Buying breakfast for a pregnant woman at your local Tim Hortons seems like the polite, Canadian thing to do — unless of course, that pregnant woman happens to be homeless.
Teresa Lee, an investment manager in Toronto, made the mistake of purchasing breakfast for such a woman and was promptly scolded by a Tim Hortons employee for allowing her new acquaintance to eat inside the store. According to the employee, homeless people “make a mess.” Tim Hortons later issued an apology to Lee, but was careful to point out that the homeless woman was known to the store and had created a disturbance there previously.
This came just two weeks after Tim Hortons employee Nicole Lilliman was fired from a London store for giving a free Timbit to a small child. After Lilliman’s story made headlines, Tim Hortons apologized and gave her her job back, but not without setting the example: no free Timbit for you!
Almost as much as hockey, Tim Hortons has become a fixture of Canadian culture and identity. In particular, it likes to boast of its polite, friendly Canadian nature on TV commercials and billboards. And we lap it up, of course; we’re nearly as addicted to the idea of Canadians as the world’s nice guys as we are to Tim Hortons coffee.
But how is it we ever let a corporation become part of our national id? Tim Hortons may once have inculcated some of the values we like to think of as Canadian; its Children’s Foundation, for example, was established in 1974 “to honour Tim Horton’s love for children and his desire to help those less fortunate.” But those days are apparently long gone, at Tim Hortons, and maybe in Canadian society generally. I mean, if a homeless pregnant woman isn’t “less fortunate,” who is? And how is it she’s living on the streets anyway?
In the States, Starbucks recently shut down its store for three hours to re-train its employees in the fundamentals of “Starbucks culture.” Maybe Tim Hortons needs to do something similar. Meantime, let’s quit pretending it’s some sort of national treasure. It’s a big money-making machine, period. That’s why Nicole Lilliman got fired, and no doubt would remain fired to this day if the press hadn’t got hold of her story. After all, if each of the 2,733 Timmy Ho’s in Canada (as of July 1, 2007) handed out one free Timbit a day, the company would stand to lose $169,582.65 annually. That’s not the sort of thing corporations do.
Teresa Lee will just have to take her good deeds elsewhere. And we may have to find ourselves a replacement cultural icon.