Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Victoria Starbucks staff ‘rattled’ and ‘shook up’ following ordeal with unruly ‘Freedom Convoy’ protesters

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With more protests planned for this upcoming weekend, baristas at a downtown Victoria Starbucks are still reeling from the last one.

Amid last weekend’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ protest, which saw crowds gather at BC’s Legislature, the Belleville Street Starbucks—located directly across the street—saw protesters enter and cause quite a commotion.

According to General Manager Rich Becker, the group was maskless and refused to leave all the while threatening his staff.

Becker says baristas were called “anti-freedom” when speaking up and were told they weren’t supporting “Freedom Day.”

“He told me I looked ugly and looked absolutely terrible with my mask on,” wrote one Starbucks worker in her incident report. 

“He insisted that I was oppressing him.”

In an interview with Victoria Buzz, Becker says the reports were “tough to read” and recalls the unruly protesters calling themselves the “Flu Trucks Klan.”‘

“I’m used to dealing with people at our Starbucks not wanting to wear masks,” he said, “but I will not tolerate people threatening, menacing and assaulting my staff, and trespassing and refusing to leave.”

It prompted Becker to call 911 and eventually close the store for the day.

“While I was on the phone with the 911 operator, [the protesters] left, which was great because the 911 operator said they weren’t going to send anyone because it wasn’t an emergency,” Becker recalls.

He was told to call the non-emergency line, and when he voiced his concerns, saying, “I don’t think that’s correct,” the operator allegedly hung up on him.

“I called right back and told them what happened and said they should send someone now, and she said it’s not an emergency until someone actually gets physically assaulted.”

EComm, Victoria’s 911 operator, has since acknowledged Becker’s calls, saying he “did the right thing” by calling to report the incident.

“After reviewing both 911 calls, we can confirm that based on the situation the caller was describing, a police file should have been created,” EComm wrote in a statement.

“Unfortunately, this was not the case, and the caller was incorrectly referred to the non-emergency line,” it added.

Bracing for this weekend’s protests, Becker feels many people involved with anti-vax and anti-mandate protests view staff at Starbucks and similar businesses as a “captive audience.”

“These people are frustrated, and they’re angry,” he said. “What they would like is a platform and an audience.”

“When they walk into a business, first of all, they get what they want immediately because we say, ‘Oh, sorry, can you please put on a mask?'”

But Becker says it’s important to remember his staff are just doing their job.

“We didn’t come down to counterprotest. We didn’t come down to watch or have a debate about it,” he added.

In a Friday statement, Mayor Lisa Helps condemned some protesters, saying they promoted hate and went a step too far.

BC Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says police will respect lawful protests, while also considering all the tools and options available to them to protect people and investigate unlawful conduct.

“For people in Victoria, I want you to be aware of the potential of a truck convoy protest heading to the legislative buildings this weekend so you and your family can plan accordingly,” Farnworth said.

“We are aware of the chance of disruption to residents and businesses in the area, and planning and communication by law enforcement is underway.”

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