News / Canada

Albino Rhino beer sparks human rights complaint in B.C.

A British Columbia woman who suffers from albinism wants the name Albino Rhino beer removed from 24 Earls Restaurants in B.C.

And the province’s Human Rights Tribunal has agreed to hear her case.

The complaint was filed by Ikponwosa Ero, a 31-year-old immigrant from Nigeria, who argues it is offensive to brand a product after a disability or medical condition.

Ero was born with albinism, which is a condition marked by absence of pigment in the hair, eyes and skin, leaving people with pale skin, legally blind and sensitive to light.

“This is a very important case for our clients,” lawyer Randy Kaardal of Hunter Litigation Chambers in Vancouver, told Torstar News Service.

“It would be a very important milestone to enhance the ability of people to participate in society and bringing this to the attention of the public.”

Ero is a researcher with Under the Same Sun, a charity dedicated to helping those with the condition.

The basis for the complaint is that albinos are persecuted in Africa and albinos are stigmatized in other parts of the world.

In some African countries, there have been reports that albinos are murdered and their body parts used in potions sold by witch doctors.

Ero told Torstar News Service that she first saw the Albino Rhino beer when she was served water at an Earls with the name of the beer on the glass.

She hid the glass from her university friends out of embarrassment.

“I did not want them to notice it,” she explained. “I knew that they would associate the brand with me because I have albinism.”

The human rights complaint was launched a few months after Earls introduced a promotion for chicken wings which was marked as Albino Wing Wednesdays on April 27, 2011.

Peter Ash, the CEO of Under the Same Sun, brought the complaint forward. Ero works for the charity and Ash is her boss.

Mark Barry, vice-president of human resources at Earls, released a statement on Monday, defending the use of the name Albino Rhino, which is marketed using a white rhinoceros.

They have been selling this pale ale brand of beer for 25 years.

“It did not occur to us that the name would be associated with Albinism, nor did it occur to us it would offend, and in the 25 years we have been serving this beer we have never had a complaint about the name, until now,” Barry said.

Earls also stated that the name was made in fun only.

“It was named after the white Rhinoceros and the rhyming name chosen because it was both fun and whimsical in sound and denoted something rare and special — we felt proud to have such a beautiful animal, the white rhino, representing our brand.”

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has not yet set a date to hear the complaint.

Tribunal member Marlene Tyshynski, in her written decision, noted that Earls is arguing that the term albino is not an inherently derogatory term and that it is a neutral description applicable to both humans and animals.

“This issue is central to a determination of whether there is discrimination,” Tyshynski said.

She added, however, that in her view “one could reasonably conclude that there is a relationship between discriminatory product marketing due to the use of the term “Albino” and differential and demeaning treatment of persons with albinism, if, of course, this is proven.”

Cate Simpson, spokesperson for Earls, told the Star that Earls continues to use the name Rhino, but has been slowly changing its logo to reflect only the rhino and not the world albino.

“All newer glassware has only the rhino on it,” Simpson said. “The name Albino is being phased out and will eventually be removed from all our beer products.”

Earls also markets Albino Rhino beer across its 64 restaurants in Canada, including its five locations in Ontario.

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