Rachel Sutherland says she bought a 10-movie gift card at Yukon Cinema so her three children could head to the movies when they wanted and maybe save a few dollars in the process.
She also planned to buy a few of the passes as Christmas stocking stuffers.
But Sutherland says when her 12-year-old son tried to use it on Nov. 2, the card read as “invalid.” The next day, she headed downtown to figure out why.
Whitehorse has two movie theatres — Yukon Cinema and Qwanlin Cinema — both run by Calgary-based Landmark Cinemas. Since the Yukon Cinema was closed, Sutherland walked over to Qwanlin with her five- and nine-year-old daughters.
Sutherland says when the assistant manager scanned the card and it still read invalid, she told him she just purchased the card two nights ago.
“He proceeds to say, ‘How do I know that you didn’t invite 10 people to a movie last night?’
“I was thinking, ‘What? Who would come up with something like that?'” she said.
The assistant manager said he’d replace the card but it would be “coming out of his own pocket,” said Sutherland. She says she felt “really, really crappy” so she asked for his manager’s number.
He refused and told her to call Landmark Cinemas’ head offices.
The sad thing is my daughters witnessed discrimination to their mother.– Rachel Sutherland
When she refused to leave, she says the assistant manager came out from behind the counter.
“He was pretty much toe-to-toe with me and right up in my face. His face was almost nose-to-nose with me,” she said.
Then, she says, he asked his employees to call the police.
“I thought the police were on their way,” she said. “So I called the RCMP. I talked to the woman at the front desk and the response I got from her was just as bad. If I didn’t leave the building, they were going to send the police over and arrest me.”
Worried she would be arrested in front of her daughters, Sutherland left.
“To me, it felt like his mind was already made up when I explained what happened. He didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt,” she said.
“[He] basically gave me the impression that I was trying to scam them which wasn’t the case. I just wanted something fixed.”
Sutherland says she can’t help but feel her Indigenous background played a part in how she was treated.
“The sad thing is my daughters witnessed discrimination to their mother,” she said.
Later that day, Sutherland says she went to Yukon Cinema and the issue with the card was handled quickly and professionally.
Landmark Cinemas investigating
Landmark Cinemas CEO Bill Walker says the company is investigating the incident.
He said there was no problem with the gift card, but the assistant manager didn’t know how to redeem it.
“We don’t have anything to say whether it’s a discriminatory issue or not,” he said. “In any event, it’s a customer service issue that wasn’t resolved properly … That’s the accountability that, without further investigation, we can absolutely take.”
Walker says it’s too early in the investigation to say if the assistant manager will be fired or whether he will just receive more training and development. He says this person has been in the position for about a year.
Landmark Cinemas employees do not receive any cultural training. Walker says employees are hired from the local community so the company never saw a need.
Walker says once the local investigation is over, if Sutherland is not satisfied or more investigation is needed, the regional director of operations from Calgary’s head office will fly to Whitehorse to train staff at both cinemas.
“It certainly isn’t a proud moment for the company,” he said. “The root cause of that, we’ll still have to do some investigation, but it’s certainly not what we strive for and we’ll work to resolve.”
Sutherland met with the general manager of the Qwanlin and Yukon cinemas on Tuesday. She says the manager was apologetic and took full responsibility, and offered her movie passes.
But Sutherland says an apology isn’t good enough.
She says the assistant manager should be fired because he was unprofessional.