Here’s what happened when I went to a Windsor Staples
I was falsely arrested for trespassing at a Windsor Staples because I defended my mask exemption from a vexatious manager. Windsor Police intimidated, manhandled, incarcerated, and ticketed me. They did this despite the law, despite the manager’s overt bigotry, and despite the notice posted on the store’s door stating that Staples respects exemptions.
The following occurred at the Staples at 2550 Ouellette Avenue in Windsor, Ontario, on Tuesday July 6, 2021, at roughly 4:00pm.
My husband and I went to Staples for a few binders, a paper cutter, crayons for our kiddo. We put Kiddo in the shopping cart seat. An employee asked us if we had masks. We told him we are exempt from masking, and he left us alone.
A minute later, the manager appeared: a larger, tall black man in a red shirt, with his identity hidden by a mask. (I was later told his name is Steve.) He told us that masking was mandatory in the store. We informed him that we are exempt, by law. He said, “The store has a mandate that you have to wear a mask.” I let him know that what he has is a store policy, not a mandate, and that our exemptions are upheld the mask bylaw and by the OHRC. I told him that he is not above the law.
Manager Steve threatened to call the police. I said that was fine, and continued shopping. My husband pulled up the relevant legal information on his phone: the OHRC list of protected grounds (which includes disability and creed), the Ontario mask mandate (which states that proof of medical exemption is not required, and that anyone exempt as per the OHRC is not required to mask), as well as the Trespass to Property Act (which states that trespass applies to “Every person who is not acting under a right or authority conferred by law”).
We shopped, armed with proof that we could not be legally charged with trespassing for being mask exempt, because our exemptions are a right conferred by law.
As we approached the till, we found a single police officer speaking with the manager. I unloaded my items from the cart onto the counter at the till, while my husband spoke with the officer. My husband demonstrated and explained our exemption rights, as shown at the links above.
My memory of the following conflict is clear on the whole, but fuzzy about the chronology of conversational details, because the police took the argument around in irrational circles for a long time.
The manager refused to serve me. Another officer arrived. I discussed the situation with that officer, explaining my rights to him. I could hear my husband getting exasperated in the background, because the other officer was not properly recognizing the law as shown.
However, it seems at least one officer didn’t have his ears closed. He asked me quietly if I had any cash. I said I did not. He asked if I had a tap card. My husband did have a tap card. The officer offered to take our purchases, ring them up himself, pay with our tap card, and bring the items outside to us, if we agreed to leave the store immediately. My husband and I both agreed eagerly to this compromise.
The manager, however, refused. “I called you guys to help me, not them,” he said to the officers.
“They’re not your goons, man,” said my husband.
The manager refused to cooperate.
I pointed out that this was a clear example of ideological and health discrimination, and a power trip. Clearly this manager wanted to overpower us, even punish us for our non-compliance, to the extent of refusing service to a masked and compliant police officer just because that officer was assisting a mask exempt customer. This was not about health or safety, because if it was, he would have accepted the opportunity to have us leave the store.
The officers continued to obstruct my rights. My basic argument, which I repeated many times to officers, was as follows:
I am exempt from masking. I have both a medical/health exemption, and a creed exemption, and so I have a right to be served. The Ontario mask mandate recognizes exemptions and recognizes OHRC protected grounds. OHRC protected grounds include health/disability, and creed. My medical/disability/health exemption is private. My creed exemption is my Buddhist Vipassana spirituality. The Trespass to Property Act does not apply if the reason for denial of service is an OHRC protected ground, and only applies to those ‘not acting under a right or authority conferred by law.’ Licensed businesses are required to accommodate people with disabilities, including the mask exempt, up to the point of the accommodation effort creating an undue burden. Showing my face puts no burden on the business, and is therefore it is my right to shop in person. Making me shop online is not acceptable accommodation, any more than it would be acceptable to make a person shop online for having a seeing-eye dog, or for being of a particular race or religion. I will not be treated as a second class citizen for my health status or for my creed.
Don’t miss: Seven Myths of Mask Exemptions.
A vital summary of mask exemption law in Ontario.
Available as a printable flyer.
Officers argued repeatedly that the manager was the king of the business, and could kick me out for whatever reason he wanted. This is false. The business has a business licence, and included in that licence is a requirement to obey the law and abide by the OHRC.
“I’m asking you nicely,” said one of the officers to me, many many times. This was completely absurd. I was standing up to a rights violation. You can’t violate someone’s rights, with implicit threat of force at that, “nicely.” I eventually used a historical analogy: if Rosa Parks had been asked ‘nicely’ to move to the back of the bus, does that mean she should have done so? The officer replied, “That wasn’t in Canada. And it was how many decades ago? It was a long time ago.” I asked him why it mattered what country Rosa lived in. I asked him where he got the idea that our human rights can expire. He didn’t have an answer for me.
I wish I had asked the officer how he would respond if the manager said, “Remove her because she’s white. I don’t want a white person in this store.”
Officers tried to shame me for how much their intimidation was upsetting my son, as if it was my fault. Eventually, I had my husband take our Kiddo out to the car, while I stayed behind to stand my ground and argue with six (six!) Windsor Police officers.
Officers told me I should be taking up my issue with Staples head office, rather than by standing my ground. They wanted me to take it up with the courts, take it up with review boards, take it up by filing a human rights complaint. I told them that the system is corrupt and overwhelmed right now, populated with biased, bigoted and propagandized people. I told them about how ineffective review boards are, not to mention the pre-enquette process. Review boards (like the OIPRD and CPSO) do not ensure justice; rather, they shield corrupt bodies from justice by confounding investigations of systemic infractions and prosecuting only the lowest hanging fruit, the most obvious offenders.
Bottom line: when the system doesn’t work, you have to stand your ground in person. “I am not leaving without my purchases. Why don’t you argue with the manager, instead of ganging up on me? Why don’t you tell him about my rights and convince him to do the right thing?”
“Because he won’t budge,” said the police.
“I won’t budge either,” I said. “And I’m the one in the right.”
An officer then claimed that the manager just plain wanted me out of the store, regardless of my rights, because the incident was causing a scene. I reminded everyone that the ones discriminating against me were causing the scene. The manager was causing a scene by refusing the police’s deescalation attempt, keeping me in the store, and the police were causing a scene by intimidating me in violation of my clearly proven rights. I said that this is clearly still discrimination for my exemption. A “scene” resulting from an attempt to violate my rights was not my responsibility.
The manager decided to ring up my purchases after all, standing right next to me — but he had no intent to sell them to me. No, he was ringing them through to get the SKUs and write them down on a piece of paper so I could find them and order them online. I told them that no, I will not shop online, these are my purchases, I want them now, and I will buy them here.
“Use your phone to buy them,” said an officer.
“I don’t have a phone. I hate the things. Why do you think I’m not filming all of this right now?”
“Your husband has a phone,” said the officer. “Use his phone.”
I’m not familiar with touchscreen phones. I don’t use them. I will not be made to rely on my husband to do my shopping for me, like a second class citizen, or be punished or discriminated against in any way, for my mask exemption.
An officer asked my name. I gave it in full without hesitation. He asked for ID. I said I didn’t have any. I had nothing on me, no purse, no wallet, no pockets. I was in a strapless dress with no bra and no makeup. I had only gone there to get a couple stationery items. I was not expecting to be noticed.
“How are we supposed to confirm your identity?” said the officer, as if I had done something wrong by not carrying identification.
“I don’t know, my reputation? The police know who I am now. I’m in your system. I have a bunch of summons for protesting against covid measures at the riverfront every Saturday.” (2PM at the Great Canadian Flag!)
Police did not push the issue further. They seemed satisfied with my answer.
Eventually, one of the officers offered me a choice: “You can choose to leave, or you can choose to be charged with trespassing.”
“I choose to have these items sold to me in this store right now. I am not trespassing. I am within my rights.”
Officers handcuffed me and told me I was being arrested for trespassing. I refused to leave voluntarily. Officers dragged me from the store by the upper arms.
Outside, I waited in handcuffs. My husband waited by the car in the parking lot, watching Kiddo, too far away for me to talk to him without shouting. Sherri, a legal contact and a generally kickass lady, arrived in response to my husband’s phone call. She and and my husband took some pictures, including the one above, and this one:
The officer standing with me asked me if I had a driver’s licence. I said I don’t have one (I don’t drive), and that I would have shared my passport if I had that on me. Doing so would have been above and beyond what was required of me, as giving my name is sufficient identity confirmation.
I learned later that, during this time, an officer approached my husband in the parking lot, and told him a falsehood: he claimed that I was refusing to identify myself.
I was told that the arrest was for trespassing. I never refused to confirm my identity. I was never directly accused of refusing to confirm my identity.
Prisoner transport arrived. The officer standing with me read my rights and showed them to me from his little pad. I was patted down lightly by a female officer, and sat in the back of the transport, which was basically like being inside a narrow tin can with a bench. No seatbelts. A hard slam on the brakes might have broken my nose. I talked to the camera in the corner about how silly this was, and sang a song, because singing is what prizners do right? The acoustics were okay.
In the parking area at the police station, the female officer led me from the vehicle to the elevator. I talked to her about the covid scandal being used as a vector to impose communism in Canada and elsewhere. I described extremely low covid death rate. She told me she had an elder relative who died, related to covid. I mentioned the elder abuse in care facilities, how some were left to die of neglect, and how covid is put on death certificates without establishing it as an actual cause of death, massively inflating the death statistics. She said, “You know more about this than I do.” I invited her to research the issues. As an enforcer, she has an ethical responsibility to understand the basis of the enforcement.
At the intake area of the police station, I was taken to the counter and the officers behind it retrieved a mask for me.
This was scary. I was a handcuffed prisoner, defenseless. Did they not know why I was there? I said that I am exempt, I would not wear a mask. The taller officer behind the counter said that the would not make me wear it. His tone suggested that he thought I was overreacting. I told him about Australia last year — the way police were forcing masks on handcuffed protesters. I had reason to be concerned.
The shorter, or at least wider, officer sitting behind the counter told me with pride, “I wear a mask because I’m forced to. And I do it gladly!”
Shocked and intrigued, I asked him, “Do you always accept force gladly?”
“Well I don’t.”
“And look where it got you!”
This officer’s proud, gleeful demonstration of his slave mentality left me speechless. This is authoritarianism. This is the engine of tyranny. Weaker people submit themselves to the scheme, investing their sovereignty in exchange for perceived power granted by higher authorities in that scheme, and gladly conflate that borrowed power with justice. And then they feel okay doing anything to you. Anything they’re told. Anything at all.
He’ll see where my resistance got me. What it got me is an opportunity to establish the legal precedent that Buddhism (and/or mindfulness meditation practice on the whole) is a basis of creed exemption.
This same officer asked me a series of questions about my identity and address. I answered readily, and he took me at my word, without asking for ID. He then asked me covid screening questions. I answered readily. Then he said, “Now this officer is going to take your temperature.”
I told him no. I do not consent to this.
The officer to my left did not turn the temperature gun away from me. No one verbally acknowledged my withheld consent. My memory is that the officer with the temperature gun moved toward me, as did the female officer. I repeated that I do not consent to any medical treatment, and backed away. I perceived I was being followed. I backed away further. I turned and moved away to stay out of range of the temperature gun.
The officers then grabbed me by the arms, dragged me to the counter, and pinned me there roughly with my arms behind my back, while I called out repeatedly that I did not consent to any treatment.
One of the pinning officers, who held the temperature gun, scoffed at the idea that temperature taking is treatment. I referred to the Health Care Consent Act, and and as soon as I named the Act, I was laughed at, as if the law is not the law. I continued, explaining that the Health Care Consent Act describes testing as treatment, and temperature taking is a medical test. I clarified the crux of the matter: “It’s none of your business what my temperature is.”
The taller officer said something close to, “Relax, we’re not going to do it.”
They may already have done it. The officer with the temp gun, pinning me, was not within my view.
I stopped resisting immediately. I said, “I wish you had told me sooner.”
The taller officer said, “You’re in custody right now. You can’t just run away,” or words to that effect.
I said, “When it’s time to fight, I fight. It’s not like I was planning an escape.” I simply did not consent to unwanted treatment and sought to defend myself by distancing myself from the violation.
(It was around this time that I was physically released by the pinning officers. I honestly do not remember whether the handcuffs were removed before or after the temperature incident, not that it makes any difference in terms of coercion. I expect to obtain footage of the incident. I am waiting on a call back from Windsor Police at time of writing.)
Though I have had difficulty acknowledging it, the above incident was very traumatic for me. A main reason I am involved in activism, and knew to question coerced masking from the beginning, is because I was subjected to significant trauma when I was assaulted, numerous times, by medical staff, who forced unwanted and unnecessary treatment, and other physical actions, during the birth of my son in 2019. I had already done a lot of research into medical consent just before the covid scandal began. I had already extensively relived extremely traumatic abuse that I had experienced at the hands of medical workers. This experience of police attempting to force unwanted medical treatment while physically pinning me is not something I will easily forget. I have already caught myself reliving this incident more repeatedly and vividly than necessary.
I advised the officer with the temperature gun to look up the OHRC. He declined. I asked him, “Don’t you want to know the law?” He said that he was not interested.
I was taken to a cell. I chilled out there. Officers visited briefly to show me my trespassing ticket. They left. I chilled more. Eventually I had to use the lavatory. I knocked on my cell door, with two questions in mind: “May please have some toilet paper?” and “On what basis am I being held here, anyway?”
The taller officer from earlier arrived at my cell. When I asked for TP, he offered to release me instead. Great! He escorted me back to the intake counter, and attempted to ‘explain’ my $65 ticket to me. He thought he would ‘explain’ to me that this ticket has nothing to do with my rights, and a store can expel me for absolutely whatever reason they like: “If they wanted to remove you for being rude to their staff, they can do that.”
“Being rude to staff is not an OHRC-protected ground,” I said.
“I’m using what’s called a ‘hypothetical’ right now,” he said. “Do you know what that is?”
“Yes, I know what a hypothetical is, and I’m engaging with it,” I said. “With all due respect sir, you’re the one who needs to be educated. Look up the law. Look up the OHRC. I was defending my rights. This is not a legal arrest. I was not trespassing.” (See: Police Services Act. Specifically: this part.)
The officer told me that I had no right to return to Staples. After some back-and-forth, I added that I would do my own research about whether I had a right to go back to Staples. The officer then told me that he believed I would go back to Staples, and escorted me back to my cell in apparent retribution for asserting that I would think for myself.
About 15 minutes later, he came back to get me. It was nearing 8pm, he said. Shift change. He didn’t want to have to pass me on to the next shift. He began telling me more falsehoods about my rights. I raised my hand and waited to speak. When he called on me, I asked him, “So why do you wear you mask below your nose?”
“What difference does it make to you?” he said.
“I’m just wondering what you think about the rules,” I said.
A few sentences-implying-I-have-no-rights-later, he put his mask up over his nose.
I was given my ticket in a plastic envelope, and escorted down the stairs and out of the police station.
Dawn and another were outside waiting for me. I sprinted at Dawn with a surprise hug. I was so happy to see her. She told me that a few others had been waiting too but weren’t able to stay. (I’m not naming them in case they’re concerned about privacy.) Thank you so much to everyone who came to show support, and showed support online, and contacted Staples about this. You are amazing and you fill me with luv and carebears.
A wild Justin Galps appeared in the parking garage across the street! He ran down for a scoop:
The legal process of challenging the ticket is already underway. I intend to pursue all viable avenues of recourse and restitution for the way I was treated by this Windsor Staples and by Windsor Police.
Don’t miss: Seven Myths of Mask Exemptions.
A vital summary of mask exemption law in Ontario.
Available as a printable flyer.
Edit July 18, 2021. — Unfortunately, I have had to IP ban a commenter for making repeated comments containing nothing but invasive personal abuse.
I can take criticism. I can take a few personal jabs. I will not tolerate obsessive hatred. I would prefer the comment sections at StandUpWindsor to be worth reading.