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Acadia student ‘embarrassed’ by racial profiling at B.C. conference


Acadia University student Shelby McPhee says he was a victim of racial profiling by two other delegates at The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences 2019 Congress in British Columbia this week.
Acadia University student Shelby McPhee says he was a victim of racial profiling by two other delegates at The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences 2019 Congress in British Columbia this week.

An Acadia University student says he was racially profiled at an academic congress in British Columbia this week that he was attending as a speaker.

Shelby McPhee, a masters student in the political science department, was at the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences 2019 Congress at the University of British Columbia on Sunday when he and a colleague sat down at a table outside to work on their presentations.

The native of the Bahamas said he was across the table from a man and woman and his colleague was beside them for a while before they got up to go for lunch and check the rooms they would be speaking in. Some other people were at the table as well.

They were leaving the campus later when they heard the woman say something about “the two guys who sat next to us are walking past us again.”

He said they made eye contact with the woman but didn’t think anything of it and thought she was just speaking to someone, but as they left and turned around they noticed the man taking a photo of them.

They continued to walk but when they looked back again they saw that the man had stood up and was following them while taking pictures and trying to hide behind trees and at the event’s volunteers booth.

McPhee said the man was directing congress volunteers’ attention to him and his friend.

“That’s when we turned around and went back to the booth and said, ‘What’s the problem? Why are you following us and taking pictures of us?’” he said.

McPhee said the man told him there was no problem, “but he said to my colleague ‘I recognize you from earlier in the day, but I don’t recognize you,’ meaning me. Then he said ‘are you registered for this conference?’”

McPhee’s friend is white. McPhee was carrying his conference registration kit, but his friend was not.

“I told him it’s none of his concern whether I’m registered for the conference, and that he should be asking the person who didn’t have any registration material in his hand.”

That’s when the woman came over.

“She said ‘Our laptop went missing,’ and I asked if she was accusing me of stealing her laptop, and she said ‘Well, we don’t know who you are; are you registered for this conference?’”

The woman said that the RCMP were on their way, so McPhee stayed put.

“To walk away would look like an admission of guilt,” he said.

“The problem is that I appeared to be a criminal.”
-Shelby McPhee

He said campus security arrived first before the RCMP, and while he was never placed under arrest, a security member stood next to him as if he was trying to suggest he not leave.

There was no accusation by the couple, who he estimated to be in their 40s, that his friend might have taken the laptop.

“Had both of us been accused ... we would have just said no,” McPhee said. “But this became more than an accusation when I was the one who was singled out, out of many different people.”

He said RCMP talked to him, but didn’t search his backpack, computer bag or conference bag.

“I offered to let them look in my belongings, but they said no.”

He said the RCMP figured out quickly that the allegations were baseless, and that the computer may have disappeared before he even got on campus.

Sgt. Eric Baskette with the university’s detachment said that officers called to the incident believe there was a theft, but there is “no evidence” that McPhee was involved.

He said the timeline of the theft and when McPhee and his colleague were at the table is unclear from the file.

The ordeal was embarrassing, McPhee said, but also could have besmirched his reputation if people there for his presentation saw him being spoken to by police after the woman’s accusations.

“The problem is that I appeared to be a criminal.”

He said the people who accused him breached the university’s code of conduct, which states in part that participants “are entitled to enjoy an environment free from all forms of discrimination, harassment and retaliation,” and he wanted to see them expelled or sanctioned.

In a statement posted on its website Wednesday, the federation said it is “treating this incident very seriously as it unequivocally opposes and denounces anti-black racism, racial profiling, harassment and discrimination of any kind.”

It said senior leaders of the federation, which has a membership of 160 universities, colleges and scholarly associations across the country, met with McPhee and executive members of the Black Canadian Studies Association, which is part of the federation and of which McPhee is a member.

The federation said it is committed to working with the association to address the issue.

“The federation stands by its code of conduct and does not tolerate anti-black racism, harassment or discrimination of bongress participants in any form,” the statement said.

It’s not known if the federation took any action against the man and woman. No update was available Thursday afternoon.

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