News / Edmonton

Hookah lounge conflict grows into heated debate

Would-be patron with physical disabilities felt 'profiled and disrespected'

Tyler Hamilton, left, stands with his brother Joshua on Whyte Avenue Thursday.

Kevin Tuong / Metro Order this photo

Tyler Hamilton, left, stands with his brother Joshua on Whyte Avenue Thursday.

A conflict at a Whyte Avenue hookah lounge has sparked discussion over the treatment of people with disabilities.

Joshua Hamilton – who struggles to communicate verbally due to injuries he sustained when he was hit by a van 15 years ago – said he felt "disrespected" after he claims a doorman at Casablanca Shisha Lounge questioned whether it was safe to him to enter.

But Casablanca's staff, who spoke to Metro but declined to share their names, said their recollection of the incident is different — that it was not a confrontation and that they were concerned for Joshua's safety.

Joshua said he was with his brother Tyler and their dad on Sunday when the incident took place. Tyler then wrote about it in a Facebook post.

Tyler said the doorman spoke to him and ignored Joshua while expressing concerns that Tyler might mishandle the coals used for hookah and burn the place down if he entered.

“He’s perfectly capable, and I’ve had to tell other people before, but it’s never felt that bad or that incredibly cruel,” Tyler said.

Joshua, communicating by typing into his phone, said he has not been treated like this in public before as a result of his disability.

“Every once in a while I’ll be misunderstood as being deaf, which is fine … But this guy flat out profiled me and disrespected me,” Joshua said.

By going public with the story, the brothers say their aim is not to target Casablanca but to raise awareness of the widespread visual profiling of people with disabilities.

Tyler said many people read the post and said they have similar experiences.

“That’s what took me back the most, was the amount of people who were confirming that,” he said.

The Casablanca doorman told Metro he addressed Joshua rather than Tyler at the door, but did not characterize their meeting as a confrontation. He also noted that he sent Joshua an apology shortly after seeing the Facebook post, in which he said he would do anything he could to make amends.

“My first concern was his wellbeing,” he said.

He added the lounge feels “harassed and threatened” after being swarmed by negative messages online and he is now considering legal action against the Hamiltons.

“This is blown out of proportion completely.”