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My Grocer Is A Vigilante

August 18, 2009

I’ve noticed an odd thing at the grocery store near my house: wanted posters. They’re in the foyer as you enter, mocked up on 8×10 paper by someone with a pretty good design sense. They get your attention. My favourite is this “Fish Thief Wanted.” It boasts a grainy surveillance image of a tall man in shorts, a black T-shirt and baseball cap, without much facial detail. And also this: “Wanted for stealing fish and cookies.”

At first, I smiled. I like this grocery store. We split our business between two places: a discounter on the other side of town where we buy our dry goods, and this store, right near our house, where we buy produce, meat and fresh stuff. We’re here a lot, and while the store is part of a national chain, it’s locally owned, so we like to support it. I decided to keep my eyes peeled for the fish thief, just in case I spotted him.

But then that old worry crept in: Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty?” How is it that my grocer has ruled this suspected fishnapper guilty? And what kind of fish was it? Frozen fish sticks? Or did he grab one of the live trout from the tank and put it in his pants?

It turns out I’m not alone in my thinking. Here, read this article. It’s about foreigners, but still relevant. Basically, a UK rights advocate says posting images like this and calling people thieves without due process is a violation of not only privacy, but basic human rights. And I agree.

As a result of reading that article, and also being unable to get the image of a guy with a fish in his pants out of my head, I have decided my grocer is wrong to do this. What if the guy in the image isn’t the fish thief? I know retailers are pretty good at spotting thieves — I once took a weekend-long Loss Prevention seminar while working as a jeweller, and learned how to spot lifters, boosters, grabbers and stashers — but mistakes can be made. And we have police for a reason. No, not to tase grandmothers. To catch thieves.

Ah, it feels good to bring that to a logical resolution. Problem solved. Now I just need a good recipe for fresh trout.

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