Vancouver’s Toscani Coffee Bar Ordered to Pay $4,000 for Racial Discrimination in Refusing Service

In a decision issued on February 24, 2021, the BC Human Rights Tribunal held that the owner of Vancouver’s Toscani Coffee Bar discriminated against four complainant patrons based on their race when she refused one of them service and referred to him and his friends as “you Arabs.”

Each of the four complainants had previously immigrated from North Africa to Canada. They speak Arabic and identify as having Arabic ancestry. The coffee shop owner is a woman of colour who was raised in a Muslim family in Indonesia. One of the complainants told the owner’s Italian husband, who also works at the coffee shop, that they were unhappy with her service. The owner felt that a few of the complainants were disrespectful towards her in her own business.

On July 8, 2019, the store owner refused to serve one of the complainants, as she did not desire to serve someone who did not want to be served by her. The owner and complainant then spoke outside. Tribunal Member Devyn Cousineau accepted the complainant’s evidence about the conversation. According to him, the owner said “I don’t want you Arabs here, and you should tell your friends that I don’t want you here. You are not welcome anymore.” The tribunal accepted the owner’s explanation for refusing service as well, stating as follows:

[32] I accept Ms. Conforti’s explanation for why she told Mr. Haouas, Mr. Gharbi and Mr. Ben Maaouia that she would not serve them. She felt they had disrespected her in her own business. She understood that they had talked to others about not wanting her to serve them, and that she was simply granting their wish. She was frustrated that they did not recognize her authority in her own business and went around her to her husband for service or to complain about her. As an immigrant woman of colour raised in a Muslim household, running a business that serves immigrants from all over the world, I accept that Ms. Conforti did not refuse to serve the Complainants because they are Arab.

It was therefore accepted that the owner did not refuse service due to the complainants being Arab. That did not end the matter, however. Discrimination occurred nevertheless because a racial comment was connected to a negative effect on the complainants. The Tribunal held the following about this:

[34] In a discrimination complaint, it is not the respondents’ intention that matters but the effect of their behaviour: Code, s. 2. In this case, the effect of Ms. Conforti’s words was to connect the Complainants’ Arab ancestry to her communication that she would not serve them. The discriminatory words were “spoken at the very same time and place” as she told Mr. Haouas she would not serve him, and they were “inextricably linked” to that communication: Gichuru v. Purewal, 2019 BCSC 484 at para. 484. The effect was discrimination.

For injury to their dignity, feelings, and self-respect, the Tribunal awarded $1,000 to each of the four complainants.

Disability Discrimination Complaint Against Maple Ridge Hyundai Dismissed

Cardiff, UK: June 02, 2020: Hyundai Car Dealership. The Hyundai Motor Company, commonly known as Hyundai Motors, is a South Korean multinational automotive manufacturer. Illustrative Editorial

In reasons released today regarding the case of Verozinis v Kot Auto Group dba Maple Ridge Hyundai, 2020 BCHRT 156, Tribunal Member Norman Trerise dismissed a human rights complaint against the Hyundai car dealership located in Maple Ridge, BC.

The Complainant, Spyros Verozinis, alleged that when he attended the Maple Ridge Honda Dealership with his wife to buy a vehicle, the Finance Manager engaged in high pressure communications regarding the details of the vehicle and he was unable to fully understand what was occurring due to his disability – congenital deafness. He alleged that he ended up purchasing a vehicle he would not have purchased if his disability were not taken advantage of and he fully understood the terms of the sale. As such, he complained he was discriminated against on the grounds of mental and physical disability in the area of service contrary to the BC Human Rights Code.

Following a 2-day hearing, the Tribunal found that the Complainant’s mental and physical disabilities were not a factor in him being sold the vehicle. Mr. Verozinis was successful in establishing that he had a physical or mental disability. However, he failed to established that he experienced adverse treatment related to his disability and the car sale. The Tribunal held that he was too inconsistent on this issue to be reliable and instead preferred the evidence of the car dealership’s witness. Regarding the inconsistency, the Tribunal found the following at paras 45 and 46:

[45] Mr. Verozinis has testified both that he was adversely impacted because the vehicle was purchased by his wife rather than by him and that he did not receive the vehicle he wanted being a hybrid or electric vehicle but instead received a gas‐powered vehicle. However, Mr. Verozinis has testified to his awareness that a vehicle in the category that he desired was not within the financing capability of his wife. In other words, Mr. Verozinis had to know and I find that he did know that the vehicle his wife was purchasing at the time of the transaction with the Respondent was a gas‐powered vehicle. Accordingly, I find that Mr. Verozinis was not adversely impacted by the purchase of a gas‐powered vehicle as opposed to a hybrid or electric‐powered vehicle.

[46] More contentious is Mr. Verozinis’ inconsistency around understanding that the vehicle was purchased by his wife. It is clear on the evidence that Mr. Verozinis understood that his wife was financing the purchase of the vehicle, either because Mr. Verozinis believed that his bankruptcy prevented him from purchasing the vehicle at all or because he understood that if the vehicle was purchased in his name it would be at a higher interest rate than if his wife purchased the vehicle. In either event, Mr. Verozinis clearly understood that the financing of the vehicle was dependent upon his wife’s income rather than his own.

Further, the Respondent was successful in demonstrating that it took all reasonable and practical steps to avoid an adverse impact on the Complainant because their employees offered to use a microphone, spoke loudly and clearly, and sat so he could see their faces at all times.

The Tribunal also held at para 55 that “generally, a person seeking accommodation must give the service provider the facts needed to accommodate, facilitate the implementation of reasonable accommodation proposals, and accept reasonable accommodation.”

This case demonstrates that those alleging discrimination should ensure they are clear and consistent when giving evidence at a hearing. It also demonstrates that people with disabilities who need accommodation must assist service providers in accommodating them before they can allege that the service provider has failed to do so. Further, it demonstrates that service providers should make all reasonable and practical efforts to accommodate those with disabilities.

Tribunal Dismisses Complaint Against Strata for Discrimination in Addressing Noisy Neighbour Situation

annoyed stressed woman covering her ears, looking up loud noise upstairs

In his reasons issued on June 16, 2020, BC Human Rights Tribunal Member Paul Singh dismissed a complaint against a strata for allegedly failing to enforce a noise bylaw against the complainant’s neighbours because of her sex and marital status. The complaint was made under section 8 of the BC Human Rights Code, as strata councils are considered to be providers of accommodation, services, or facilities customarily available to the public.

The complainant owns a condo in a strata. She alleged that the residents in the unit above hers were too loud. According to the Tribunal, several actions were taken by the strata and neighbours in an effort to address the complainant’s concerns. The strata:

  • sent caution notices to the upstairs neighbours,
  • conducted noise inspections,
  • tried to arrange a mediation and other voluntary dispute resolution processes between the neighbours and the complainant,
  • included a note in strata council meeting minutes to keep residents aware of the noise issue,
  • sent out “good neighbour” noise notices to all unit owners in the building,
  • sent a letter to the upstairs neighbours suggesting a change of flooring,
  • adopted a bylaw regarding installation of underlay for new flooring to reduce noise, and
  • retained an engineer to determine whether any structural deficiencies existed between the units.

The upstairs neighbours apparently changed their flooring and started wearing slippers.

The Complainant argued that all of these measures were inadequate.

She alleged that her sex and marital status were a factor in the strata’s failure to adequately address her noise concerns. She thought this was the case because of an exchange she had in the building’s parkade with a strata council member who said something to the effect of “you shouldn’t have to put up with that because you are a single woman.” She said that aside from the discrimination which should be inferred from the comment in the parkade, there was no other explanation for why the strata “did nothing” over three years.

The Tribunal held that there was no reasonable prospect of the complainant succeeding in showing a nexus between her sex or marital status and any adverse impact she experienced from the noise in her unit. It held as follows at paragraph 59 of the decision:

The Respondents do not specifically deny that the Comment was made to Ms. Dolinsky. However, the Comment, even if made, cannot reasonably be seen as anything other than an offhand remark made during a brief, casual conversation. A Strata Council member telling Ms. Dolinsky that she should not have to put up with noise issues because she was a “single woman” is simply not sufficient to establish discrimination under the Code given all the steps the Strata had taken through the years to help address and ameliorate Ms. Dolinsky’s noise concerns.

The Tribunal also held the following at paragraph 62:

…it is not the Tribunal’s role to assess the merits of a strata’s management decisions for its building, including the process for investigating and enforcing bylaws, so long
as those decisions are not used as a pretext for discrimination. What concerns the Tribunal is only whether a characteristic protected by the Code was a factor in these decisions: Li v. Options Community Services and others, 2020 BCHRT 104 at para. 84.

Complaint About Hair Salon’s Alleged Refusal to Provide Hair Cut to Transgender Woman Dismissed

In reasons for decision regarding X v Hot Mess Hair Salon (No 2), 2020 BCHRT 42, the BC Human Rights Tribunal dismissed a complaint against Hot Mess Hair Salon for allegedly refusing to provide a transgender woman hair style and cut services.

When complaint X inquired on a hair stylist’s Facebook page about pricing for a style and cut, the stylist replied that she only does women’s hair. When the complainant stated “actually I’m a girl ha, ha (it happens a lot lol)” and then went on to ask about availability, she received no answer. It appeared to her that the stylist blocked her from Facebook.

X then searched for the stylist on the internet and found that she worked for Hot Mess. X contacted Hot Mess to express her frustration, the owner apologized, assured her that she had not been blocked (she said the stylist’s Facebook page had been “locked”), and offered her a free hair style and cut. The stylist did the same. X refused and filed the Human Rights Complaint.

Ultimately, the tribunal dismissed the complaint, finding that X did not establish a connection between her gender identity and her inability to schedule a hairstyling appointment. It stated the following:

[32] In order for the complaint to succeed it would be necessary for the Tribunal to draw the inference that her gender was at least a factor in her being prevented from making an appointment to have her hair styled and cut. I am unable to draw such an inference for the following reasons.

[33] I have the evidence of X that she is satisfied that the stylist was not actually locked out of Facebook. Unfortunately, her reasons for reaching that conclusion are not supported by any expert evidence with respect to the use of Facebook or Instagram. Combine that with apparent efforts by the stylist to have a conversation with X and to book her in for a style and cut and then an attempt by Ms. Simpson to do the same, and I am not in a position to conclude that the events of March 5 were precipitated by X’s gender. It is just as probable that they were precipitated by the stylist’s expressed inability to respond to X via Facebook.