A beloved Santa Claus has been fired from his job at a Penticton mall for pictures he took on his personal time while dressed in his costume.
Gary Haupt looks forward to acting as the jolly old elf around Penticton each year, attending charity events and working with children on the autism spectrum.
Last year, Haupt took on his first ever mall Santa job, a role that was renewed for this holiday season.
He had some fun with the role, occasionally getting requests from adults at the mall to take silly photos with him, including some who “wanted it to appear as having been spanked by Santa,” he said.
At the time, the event manager, Haupt and the photographer agreed that should no longer happen on mall property and while Haupt was being paid for the job.
Over this past week, however, Haupt took some photos while dressed as Santa during his personal time, in his own home and off mall property.
In one, he's reaching for a woman's breasts. In another, he pretends to drink from a flask while he sits with a woman. The photos, which were posted on Facebook, were taken in fun, he said, and in both cases were the woman's idea.
On Tuesday, Haupt was fired from his mall Santa job.
“They said: 'We are really sorry to do this, but somebody has emailed the pictures and a complaint to the mall,' ” he said.
Haupt was shocked and disappointed, and given no chance to appeal, he said. Castanet reached out to mall management Wednesday afternoon but was told no one was available to give comment.
“I understand that people want to make a complaint if they feel strongly about something, but I think people should also be able to stand up and say, ‘That’s not our business,’ in the case of mall management. Somebody should have had the courage to say: ‘What has that got to do with me?' ” Haupt said.
His partner, Sharon Nichols, posted the photos in question and an explanation of his firing to the popular Penticton Facebook group, and within an hour, it had nearly 200 posts mostly in support of Haupt, with some even suggesting a boycott of the mall
Haupt said he takes the firing very personally, but if the mall were to offer him the job back, he would jump at it.
“Of course I would! It’s a wonderful experience,” he said.
“It’s not just putting on a red suit and wandering around, there’s a lot of children out there asking for things they can’t have because there’s not enough money to go around. There’s lots of hurt, and Santa Claus comes across that, it’s a huge responsibility. And I love looking after that.”