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When does it become a human rights issue?

Grocery store ban raises questions in context of the North
Stewart Burnett is editor of Kivalliq News. Photo courtesy of Stewart Burnett

A Coral Harbour woman called her local Northern Store a vulgar term on social media. Does she deserve to be banned for a month for it?

As we’ve all been reminded repeatedly during the era of vaccine certification, private businesses – heck, even governments now – can deny services to just about anyone based on whatever criteria they come up with.

No shirt, no service and rude language toward staff would certainly qualify as a decent reason to ban someone from your establishment.

But this woman didn’t even enter the premises: she simply tagged the Northern Store on social media and called them a bad name, asking if the store was trying to control people.

She didn’t threaten anyone. She didn’t say, “Can’t wait ‘til I see you in person!” or call out anyone by name. She didn’t even spread any sort of false allegation. She expressed exasperation from behind a screen, as many of us do from time to time. Most of us wake up later and delete those posts.

The RCMP indicated there was already a strained relationship between this resident and the store management, so perhaps this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

But it does raise some interesting human rights considerations when factoring in the context of Coral Harbour, a remote community with only two grocery stores.

If something happens to the Co-op and it becomes unavailable, would Northern let this particular resident in to buy food?

Banning someone from essentially half of the grocery options in town is a much bigger hammer swing than a southern business banning a customer from one of hundreds of competing options.

Will this ban resonate with the resident and change her behaviour? Speaking as a stubborn person, it certainly wouldn’t change mine, and probably just inflame my feelings toward the business.

On a surface level, it seems doubtful this woman is a threat to staff at the Northern Store. Maybe she’s a threat to say some bad words or cuss them out online. Even the store manager’s explanation of the ban centred around social media harassment and online behaviour more than any sort of potential for physical violence.

The RCMP’s involvement wasn’t due to any physical threat, either: the police were simply performing a courtesy to the Northern Store by delivering the ban notice and would only become involved if a scene took place in the store.

In an ideal world, people can resolve their disagreements by talking. Few of us intend any harm in life, and most conflicts are the result of miscommunication.

As we all know too, some people can’t be talked to and seem to have no concept of taking a good-faith approach to conflict.

In the south, it’s easier to ban people who pose any sort of trouble. But in a small Nunavut community, management should probably make that a rare, last-resort option.

Perhaps the Northern Store in Coral Harbour has done just that, and this post was the end of the line.

In the nature of the North, we’re all ‘stuck’ together, whether we like each other or not. Rather than try to block out the existence of those we like less, we should probably aim to work together as positively as we can.

And that goes for the flipside, too: rather than be quick to vent online about those around us, we should give our neighbours the benefit of the doubt that they are also trying their best in imperfect circumstances.