Fondé en 1983 --Unis pour la diversité et l'égalité raciale


Montréal, October 6, 2020 - A Côte Saint-Luc Black couple is filing a civil rights complaint against an Econofitness gym in the Cavendish Mall for having arbitrarily cancelled their membership after the husband made complaints about racially discriminatory treatments by the gym supervisor.

Abdullah Baba Bawah, an international development consultant in his 50s, and his wife, Aisha Mohammed, who are originally from Ghana, have been members of the gym in the Cavendish Mall since 2016. Mohammed is the primary member and Bawah has access to the gym as part of the Extra membership policy.

On September 14, after booking his appointment online as required by COVID-19 guidelines, Bawah went to the gym, but he could not get in with his access card. Other members had the same problem. He and another member tapped on the glass window to get staff’s attention.

The gym’s manager, an Asian woman, came out and let members in. She asked for his name and after making an entry in the computer, she told him bluntly that a red flag had been placed in his and his wife’s file, since she did not like how he tapped the glass window. Bawah noticed that she spoke to other White members, who had the same problem with their access cards, in a more courteous tone.

Feeling that he was being treated differently, he phoned the gym after his workout to inquire about filing a complaint against the manager, and was told to speak to her superior. The next day, he went to the gym and asked the front desk employee for the superior’s phone number to lodge a complaint. The manager rushed out of her office and spoke to the staff person. Seeing the interaction, Bawah did not insist and went in to do his work out.

Noticing that some members were not wearing their masks, he told a White friend about how these members could create health risks for him as he has Sarcoidosis. This friend went to talk to the manager, who, according to Bawah, then went to ask only the Black members to put their masks on, ignoring the White members. Bawah then told her that COVID-19 does not discriminate and that by not asking all members to wear their masks, she put everyone at risk. The manager did not take that comment well and walked away.

The next day, on September 16, Bawah received an email from Econofitness confirming the cancellation of the couple’s membership. “We are sorry to see you go”, it said.

He replied the same day, saying that he and his wife had not cancelled their membership and that “a manager should not be allowed to unilaterally and punitively terminate the membership and then pretend as if we initiated the cancellation.”

The couple requested immediate reinstatement of their membership. To this day, they have yet to hear from Econofitness. The monthly fee of $29.87 for September was paid at the beginning of the month.

“My wife and I are both fitness enthusiasts, and we still can’t understand why we weren’t even contacted before our membership was cancelled. Worse, my wife, who is the primary cardholder, considers that she’s being very unfairly penalized because someone did not like my complaint about racial bias in the treatment of gym members,” Bawah said.

”It’s so unprofessional and disrespectful for Econofitness to do this to us,” Mohammed said. “This arbitrary cancellation made us feel so diminished and so humiliated.”

The membership cancellation deprives Mohammed of a chance to keep active and busy since her lay off from her job in the hotel industry due to COVID-19. For Bawah, he lost a much-needed opportunity to keep his body active and his lung muscles strong to avoid complications related to his medical condition.

Since their nephew is the Black teenager who was targeted in the racist video made by two West Island school girls that made news this summer, the couple is deeply upset about Econofitness’ actions concerning Bawah’s complaint of racial bias.

On their behalf, CRARR will take their case to the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission in the coming days.