A race-row has erupted amid claims by a Queenstown cabbie that a long-time local retailer insulted 11 Malaysian shoppers.
The Race Relations Com-missioner says he’ll investigate a complaint by Alpine Taxis driver Chris Coppola about alleged treatment received by an Asian tour group he ferried to Arrowtown last Sunday.
Coppola claims the visitors were left “stunned” and “incredibly upset” after a trip to the Back Country tourist store in Buckingham Street.
The cabbie says shopkeeper Ewan Jones told the party his policy was to let in only four “Chinese” at once, because he’d previously been ripped off by Chinese tour groups.
“This was the first time they had come across anything which was just blatant racism in this country,” Coppola says.
Coppola claims he then confronted Jones, who he alleges told him: “I don’t have any more than four Chinese in my shop because I have had Chinese groups in my shop rip me off”.
The furious taxi driver is lodging an official complaint about the alleged incident with the Human Rights Commission in Wellington – at the invitation of Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres.
“On the face of it, this is clearly in breach of the Human Rights Act discrimination provisions,” De Bres says.
Under the Act it is unlawful to deny someone products or services on the grounds of ethnicity or national origin.
De Bres: “If what [Coppola] says is true, it is completely unacceptable, it’s bad for business and it’s bad for New Zealand.
“When you open a shop, you open it to everyone.
“If you then have any concerns about security, you deal with that by having security measures, but that cannot include excluding or limiting the access of whole ethnicities.
“You can’t just say, ‘Chinese four at a time, New Zealanders as many as you like’. Frankly, I’m gobsmacked,” De Bres says.
“That it could happen in Arrowtown, which is a tourist destination, beggars belief.”
De Bres says his commission will involve a mediator to handle Coppola’s complaint.
Coppola says after the alleged incident, he apologised to the shocked Malaysians – delegates to a large multinational healthcare conference in Queenstown.
“What incensed me is I’ve been 30 years in the local tourism industry and these people are our bread and butter.”
Coppola has also complained to tourism body Destination Queenstown.
Mountain Scene made repeated attempts at contact, but Back Country retailer Jones refused to talk. The paper then received an email, saying: “The management/ownership of Back Country made a decision a number of years ago not to talk to any media organisation. There are no issues which would constitute a story.”
When Mountain Scene emailed back to say it was working on a story about Coppola’s claims – and detailed those claims – the reply was: “Your messages was [sic] unread and automatically deleted.”
Told of the alleged incident, Geoff Clear – the ground operator for the 530-delegate conference which the Malaysians attended – says: “We’re devastated to hear that that sort of thing goes on in this community.
“We’re horrified and disappointed. If it wasn’t for the tourists, those retailers wouldn’t be in business because they make no money out of the locals.”