Warning: This story contains offensive language
Lethbridge’s police chief admits that charges could potentially be laid against a B.C. woman who shouted racist vitriol at a group of men in Denny’s, but suggested that “our judicial system is broken” and already bogged down by delays.
Instead, he encouraged individuals to intervene when they see something they think is wrong.
“People are quick to want to shove this into the judicial system. And I would suggest our judicial system is broken as it is. We see numerous court delays. If you listen to talk radio two weeks ago, the talk is about hundreds of charges having to be dropped in Alberta,” police chief Rob Davis said at a Thursday press conference.
“There is somebody off camera who stands up to the lady in question. And I think as a society that’s where we need to go. We don’t need to shove these things into the judicial system. We as a society stand up for one another, and stand up for what’s right in this country, I think that’s the step in the right direction.”
The video, which surfaced Tuesday and has since been viewed more than 1.3 million times, shows Kelly Pocha from Cranbrook, B.C., shouting at a group of men seated at an adjacent booth in a Denny’s restaurant.
In part, Pocha accuses the men of not paying taxes, demands that they speak English and tells them to “go back to where you came from.” She swears at the men throughout the video and, at one point, says “You’re not dealing with one of your Syrian b—-es right now.”
The men, who are originally from Afghanistan, said Pocha began shouting at them after she accused them of glaring at her.
Pocha, who had been drinking with her husband that night, said she heard the men speaking in a language she didn’t understand and laughing, and thought they were making fun of her. She also claimed the men made “racial comments and obscenities” toward her that did not appear in the video.
Davis asserted that the woman’s comments were disgusting and should not be tolerated. Davis, who is Indigenous, said the woman’s accusations about the men not paying taxes hit close to home.
“I’ve lived that myself as an Aboriginal, people not knowing things they start hurling insults on ignorance. The assumption, ‘Oh, you don’t pay taxes because you’re a native.’ I do, yeah, I do.”
Lethbridge Police have interviewed two of the four men involved in the incident, but have not interviewed Pocha or contacted her to schedule an interview. Police said they plan to reach out to her.
As for charges, Davis said none have been laid. But that may change.
“Based on the information we had, there was insufficient evidence for any charges. Three weeks later, by the strictest definition of the law — potentially — but we still need to investigate that,” he said.
Davis said he would not speculate on what charges Pocha could face, but then alluded to “armchair lawyers and wannabe Eddie Greenspans” online who have raised questions about “causing disturbance,” a criminal charge.
The offence involves anyone in or near a public space found “fighting, screaming, shouting, swearing, singing or using insulting or obscene language.”
By that definition, Davis said, “Well, potentially now we’re going to have to charge two groups.”
After the video surfaced, one of the men said he told an officer who arrived at the scene that he had video footage of the incident, but that the officer brushed him off.
Davis said he reviewed video from the restaurant, and it doesn’t appear to show that happening — but he didn’t completely dismiss it.
“But first blush looking at the video, if it did happen, it wasn’t an overt, in-your-face ‘I have video,’” said the chief, mining a person holding a screen to someone’s face.
“It may have been more subtle than that. But we need to follow investigative leads.”
Throughout the press conference, Davis repeatedly hailed a person who is heard off-camera in the video standing up to Pocha.
“I cannot stress that whoever this off camera voice is — in my mind, she’s a hero, because she calls out the lady,” he said. “I think as a society, that’s where we need to move.”
On two occasions, Davis described the court system as “broken” and suggested it may not be the right avenue for the case.
“When I hear the calls to push this into the judicial system, our justice system is broken. It’s an adversarial system with winners and losers. And if you have a system that has winners and losers, (is) that going to do anything to educate other Canadians so that we learn from this? I have my doubts.”
Davis said people — particularly those on social media — shouldn’t be so quick to “armchair quarterback” how police responded that night. Based on the information police had at the time, Davis says his officers acted properly.
The Denny’s restaurant franchisee said they were “extremely disturbed” by the events that took place at their location and said they have “zero tolerance” for discrimination.
“We are dedicated to providing a welcoming dining environment for all our guests. We do apologize and regret that our guests had to endure this customer’s terrible behaviour and continue to work with local officials on their investigation of this incident,” the franchisee said in a statement on Thursday.
Pocha was fired from her job at the Cranbrook Dodge dealership after the video went viral online.
She has since apologized for her comments but added the video doesn’t reflect the whole story and that she was “merely standing up for myself as I was being disrespected that night.”