across racism that blatant," said Christina Kang of Calgary. "I've never not been welcome somewhere because I'm Asian."
Kang, along with friends Glenda Sanchez, Bosco Fung and three others, were turned away from the Palace nightclub on the evening of May 26. The group, all of Asian descent, were attempting to join a friend's farewell party. Kang, Sanchez and Fung described how bouncers insisted on five specific pieces of identification, including a driver's license, passport, prison ID card, army certificate and a visitor's visa card.
"I resent the implication that because I'm coloured I must be an international visitor," said Kang.
The three claim that after being denied entry, they expressed a concern to the bouncer of being turned away due to their Asian ethnicity. The bouncer allegedly replied "That's right, spread the word." The three, all Canadian citizens between the ages of 26 and 28, have filed human rights complaints against the Palace through the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission.
Palace night manager Tony Evangelista dismissed the allegations.
"Nothing's going to come of it," he said. "Simply put, they're pissed off because they didn't get into the club. We're a private club. We're allowed to deny entrance to anybody."
Evangelista added that a possible misidentification of one of the group may have occurred, and emphasized that the safety of Palace patrons was the first priority of the doormen.
"People may be identified clearly, or they may be misidentified," he said. "The fact of the matter is that the Palace, like any other club, is going to want to err on the side of being overly cautious. We have to ensure safety to all the people in the bar."
Kang did not accept the misidentification theory, stating that after her group was turned away from the nightclub, they watched as other groups of Asians were similarly denied entrance.
"The story we've heard is that one of us was a recognized troublemaker," she explained. "So was everyone else [who was turned away] a recognized troublemaker? And if [the Palace bouncers] can't name which one of us, then do all Asians look alike to them?"
Evangelista pointed out another possible motivation for the complaints.
"I think the shoe's on the other foot," he stated. "They're calling us racist, and saying we're not letting them in because of their ethnicity. I think they're using their ethnicity to their advantage simply because they were turned away at the door."
Manpreet Dhami just wanted a drink with his friends when they visited Bourbon Street Calgary, also on May 26. When Dhami and his two Caucasian friends reached the front of the line his friends were admitted.However, Dhami said he was told the club would not permit East Indians. Bewildered and disturbed, Dhami and his friends left.
"When I was a kid, I used to get in a lot of fights," said Dhami. "Once, my dad took me aside and said 'If you're going to fight everyone, you might as well start a line.' So I've kind of learned to live with it. But the attitude from the bouncer and the bar has been so nonchalant and careless, I want to call them on it. I don't want this to happen to anyone else."
Dhami's friend, David Gossen, called the bar the following week to complain and explained that he
received no placation from the manager he spoke to.
"I thought surely a manager would provide some sort of brief apology," he said. "But he knew exactly why I was calling and he told me that the bar has had a lot of problems with a certain group of individuals and as a necessary precaution, they won't let Lebanese, East Indian and Asians into the bar."
Bourbon Street owner Keith Bushfield was unaware of Dhami's situation.
"We're not that kind of bar," he said. "We don't say you can't come in because you're East Indian. In our business, because we are a liquor establishment, we do have the luxury of being allowed to say you can't come in. Not because we're racist, but we have concerns about security issues. I don't care what colour you are, if you're a security risk, I have a problem. I have an obligation to provide a safe environment to my patrons."
After a discussion with the Bourbon Street managers, who do not recall the conversation with Gossen, Bushfield expressed an
interest in meeting with Dhami to clear up any misunderstanding.
"[The managers] would gladly talk to [Dhami] to clear up the misunderstanding because that's not how it's supposed to be," he explained. "Essentially, there's no way in hell they'd say something [discriminatory]."
Dhami is in the process of filing a complaint through the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission and intends to follow through with that initiative.
"I know Dave [Gossen] wouldn't make up a story," he said. "I'm making the complaint because [the manager] was rude and nonchalant to him. I don't understand how there can be a misunderstanding, either they can say 'we're sorry' or 'too bad.'"
Marie Riddle, Director of the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, explained that the outcome of the complaints couldn't be predicted.
"Every single complaint is different," she said. "Our job is to find out if race or colour was the reason someone was discriminated against. The only way to do that is to investigate all the facts, and sometimes that comes down to the balance of probabilities. What do you do if you have 'he said, she said?' You have to make a decision."
Riddle added that most complaints are resolved successfully through the process of conciliation, in which the complainants and the respondents undergo mediation.
Despite the uncertainty associated with a complaint, Riddle emphasized the importance of speaking out against discrimination.
"Filing a complaint can help the person as an individual, stop the discrimination, and provide a service to the broader community," she said. "If people didn't make complaints, then the people who are discriminating might never learn that they're being discriminatory."
Regardless of the outcome, the complainants consider the time well spent.
"We're not just going to sit down and take it," said Kang. "That's as good as saying 'I deserve to be discriminated against,' and that's not right."
The Palace and Bourbon Street personnel have 21 days to provide a response to the complainants.