Monday, June 13, 2016

Le Papillon on the Park shuts down



Le Papillon on the Park shuts down

   In the seventeen years Abdul Malik worked for Le Papillon he made an amazing rise from dish washer to head chef in a in a highly rated fine dining restaurant (first at one location then in the spin off location) at Le Papillon on the Park. Most people who hold such a position study for years and work as sous-chef s and line cooks under Master chefs before attaining such a position as head chef for an establishment such as Le Papillon on the Park. To these Masters of the culinary arts their reputations and that of the fine dining establishments they work for is everything.
   It appears Malik had little respect for either his profession or the restaurant he worked in. In fact, due to his complaint with the Human rights tribunal of Ontario, I doubt he will ever work as head chef for such a place again. The 25 employees he put out of work are left wondering why they are looking for new jobs and the owner and his family have had their dream shattered because of this government’s kangaroo court that sided with Malik, his nephew and their friend when they decided to play the race card after years of employment.
   Paul Bigue originally founded Le Papillon with his friend Sandra Kane, and his brother Marc, opening Le Papillon in 1974 in the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood. In 2008 the partners amicably split, with Kane re-opening Le Papillon on Front St. and Paul and his wife Danielle opening Le Papillon on the park. Abdul Malik chose to make the move to the new restaurant with Paul. The restaurant featured French Canadian cuisine with a special tourtiere recipe. It also had an open kitchen style floor plan where the kitchen is open and visible to the dining room. Malik made it clear he did not like it.
   The opening of the restaurant was a big success and the establishment quickly picked up a crowd of regular patrons both locally and far beyond. As time went on the only problem they seemed to have was a high turnover in the kitchen staff. After time the restaurant was a success and well received by critics, that is until Malik and his friends played the race card which generated press that killed the business. At this point cultural Marxism reared its ugly head. The ensuing press of the Human Rights Tribunal painted Malik and his friends as poor discriminated fellows who were being oppressed by a racist employer.
   Paul Bigue the owner of Le Papillon on the Park posted the following statement on his restaurant’s web site.

   On a Friday night in January 2011, our chef Abdul Malik (a 17 year employee), his nephew and sous-chef Arif Hossain (a 12 year employee), as well as a friend of theirs, Nahid Ashfaq Islam, marched out in rage and did not return because we required them to train a new female cook. Fortunately, we were able to retain a few chefs from a friend of ours and re-opened the next day until we found permanent replacements.
   In response, Mr. Malik went to the Ontario Labour Relations Board and filed a complaint of discrimination. The Board thoroughly investigated, found his accusations to be unjustified, and denied his claim.
   Not content to accept the judgment of the Labour Relations Board, the three individuals filed false claims of discrimination against my wife Danielle at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), and asked for $100,000 in compensation. They received free advice from the Tribunal as well as free legal counsel. In other words, they had absolutely nothing to lose.
   Six months after our hearing and thirty one months after we were cleared by the Labour Board, Tribunal adjudicator Judith Keene found us guilty. Because the HRTO is not a court of law, there was no appeal process available to us. It is also famous for its 96% conviction rate. Devastated, we have taken our case to the Ontario Superior Court in order to reverse the HRTO decision.
Meanwhile, last December the Toronto Star wrote a one-sided story which perpetuated the falsehoods, harming our reputation and in turn impacting our business.
   It remains on the front page of Google search results six months later. Our sales this year have dropped by 20%, which, coupled with our lawyers fees (past and present) resulted in us not being able to discuss the case until it has gone to the Ontario Superior Court. We were advised that risking a PR blow-up on such a touchy subject could bankrupt us, so we kept our public reply short and formal even though it frustrated us enormously to do so.
We have operated restaurants in Toronto for more than 40 years with the utmost integrity. We have great respect for the men and women we have had the privilege of working with, and consider them members of our family. We will defend our reputation and refuse to allow a few misguided individuals to destroy our good name and a business that employs 25 (wonderful) people. 
   So after 17 years all of a sudden Malik realized he was being discriminated against and his employers were monstrous bigots!
   Part of the problem began when Nahid Islam joined the kitchen staff and the three started speaking Bengali in the kitchen which Danielle Bigue had a problem with and mentioned that for safety and in respect to other employees English should be spoken in the kitchen. Some of the other false claims made by the three to the HRTO was that observances for Ramadan were not respected and that one day in August 2010 he was told by his boss to taste the soup. Malik had made the soup the night before and felt he should not have to taste anything during his observances. He claimed that at first declined to taste the soup, but Ms Bigue told him that he should taste it and he was worried about being fired. He also claimed that on more than one occasion he was asked to taste a pulled pork sandwich that the owners wanted to add to the menu. Mr. Islam also testified that Ms Bigue told Islam that the tortière did not have enough flavour, and that he should taste it and tell her his opinion. Mr. Islam told Ms Bigue that he was prohibited from eating pork and that he was fasting. He indicated that Ms Bigue told him that “if you make food, you have to taste it”. 
   This brings up an interesting point here, I have spoken to many chefs and we have all seen at least one of the top chef type cooking shows that permeate the television these days. As a chef that prepares meals in a fine dining establishment you are expected to taste the food you prepare!
   A restaurant that features French Canadian cuisine is going to have pork on the menu! Here we have three people who claim to be professionals who also claim to have no need to ever taste the restaurants signature dish!
   From reading the transcript of the HRTO hearings it’s also clear that the management of Le Papillon on the park went out of their way to accommodate the three when it came to their religious practices.
   How is it that it took Malik 17 years (and Hossain 12 years) to come to the conclusion that their employers were racist and file a complaint first with the labour board and then with the HRTO? And why did this come to a head right when they were asked to train a female chef? A female chef who besides being a woman, probably took her chosen profession seriously.
   There is no appeal process for a ruling from the HRTO except to the Divisional court of Ontario and then only if the HRTO made a mistake in a legal ruling. Needless to say there was no reversal from the Divisional court, only more lawyer fees and court costs. The courts at this time ordered the restaurant to pay the three well over $100,000. Plus court costs within thirty days. Again from the Le Papillon on the Park web site.
UPDATE May 22, 2015: We lost our appeal at the Superior Court.
   The allegations were false and we were treated unjustly by the HRTO. Unfortunately, and to our surprise, there was no appeal process available. Our only recourse was to take this case to the Divisional Court not for retrial, but for review. In other words they had to figure out whether or not the HRTO had made a legal mistake in their decision. We suppose they did what they could. Had we the option to retry the case, we would have won.
   This case has ruined our reputation and our health. Our standards and integrity are what have kept us in business for 40 years in this city, and to have the public believe that we discriminated against our staff was a huge personal blow that we haven’t been able to recover from. Patrons that dined with us for years stopped coming overnight, we received menacing calls and emails and we continue to read hateful comments about our family and business online. This has been devastating and extremely frustrating.
   We’ve come to learn that the HRTO has a very high conviction rate and no appeal process. We made the mistake of wearing the truth like our shield and didn’t represent ourselves properly. The public, especially small business owners like us, need to know that there are misguided individuals that are profiting from the free legal counsel and systems that were put into place to protect those who actually need it. This is really happening. As soon as our story made it into the press in December 2013, we received dozens of calls and emails from business owners that were wrongfully convicted on discrimination charges at the HRTO and lost their businesses. People were furious, and their stories were horrible. It’s extremely disheartening to be added to that list.
   This has been the most difficult thing we’ve ever faced as a business, and above all as a family. I suppose our greatest mistake was that we were naive enough to think that justice would prevail and it did not.
    No small business can take a financial blow like the one imposed by the HRTO and survive. Few businesses can field a barrage of political correctness from the red press, especially when that press is a bunch of one sided lies from immigrants playing the race card.
   So now Le Papillon on the Park is closed with a For Sale sign on it. The building has been remortgaged (most likely to pay off the fines and court costs) 25 people are looking for new jobs and a family is ruined.
   But Malik, his nephew and their friend have hit the jackpot. They are now free to take their windfall and go open a shawarma hut somewhere. I doubt the Toronto Star food critic will ever review the place but I somehow don’t think they will care.
Lawrence McCurry

January 2016

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