Business decision, or matter of opinion?

London, ON, Canada / 106.9 The X

“We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” This is a commonly known phrase among businesses, but a local business owner has received some heavy scrutiny over the last week, over what he says was a simple business decision.

On July 12, 2016, 27 year old Ashley Whiteye received a private Facebook message from someone claiming to be the owner of London night club, The Belfort, after she “liked” their Facebook page. She says she was half asleep when she read it, and had to read it twice because she couldn’t believe it. She thought she was dreaming.

The message read:

“This is the Belforrt…. We notice you “liked” our page…… Just so there are no misunderstandings at our door. We are pretty a student venue and since students prefer to party with their classmates we deny anyone they would think is to old to go to their school….. We we would hate for you and your friends to show up at out door and get pissed off….Sorry, we are not for you.”

Shocked by the message, and determined to spread the word, she took a screenshot of the message and posted it publicly on her Facebook page. As of Sunday night, the post was shared 214 times.

This isn’t the first time the topic of age has come up at The Belfort, but back in 2012, John Scott-Pearce was singing a very different tune. The club was then called Club Rouge, and Scott-Pearse had actually banned students from his venue, claiming they only caused more trouble than they were worth.

So why the change of heart? Or was there even a change of heart at all? After exchanging a few messages, it came out that his message to Whiteye actually had nothing to do with her age at all.

Whiteye says, “it then turned into, the reason he rejected me was because of things my Facebook friends were posting. And he went as far as to say that these are my good friends, but these are just people that are on my Facebook. I have how many people on Facebook? That doesn’t mean I’m good friends with every single one of them.”

The friend in question had posted a cover photo of a police officer getting his throat cut by a masked man, wearing a United States flag. The photo went viral recently, related to recent issues in the U.S.

Scott-Pearse has referenced this photo multiple times since the incident, calling it “troubling,” and claiming it scared him.”

Ashley Whiteye, courtesy of Facebook

Ashley Whiteye, courtesy of Facebook

Whiteye says, “It’s an excuse. It’s another made up reason to deflect from the real situation. He doesn’t want to admit what he’s done wrong, and he doesn’t want to apologize, he just wants to keep coming up with excuses.

“He has no right to judge anybody, based on anything, and say that they have no right to come in his club. He doesn’t know what I believe in, he doesn’t know my religion or what I stand for just based on what I post on my Facebook, or anyone else for that matter.

“For him to reject someone [based] on that, is plain old discrimination and he needs to admit that.”

Whiteye believes that she’s being discriminated against based on who she associates with, but where does the line get drawn?

She adds, “how can you tell what every person in your club believes in? Do you creep every single person that comes into your club, on Facebook? I saw other comments on Facebook where he admitted, yes we do creep people’s Facebook and determine if want to let them in our club.”

Fallacy of association?

So what exactly was John Scott-Pearce’s thought process, when he sent Ashley Whiteye that Facebook message?

“I like to look through people who “like” our page,” he says. “See who our customers are, where they’re coming from. And every once in a while I look who their friends are, their social network, stuff like that. And sometimes you’ll come across something that doesn’t look very good,” he says, referencing the viral photo of the police officer.

He adds, “We don’t promote ideas, like putting a police officer on his knees and slitting his throat. This is not something we’re comfortable with.”

When reminded that it wasn’t Whiteye who posted the photo he said, “my mother used to tell me ‘you’re known by the company you keep.’  She told me it wasn’t her, it was her friend, but how do I know who you’re gunna bring? How do we know you don’t agree with her? How do we know at she’s not a naturally violent person? We don’t know.” 

He admits he was trying trying to discourage her entire social network from attending his club. He says his primary concern is the safety of his customers.

When asked about his “Facebook creeping” tactics, he says this has become a regular habit of his. He even compared the situation to the recent night club shooting in Orlando, Florida saying had the owner of that club scanned the members of his Facebook page, maybe lives could have been saved.

He added, “there was a time when we took reservations over the phone, and then gangsters show up for these reservations, so we said contact us over Facebook so we can look through your stuff, see who you are. You’re nice people? You got nice friends, you know?”

But what exactly classifies someone as a gangster?

He says, “I’ve found people who have friends that actively flaunt gang affiliation. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens.”

And what exactly classifies someone as “nice?” Being a student, perhaps?

“I watch the Facebook page and I get a general jist of who’s coming to the venue. Is it nice Fanshawe kids or Western kids? No problem,” he adds.

So being a student at Fanshawe College or Western University means you are a nice person? John Scott-Pearce seems to think so, “you’ve got this far in life. You passed school. You can apply yourself. You can go out and party on weekends and still get stuff done.

“If I go through a Facebook page and see a bunch of Fanshawe kids or Western kids, I think, well that person can keep their life together.”

The power of social media

It’s hard for many to remember a time before social media. Everything said and done online, can be viewed by millions. Since his Facebook message was posted for all of London to see, Scott-Pearse has received his fair share of negativity. So much so, that he’s now hidden the “reviews” section of The Belfort’s Facebook page, which was quickly riddled with bad reviews.

He’s continuously asked, “what was I supposed to do? The first time I saw [that picture] I just about fell over. It’s the most violent thing I’ve ever seen someone put as their profile picture. It was a judgement call, and people can fault me for it. I just air on the side of caution.

“The safety of my customers is primary concern,” he claims.

Whiteye isn’t buying it, “I prefer to go to Urban clubs where I hear hip-hop music and reggae music, and there’s a lot of concern for safety there too. And I know many club owners who hire the right the security. Their security is respectful, they’re honest, and they treat their customers with respect.

“If you have the right security, the right employees, you shouldn’t have to worry about safety. Yes, there are crazy people who do things out of the blue, but that’s life. It happens everywhere.”

So where is the line drawn? How does a business owner make a decision on who the allow in their establishment? John Scott-Pearse doesn’t know the answer to that question. Does The Belfort impose a dress code? How do they determine who to let in at the door? He doesn’t know the answers to those questions either. He leaves that up to his staff.

He made a judgment call, based on a Facebook profile, and that’s exactly how Ashley Whiteye feels, judged.

The Belfort is currently closed for the summer, but plans to re-open for the fall, when students return to the Forest City.

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