Posted on October 5, 2018

African-Canadian Business Owners Meet to Express Frustration With Police, City After Shisha Bar Shut Down

Jonny Wakefield, Edmonton Journal, October 4, 2018

African-Canadian business owners who feel they’ve been treated unfairly by police and city inspectors met Thursday at a bar and shisha lounge embroiled in a fight with city hall.

Around 30 people attended the community meeting at Nyala Lounge — a week after the city announced it was revoking the establishment’s business licence over public safety concerns.

Owner Mulugeta Tesfay says his business is being discriminated against. The city has since reinstated Nyala’s business licence after issues emerged with the review process.

“It’s not only a Nyala issue,” said Tesfay. “This is pretty much (an issue for) African small businesses, especially bar and lounge. They have exactly the same kind of problems that we do.”

He said the lounge, 10875 98 St., hosted the event to give business owners and community members a space to talk about their experience with police and city officials. The Edmonton Coalition for Justice and Human Rights organized the event.

“They’re very scared, they don’t want to talk about it,” Tesfay said. “Now this is the time. Nyala opened the door for them.”

The city announced it was revoking Nyala’s business licence Sept. 24 after the public safety compliance team (PSCT) determined the business posed a risk to public safety.

Police responded to 22 calls of violence at the lounge with 13 incidents involving weapons since May 2015, PSCT support manager Justin Lallemand said during a news conference.

“This is not based on just bylaw tickets,” Lallemand said. “This is years of violent incidences.”

Many of the violent calls involved firearms, but Lallemand said no criminal charges were laid in any of the incidents.

At the time, Tesfay said the allegations were “pure discrimination” and the incidents police responded to didn’t start at the lounge.

The city reversed its decision to cancel the licence a day later, saying Tesfay wasn’t properly notified and he did not have a chance to respond. The city has started a new licence review process, and Tesfay said he plans to defend himself.

Prior to 2016, Tesfay said he had an “excellent” relationship with police. But he complained when he felt officers overstepped — including by asking older patrons for ID in a way he found disrespectful.

He installed an ID scanner after conditions were placed on the bar’s licence last June.

Tesfay, who served in the Canadian Forces for 20 years, said he began receiving regular tickets for bylaw infractions. The business and Tesfay were fined a total of $5,000 for a charge of overcrowding on March 5, 2017, but he said 11 other tickets were withdrawn or dropped in court.

Tesfay said he was arrested last year in front of his patrons and held over night. He said police claimed his roots in Africa made him a flight risk. Tesfay said he was accused of failing to pay tobacco taxes and fraud and but that the charges were later stayed.

Guled Hussein, president of the Edmonton Multicultural Coalition, said attendees at the two-hour meeting discussed how to build better relationships with police and the city. The meeting was not open to reporters.

“As a community member, I have seen (these) issues happening within African community businesses — especially shisha lounges,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out a better way to work with the city and police and resolve these issues.”

“A lot of times, police show up here, and there’s more cops than customers,” he added. “Some of these issues do not happen at other bars. There’s always maybe a fight here and there at other bars, but you don’t see that police presence.”

Tesfay said he ultimately plans to sell the business.