Earls Restaurants to drop Albino Rhino brand in response to human rights complaint

Earls Restaurants will drop its Albino Rhino brand in response to a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal complaint the moniker discriminates against people with the genetic condition.

In a press release Friday, Earls Restaurants said it will remove the word "albino" from all products and marketing by April 24. The restaurant chain created its Albino Rhino brand of beer and wings 25 years ago as a "whimsical" reference to the white rhinoceros, it has said.

"It did not occur to us that the name would be associated with albinism, neither did it occur to us it would offend. We have learned from participating in the human rights complaint process, however, that many persons with albinism are genuinely offended and feel that their dignity is negatively impacted by the use of the word 'albino' in our marketing," said the release.

In December, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal agreed to hear a complaint brought forward by Ikponwosa Ero, a 31-year-old immigrant from Nigeria born with albinism.

Ero, a researcher with Under the Same Sun, a charity dedicated to helping those with the condition, said she had met with representatives of Earls over a period of about a month to reach a settlement outside of the tribunal process. "Words cannot express what it means," Ero said of Earls' decision Friday. "It's a vindication of our dignity."

Ero called Earls decision "responsible" and said she has formally withdrawn her complaint.

"What we were trying to do with this complaint is show that you cannot take it for granted that medical conditions can be used to sell food in a quote-unquote whimsical way," she said.

Ero said she filed the complaint after Earls refused an earlier request by Under The Same Sun CEO Peter Ash, a Vancouver businessman, to change the brand or "quietly phase it out."

Albinism is a rare genetic condition that renders those who carry the trait unable to manufacture melanin, or skin and hair pigment. Most who have the condition are legally blind and susceptible to skin cancers. The condition is classified as a disability in Canada.

The condition occurs in all racial groups — affecting one in 18,000 people in North America — but is much more common in Africa, affecting up to one in 1,500 in some regions where those with the condition often face discrimination and deadly persecution. Ero, whose family immigrated to Canada out of concern for her safety, said she knows of two fatal attacks on people with albinism in Africa in the last month alone. There have been 71 documented murders of albinos in Tanzania since 2006.

Canada is becoming a safe-haven for African albinos, she added, and as such it is important to create the perception of a safe society. Earls' Albino Rhino brand appeared to mock the plight of albinos and their disabilities, she said, adding there is a lot of misinformation about albinism within Canadian society — a sentiment echoed by Earls in its statement.

"Albinism is a very rare condition and like many Canadians we knew very little about the condition or the very real discrimination persons with albinism experience, both in Canada and around the world," it states. "Persons with albinism are a stigmatized group that face prejudice and exclusion in many areas of Canadian society."

Earls has 64 restaurants in Canada, and 24 in B.C.

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