Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Earls' albino wings offend city brothers

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A restaurant chain's "albino wings" promotion has left a bad taste in the mouths of two brothers with albinism who say it's wrong and offensive.

A long time ago, Paul and Peter Ash quietly complained about Earls' Albino Rhino Ale.

"Peter and I noticed it 19 years ago," said Winnipeg businessman and philanthropist Paul Ash.

"It was a pale ale. They thought it was cute, I suppose," said Paul. "But it bugged us," he said.

At the time, Peter told the manager at the Earls on Portage Avenue that it was offensive, he said. The manager said it was a head office decision, and the brothers dropped it, he said. Peter moved to Vancouver.

Last week at an Earls in Langley, B.C., Peter saw an ad above the washroom urinal for Earls "albino wings."

"Now they're taking it up a notch," said Paul in Winnipeg. "What are they going to do next?"

Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition occurring in both genders regardless of ethnicity, in all countries of the world. It 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."

Peter contacted Earls' head office in Vancouver to express his concern. He was told the restaurant chain was sorry he felt that way but there are no plans to drop "albino" menu items:

"...Over the years, the name had evolved into something of a lexicon with our people and our customers and that we occasionally refer to the brand as 'Albino' through much the same process as Coca-Cola has become Coke," Earls' vice-president of human resources Mark Barry said in an email.

The Ash brothers' charity, Under the Same Sun, takes them to Tanzania several times a year to help people with albinism who are outcast and attacked for their body parts used in folk medicine.

Earls' "patronizing" response prompted the brothers to send out a press release.

"We were hoping this could be handled quietly," said Paul. "Now we're encouraging people to go to their local Earls and raise it with the manager and say 'I find this offensive, inappropriate and I think you should be changing it.'"

They want a letter of apology posted on Earls' website, immediate removal of all references to "albino wings," a promise to eliminate the Albino Rhino brand name in all Earls restaurants by next year, and to publish a link to their charity's website on the Earls website so concerned customers can learn about albinism worldwide.

Paul said they've learned to cope with visual impairment and sun sensitivity associated with albinism. They survived the taunts as kids growing up, and it made them stronger, he said. Earls' defence of its "albino wings" and "Albino Rhino Ale" goes beyond the pale, he said.

"They're making a cutesy brand out of a visible minority with a genetic condition. We don't find it cute," he said.

The press release included a list of drink specials they wondered if Earls would also consider, like "Down syndrome daiquiris," "refreshing Parkinson's punch" or the "multiple sclerosis martini."

"You wouldn't dare. There would be such outrage and an outcry," said Paul.

There are only about 2,000 Canadians with albinism, so it's hard for their voices to be heard, he said.

"We're hoping enough people without albinism are as offended as we are and can relate and say this is inappropriate."

The restaurant wasn't targeting people with albinism on purpose, said Ash.

"We don't see it as an intentional thing," he said. "Now we've informed them that this is a group of people that have a genetic disorder. We're feeling diminished when we see this," he said of the albino menu items.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2011 B3

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