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'Albino' off Earls menu

Chain removes term in response to rights complaint

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Earls restaurants are taking albino off the menu.

The chain made the announcement in response to a human rights complaint about its Albino Rhino beer and Albino Wings Wednesdays.

"Earls Restaurants Ltd. has chosen to remove the word 'albino' from all of our products and marketing in response to a human rights complaint by a group of persons with the condition of albinism," it said in a statement. "The change to the menus in all our restaurants will be completed by April 24, 2013."

That's good news for people with albinism, said Paul Ash of Winnipeg, whose complaints to the chain were brushed off earlier.

"None of us has the power to force respect from anyone," said the businessman and philanthropist who has albinism. "But public and private institutions that serve the public in this country have a duty to presume all whom they serve are worthy of respect until there is a legitimate reason to assume otherwise."

His brother in B.C., Peter Ash, and a woman with albinism named Ikponwosa Ero filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal early last year. The complaint said the names of the products were derogatory and offensive and asked the popular chain to drop the word "albino" from menu items.

Albinism is a rare, genetically inherited condition that results in a lack of pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to sun exposure and bright light. Almost all people with albinism are visually impaired, with the majority being classified as legally blind.

The Earls Albino Rhino beer label showed a cartoon white rhinoceros wearing large sunglasses.

"It did not occur to us that the name would be associated with albinism, neither did it occur to us it would offend," Earls said in a news release. "We do not believe the use of the word 'albino' reflects any intention to discriminate against persons with albinism."

The brand was created 25 years ago and the company said it didn't learn until the human rights complaint 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. 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," Earls said in a prepared statement.

In Tanzania, the Ash brothers founded a charity called Under the Same Sun to help people with albinism. In that African country, people with the condition are outcast and have been attacked and slain for their body parts, which are used in folk medicine.

When Ash's complaints about Earl's "albino" menu items appeared in the Free Press in 2011, the Winnipegger was criticized. Online commentators said he was "selfish" and "taking political correctness to the extreme." Ash was told his visible minority should "get over yourselves."

Although Earl's said it "did not agree with the complaint," it wanted all members of the public to feel welcome at its restaurants and won't use "albino" in its marketing anymore, the release said.

"Persons with albinism are a stigmatized group that face prejudice and exclusion in many areas of Canadian society."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2013 A4

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