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HALIFAX, N.S. — A Cole Harbour spirit talker is still saddened over how he says he was treated last week when he tried to reserve a space at the Halifax Convention Centre for a private engagement.
Shawn Leonard, a Mi'kmaw medium and psychic spiritual educator, feels he's being discriminated against, either for his race or practices.
Leonard wanted to find a place to hold a two-day, end-of-program gathering for about 250 people who are taking part in his 12-month online Spirit Talking Tribe course.
"I have students all across Canada — I have students all over the world, actually — and if they want to come here and spend a weekend together as a group together, and go over all of the material together, then I rent the space that provides us to do that," Leonard said in an interview on Monday.
"The course is about developing your intuition and psychic abilities. It's about learning and growing in your spirituality, learning to make connections to the spirit world and understanding a universal language of spirit that I, personally, utilize in the work that I do when I do events or personal one-on-one readings, which I don't do anymore."
Leonard said he held the event last year at Pier 21 with no issues but that venue is already full for the dates he wants, so he reached out to the convention centre. He said the first person he spoke with, Sonia Corra, was pleasant and accommodating and quoted him a price of $1,690 per day to use two portions of the centre's Argyle Room, which can be separated into three sections. He was told another person would have to handle the contract details, though, and that's when the trouble began.
Quoted much higher price
Leonard said when Valerie Corkum called him, she seemed to be doing anything in her power to dissuade him from renting the space.
Shawn Leonard's post on the Halifax Convention Centre's Facebook page
Leonard said he was told another event booked for a much larger room on another floor might need the space for coats. Then she told him she didn't want his event there at the same time or have his guests mingling with the others, he said. He also said she told him the fact he was not booking food service was also a problem, even though he maintained that food was not required as part of the basic rental terms he saw on the convention centre website.
"I said 'this doesn't make sense to me.' I said 'what do you think I'm doing?' And I said 'have you researched me?' She said 'I have researched you. I know who you are.' And I'm like 'Why would you research me in regards to me booking a room?' and she changed the subject."
Leonard said he was told she'd rather rent the room to someone else who could pay more, quoting a price of $5,000 per day for a total of $10,000.
Leonard, a published author who has done three cross-Canada tours and is booking venues for another one, and who is about to have a TV series debut on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, said he's never been treated like this before.
Trailer for Shawn Leonard's APTN series
Apology but no room offer
"I said 'I'll take my business elsewhere,' and then I hung up. And then I wrote ... a message and I posted it on their Facebook site and then I sent every entire person on their sales team the same message."
Another woman whose name he could not recall did call him back and apologized after that, but Leonard said she still didn't offer him the room, although he would have declined, anyway, if she had.
Erin Esiyok-Prime, director of communications for Events East Group, confirmed late Monday that a complaint was lodged last week.
"This individual felt they were disrespected and mistreated," Esiyok-Prime said in an email. "That is simply not acceptable and we are deeply sorry.
"We immediately contacted the individual to apologize and initiated an internal review to understand what happened. We will be engaging an independent workplace investigator to review this matter further and will be dealing directly with those involved. Events East promotes a culture of respect and we take these matters very seriously. We truly believe in fostering an inclusive environment for our clients, staff and guests."
Corkum did not respond to requests for comment.
Leonard said he doesn't like drama and is filled with anxiety over speaking out, "but I feel like I'm doing a disservice if I don't."
He said his biggest feeling about the situation is sorrow.
"I thought we'd grown beyond this and past any racial or religious stereotyping. I'd like to hope that. And I feel that maybe it's still out there in some places."
Meanwhile, Leonard has found another venue. He said he's had no problem booking a room at Casino Nova Scotia.