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Aboriginal woman launches discrimination complaint against Kelowna casino

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An aboriginal Peachland woman says she was forced to leave Kelowna's Lake City Casino one night in 2017 because of her race and she's taken her complaint to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

Judith Skarbo was staying at a hotel attached to the casino Dec. 2, 2017, when she began talking with a blackjack dealer whom she identified as Indigenous, according to a tribunal decision posted online.

Skarbo is blonde and blue-eyed, and when she told the dealer that she was also aboriginal, she said the dealer was surprised. They had a lighthearted discussion while playing cards before Skarbo began talking about current events and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech about residential schools.

The decision suggests that Skarbo asked the dealer if anyone in her family had attended a residential school before discussing her family’s experience in the residential school system.

“Ms. Skarbo says she discussed how the schools ’turned people into monsters because of the suffering and abuse they were subjected to.’ She also confided in the dealer that she, in turn, had experienced violence at the hands of a family member who had attended one of the schools,” the decision reads.

“She says, ‘I explained that a lot of the students of the native residential schools have turned to violence and self-harming behaviour, including abuse of drugs and alcohol, and have experienced very public deaths. I was simply providing a personal commentary to the contemporaneous news events of the day while we played blackjack."

According to the decision, Skarbo says the dealer did not indicate that she was uncomfortable or ask to change the subject. The dealer’s supervisor alerted the pit-boss who, alongside two security guards, asked Skarbo to leave. Skarbo says that the pit-boss accused her of being racist. Security guards asked for her identification, which she couldn't provide because she said was in her hotel room, before escorting her out of the Casino, she says.

Skarbo says she did not understand why the staff was reacting that way when she was “simply having a discussion with another identifiable aboriginal woman."

Gateway staff, however, dispute Skarbo’s story and say that, when the pit-boss approached the table, they overheard Skarbo telling the dealer personal information about sexual assault as well as sexual assault in residential schools and, after approaching Skarbo to ask her to change the subject, she attempted to continue the conversation. This, the pit-boss says, and not a discussion about current affairs or indigenous issues, is what led to Skarbo being asked to step away from the table, at which point they claim Skarbo became upset and attempted to hug and touch the dealer despite being advised that she could not.

The respondents say that Skarbo was asked to leave and a 24-hour ban was issued. Skarbo, claiming that she was unaware of the ban, returned after dinner to cash out her chips and left without escort, Skarbo says, noting that she was not provided with any information as to why she had been banned.

A note in the incident file, the decision states, says Skarbo was banned due to “inappropriate comments.”

“The respondents say that during this encounter, Ms. Skarbo told the shift manager she felt that she was being singled out for being indigenous and wanting to talk about indigenous issues,” the decision reads.

After Skarbo returned, the respondents say that they recorded the incident and the shift manager recommended a 30-day ban upon identification being presented by Skarbo, who says she was not informed of the 30-day ban.

Skarbo later returned to the casino on Jan. 27, 2018 with two friends. Security guards asked her to produce identification, which she did.

“She alleges that when she tried to tell her side of the story, the guard said, ‘we don’t want any trouble from you, with that kind of talk, racism isn’t allowed or tolerated,’” the decision reads. “Ms. Skarbo said that she was able to continue playing after this but she found it a very upsetting experience.”

The decision says there was little information from the dealer herself, except that she “didn’t want to encourage the conversation.”

The casino denied Skarbo’s claims were appropriate for a Human Rights Tribunal complaint and applied to dismiss the complaint entirely. 

The tribunal denied the casino’s application to dismiss the complaint. Ohler said there is a gap in evidence and a foundational credibility issue.

“While the respondents reference frequently the dealer’s supervisor having realized that Ms. Skarbo ’trapped the dealer in a disturbing conversation,’ there is very little evidence about what led the supervisor to form this view. The dealer’s incident report says only that she did not want to encourage the conversation and that her supervisor gave her a ‘look’ – not that she gave a ‘look’ to her supervisor. There is no other direct evidence from either the dealer supervisor or the dealer,” Ohler writes in the decision.

“As a result, I am unable to assess the basis on which the supervisor came to their conclusion that the conversation warranted intervention. I also note that while the respondents argue that ‘patrons who touch or attempt to touch casino employees despite being advised to refrain from doing so are subject to removal from the casino and barred for a period of at least 24 hours,’ the incident report appears to reference only inappropriate comments. I see no reference to attempts to touch the dealer as having been a basis for Ms. Skarbo’s removal.”

Ohler encouraged both parties to avail themselves of the mediation services offered by the Tribunal to avoid a hearing.

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