The Toronto branch of Spirit Halloween has removed a number of offensive costumes from sale, following a complaint filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
The Canadian offshoot of the US-based party retailer has quietly settled a complaint filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleging some of its Aboriginal-themed costumes promoted hyper-sexualized and racist views of indigenous women.
As such, it has agreed to remove the offending costumes – with names such as Pocahottie, Reservation Royalty, Naughty Navajo and Huron Honey – from its Toronto stores.
“With everything that’s going on, including the current enquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls… they think we’re just talking about costumes [but] we’ve had to deal with so much loss,” says Cathy Calfchild, who filed the complaint after first spotting the costumes around four years ago. “It really cheapens who we are as indigenous people.”
Similar protests have surrounded retailers in Winnipeg, Calgary, Regina, Sudbury and Truro. A few sellers voluntarily stopped selling them, but Spirit Halloween resisted and requests to remove the offensive costumes were ignored.
When Spirit Halloween head office didn’t return email messages, the women picketed the store as well as other outlets selling similar costumes.
Prior to filing their complaints, lawyer Natalia Crowe-Barillas says her clients attempted to sit down with Spirit Halloween to try to come to an agreement, but the talks failed.
She argued that the retail stores created a poisonous environment by displaying and selling sexist and racist costumes, saying that: “The Human Rights Tribunal has found that a poisoned environment, whether it’s a work environment or in a store setting, can amount to discrimination.”
But Spirit Halloween came back with a defense of ‘commercial freedom of expression’.
Spirit Halloween’s lawyers only agreed to the settlement after Natalia filed a number of applications of fact and expert statements with the tribunal.
While the binding settlement is unlikely to set a legal precedent, Natalia stated that it does “create a precedent, in that a binding settlement between Spirit Halloween and my clients was reached.”