Thou shalt not discriminate

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It’s an interesting news story to pop up right in the middle of this province’s Pride week: on the other side of the country, the owners of a now-closed bed and breakfast have been ordered to pay $4,000 for refusing a room to a gay couple.

The couple, Brian Thomas and Shaun Eadie, had made reservations at the Riverbend Bed and Breakfast in Grand Forks, B.C., a town that’s located about 500 kilometres east of Vancouver.

The B&B owners, Susan and Les Molnar, at first accepted the couple’s reservation, but cancelled it after discovering that the two men were a same-sex couple. One wonders what would happen if the owners had accepted a reservation from a common-law couple or, for that matter, from two people with no official relationship who were looking for a dirty weekend together. The Molnars testified they would have refused any such reservations.

Why?

They argue that such lifestyles are contrary to their Christian beliefs, and that their B&B was run as part of their Christian ministry.

After their reservations were cancelled, Thomas and Eadie complained to B.C’s Human Rights Tribunal, and asked for close to $2,500 apiece in damages.

The problem, as spelled out by the tribunal, is that the B&B was being run as a commercial enterprise, and commercial operations are governed by the province’s rules against sexual discrimination.

There are, no doubt, those who would side with the Molnars and say that people with strict religious views shouldn’t be required to set those views aside when customers arrive whose lifestyles are different from those of the owners.

That is a particularly myopic view.

The tribunal described the Molnars’ argument like this: “(They) deny any discriminatory conduct. They say that they have a constitutionally protected right to freedom of religion, and that the cancellation of the reservation was justified on this basis.”

But would it be acceptable, for example, for someone to refuse customers who are Jewish, based on religious grounds?

Of course not.

Could a restaurant choose not to serve certain patrons, based on their particular ethic backgrounds?

Once again, no.

The simplest solution?

If you feel that serving everyone and anyone — regardless of race, colour creed or sexual orientation — is beyond your ability for religious reasons or any other cause, perhaps you should reconsider being in business.

The message is simple: paying customers get to pick where they spend their money.

Businesses — except perhaps in the case of unruly or drunken guests — don’t get to pick and choose who they’ll serve, especially not based on discrimination because of sexual orientation.

That may be difficult to live with if you hold strong beliefs. It is, however, the law, and learning that the hard way can be an expensive proposition indeed.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that’s taking far too long to sink in, for some.

Geographic location: Grand Forks

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Recent comments

  • Jackie Barrett
    July 20, 2012 - 17:13

    Anon, since homosexuals are consumers as well, private business should have no right to discriminate, period. Besides, if businesses have a right to discriminate, not only will they lose access to critical markets and lose an opportunity to make money, you're marginalizing people, and that's not acceptable in a so called equal rights society. If you want to discriminate, then become a religious organization and operate in Nova Scotia as exclusive religious organizations are allowed to do so under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, especially at Halifax's Sacred Heart School whom are still allowed to have gender exclusive classes and get away with it. Secondly, while discrimination based on disability is illegal in Nova Scotia, employers still do it as they find one excuse after another knowing full well they will get away with it due to their weak human rights laws and a Human Rights Commission that is grossly inefficient. In fact, it has happened to me despite having a University Degree from Saint Mary's University, College Education from the former CDI College, and almost four years IT experience when I was living in Halifax. It is sad because most of my friends whom went to Saint Mary's University with me had great jobs, start families, and even have their houses, but I was jobless, still living with my parents for most of my post-university career even in my thirties. That kind of discrimination was the reason why I left Nova Scotia, and moved to Newfoundland. One month later, I got a job as a Webmaster and been hired for almost four years. I wish I earned more money so that I will no longer live with my parents, and have my own apartment again. $27,000 per year is not enough to be on my own these days. Lesson's learned, Halifax's loss is Corner Brook's gain.

  • Bravo
    July 20, 2012 - 16:16

    Well put, as always, Colin.

  • Herb Morrison
    July 20, 2012 - 12:25

    You can't legislate morality.

    • Roy
      July 20, 2012 - 13:39

      And that's a good thing since morality is just so arbitrary.

  • saelcove
    July 20, 2012 - 10:26

    just put up a sign no happy

  • Colin Burke
    July 20, 2012 - 09:53

    What fundamental principle of natural justice requires everyone who lives by selling a service, to sell it to everyone with enough money? Assuming we must all do that, excessively exalts artificial commerce over natural self-reliance? Declining to profit from renting accommodations for recreational sex is hardly exactly the same thing as denying a homosexual pair minimal shelter from a rainstorm. Even cancelling arbitrarily, in advance of the date of rendering, a reservation once accepted, is not the same thing as refusing service when the reservation is actually claimed on the date for which the service was reserved. Human rights do not include the right to be served by another; that would be the right to benefit from slavery.

  • Anon
    July 20, 2012 - 09:40

    Well if a private business reserves the right to refuse business then why should they be punished for exercising those rights? I don't agree with what they did but ordering them to pay 4000 dollars is insane. If anything they should have to pay the difference between the next reservation the couple made.

    • Jack
      July 20, 2012 - 17:21

      Anon, discrimination costs money, not just in civil cost, but also lost business. Secondly, you could face hate crimes charges under Canadian Law, meaning you could go to jail like the Rehberg Brothers in relation to the cross burning incident on Shayne Howe's lawn in Nova Scotia's Hants County in February 2010. Lessons learn, if you do discrimination, not only do you risk losing business, hurting goodwill, and becoming bankrupt, you could go to jail for hate crimes violations.

  • Solomon
    July 20, 2012 - 09:38

    It seems that the only group wide open to abuse are seniors. Ageism is alive and well and noone seems to give a damn.

  • Jack
    July 20, 2012 - 09:06

    I say the root of the problem with existing human rights laws throughout Canada is that they are too weak and give religious organizations too much power. Let's take for example, Halifax's "Sacred Heart School". While other schools, including private schools, across Nova Scotia are not allowed to have gender exclusive classes, Sacred Heart School still practices gender discrimination. Why are they allowed to do it, but other schools are not? Its due to a loophole in the Nova Scotia Human Rights Acts while permits religiously owned organizations to exclude certain parts of the population. Since Sacred Heart School is owned by the Roman Catholic Church, they are essentially exempt from Nova Scotia's Human Rights Laws. Religious sanctioned gender discrimination is not the only problem in Nova Scotia, discrimination against disabled persons trying to look for a job is another problem. While the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms state that disabled people with similar job related skill sets have a right to equal opportunities, in reality, most of them have trouble getting a job as ignorant employers always find one excuse after another not to hire them, and its no wonder why many of them are on social assistance. To add insult to injury, the lack of disability related employment supports, the wrong approach used to get them a job as they are forced to look for jobs on their own instead of having a government agency or employment service organization find a job for you like in Newfoundland and Labrador, inadequate funding for such services, and long wait lists just for an intake meeting in Nova Scotia make it hard for disabled persons to get a job. Although I had great credentials and education for the IT Sector, I was having a tough time getting a job in Nova Scotia due to my disability, which is why I left this outdated province in 2008 and moved to Newfoundland. Best move I ever made. Maybe if human rights laws are strengthened, religious organizations are stripped of their right to discriminate like in BC and Nova Scotia, Human Rights Commissions get more funding, and tougher penalties are made for discrimination, people belonging to disadvantaged groups will not be discriminated anymore, particularly racial minorities, religious minorities, disabled persons, women, gays, political affiliation, and so on. Otherwise, more businesses like Riverbend Bed and Breakfast will continue to abuse human rights laws and discriminate.