Traveller shocked by white power stickers at Keremeos pub

White power stickers at pub

"It's OK to be white."

Two stickers with those words and a depiction of a racist hand symbol were part of the decor at a Keremeos pub this weekend according to Tom Kato, a Japanese-Canadian visitor from Vancouver who stopped in for a bite. 

Tom was in town with a few friends on a motorcycle trip, camping out at another friend's property. They walked into town in the evening for a drink and some food at the Branding Iron Bar and Grill. 

Shortly after they sat down, he said a friend spotted a sticker on the emergency exit door behind Tom. 

"It said, 'It's OK to be white,' with that symbol," Tom said. "We all kinda looked at it, we were taken aback, like 'Oh my god, that's kind of crazy.'"

They snapped a photo, but thought a patron might have stuck it there without the establishment's knowledge. They shrugged it off and continued their meal. 

Then, they noticed another similar sticker behind the bar in an employees-only section, leading Tom to think it must have been put there on purpose.

"You would imagine that if a sticker like that were put up in another establishment, the management would take it off, it seems a little offensive," he said.

Tom sent a photo to his wife Naomi Kato and she informed him that the symbol above the text, a hand in the shape of an "OK" sign, is a dog-whistle hate symbol that began as a hoax  then became used by white supremacists to connote white power. 

"We didn't even know that when we first saw it," Tom said.

He finished up his dinner, but the sticker was weighing on him. As a Japanese-Canadian, he felt aware of his skin colour in a way he usually is not. His wife remembers the moment, back at home and suddenly worried whether her husband was in a safe environment. 

"He told me, 'I felt uncomfortable when I saw those stickers,' and that was really heartbreaking for me, because nobody should feel that way," Naomi said.

"He shouldn't feel uncomfortable, the owner should feel uncomfortable for supporting those types of views and putting that out to the world." 

Tom said he spoke politely about the sticker to a man behind the bar who he believes may have been a manager or owner, expressing his feeling that it was racist, and felt his concerns were brushed off. 

He decided to share his experience to shine a light on the seemingly casual racism, a decision supported by Naomi, who mentioned the incident struck a special chord since they are expecting a child. 

"We don't want that for our kid, we don't want our kid to be scared," Naomi said. 

"Now is the time that we need to change the script," Tom added. "It's just not ok. It's just not right."

Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer said Tuesday he was unaware of the situation so could not comment on it directly, but affirmed his conviction that racism has no place in the community. 

Multiple attempts to reach Branding Iron Bar and Grill ownership or management for comment have so far gone unanswered.

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