Ontario Human Rights Code is there for protection and equality
About five years ago, Karen owned a scented candle stall in a market in London, Ontario. One day she hired a friend to work part of the day at the stall. Her friend was transgender. She brought two friends who were also transgender.
That night after she got home, Karen got a call from the rent collector at the market. She says she was told that if she was going to have transgender people working at the booth she was not welcome at the market anymore. Karen testified that he referred to her friends as “those people” and made comments like “it’s just not right” and “it’s not normal”.
The rent collector testified that he only called to discuss the fact that he had had to ask one of Karen’s friends to put out incense that they were burning in the booth and because they were too scantily clad. He said he wanted to impress on Karen that it was a “family” market. Evidence emerged that on a previous occasion when a person was deemed to be too scantily clad at the market they were immediately asked to correct it. That did not happen in this case.
They had burned some incense in the booth but had put it out when he asked. There really was no point in making a call about that either.
The local press got wind of the market owner objecting to transgender people working at Karen’s stall and interviewed the rent collector’s boss on the radio a few weeks after this incident. During the radio interview, the market owner made no mention of the incense burning issue or being concerned that Karen’s friends were scantily clad. In the interview he talked about his business being a “family market” and noted that he did not have washrooms for “these people”.
The interviewer asked him if transgender people had a right to make a living at his market. He said they could if they followed the rules. When he was asked what rules he was talking about he referred to the washroom facilities. The problem was there was no evidence that anyone had used, or tried to use the washrooms on the day Karen got the phone call.
When Karen and her three friends made a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and this evidence was heard, it quickly became evident that the rent collector was passing along his boss’s bigotry and prejudice with respect to transgender individuals.
The Ontario Human Rights Code
states that every person has the right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods, and facilities without discrimination because of, among other things, gender identity and gender expression.
Karen gave evidence that she was too traumatized by the phone call and its implications to continue with her booth at the market. Karen was awarded $20,000 in general damages, the friend she hired for the day was awarded $10,000 and her two friends, $5,000 each.
The market owner and his rent collector might have been able to wriggle their way out of this one if the owner had not been stupid enough to announce his bigotry to the world in a radio interview.
The market owner and his staff were ordered to take online human rights training. The adjudicator stated, “In accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression, transgender people should be recognized and treated as the gender they live in, whether or not they have undergone surgery. As such, the respondents shall insure that all people who identify as transgender have access to the washroom facilities of the gender with which they identify.”
This is an older case and I, perhaps naively, like to think that this would not happen today, that things are changing. The skeptic in me posits that it would only be less likely that someone would say such ignorant things on the radio. I am going to keep hoping for the best and be grateful that when the worst happens there are often courageous people like Karen that are willing to hold people accountable.
Ed Canning practices labour and employment law with Ross & McBride LLP, in Hamilton, representing both employers and employees. You can email him at email@example.com