By Mike Anderson
When Taj Singh purchased Casey’s Port Bolster Inn and Fish Huts eleven years ago after being laid off from his job at Magna International, he had no idea the biggest challenge he would face would be the colour of his skin.
He says he gets along with most of his neighbours in Port Bolster.
But there are some locals, including a few ice hut operators, trying to put him out of business.
“I’m the only brown guy on the lake,” Singh said.
“The feeling I get is I don’t belong here.”
Singh says he has been repeatedly harassed and subjected to racial slurs.
Although he hasn’t been physically assaulted, Singh says some ice hut operators have used their pick-up trucks to block his Argo at the shoreline, preventing him from reaching his huts.
“They are blocking my way. They bring the truck right in front of me. They tell me to get the hell out of here,” he said.
“Sometimes I have a customer with me, and their kids too, and they bad mouth me, and I can’t say anything.”
Singh says his family has also been harassed.
Last year, his 14-year old son, while driving the Argo, was blocked by another Argo at the shoreline and taunted by the driver, an ice hut operator.
“They didn’t know it was my son. They thought it was someone else in the machine. That made me upset because he’s just a 14 year-old kid. And they tried to stop him and say something bad to him, that doesn’t work,” he said.
Lately, Singh says the harassment has taken the form of repeated complaint calls to the Town, Ministry of Natural Resources, Conservation Authority and Ministry of Environment regarding his business.
Some of the complaints are regarding a large pond located at the back of his property, which he uses to raise bait.
Singh says he has a license to raise bait and the minnows are from the lake, but that hasn’t stopped the calls.
He says ice hut operators have also accused him of increasing the water flow from the pond during a thaw, flooding the access point at Corner Park, making it difficult to park vehicles on the ice and transport customers to ice huts.
But Singh says he would never do that, and besides, he uses the same access point to get to his huts.
Singh admits there has been a steep learning curve since he took over the business in 2011, and he has made some mistakes.
Recently, the Town stopped him from charging fishermen $10 to park on his adjacent property. He says he was just trying to help people out, as there is limited parking available in the area.
However, he admits he was wrong and is applying to rezone the property, which will allow him to expand parking at the inn.
Singh says he’s trying to comply with regulations, but he worries there is a concerted effort to get his licenses suspended so he can no longer operate.
He says the bylaw officers and inspectors who come to his property won’t tell him who’s behind the calls, and he may have to go to court to find out.
“I don’t have any issues with customers. But local people won’t leave me alone,” he said.
“Every day is something new for them. If there’s anything happening on the shoreline, I get blamed for that. They keep calling the Town. They keep calling MNR. I have to spend 50 per cent of my time on this.”
All of this is happening when he is under tremendous strain to keep his business open and pay his bills.
The pandemic has forced him to close his restaurant, and bookings from Michigan fishermen, traditionally a major source of revenue, have stopped.
Most of his customers are now from the GTA, and only a few require overnight accommodation.
Singh also says he’s had trouble hiring people to help him with his business.
He says they are often approached by ice hut operators on the shoreline and told not to work for him.
“If anybody wants to work with me, they won’t let them stay with me,” he said.
“I cannot hire anyone local. They won’t stay. I don’t have any backup. So, I do the whole show by myself.”
He says he works seven days a week during the season, which lasts from mid-January to mid-March. He often starts at 5 a.m. and works late into the night to repair his equipment.
Singh says he hasn’t contacted the police because he’s been told by the men harassing him that the police are their buddies.
“I don’t trust the police. I cannot trust anyone. Who do I trust?” He said.
“I don’t want any kind of stress. But enough is enough.”
Singh says he approached The Post to make the community aware of what’s happening.
He hopes that might put a stop to the harassment.
“This year is really worse. That’s why I have taken the step to talk to you and put something in the newspaper,” Singh said. “Just leave me alone. That’s all I want.”
“There are some good guys. I’m not blaming everybody. There are a lot of guys who come to me; they love me. They take care of me, and I take care of them. But a few bad apples are just ruining the whole thing. I don’t know what their issue is.”
“There’s more than enough business to go around. But this kind of thing turns people off, because they don’t feel safe. They don’t like to come to my property because they see I’ve been threatened.”
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