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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Another brick in the wall?

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ruled against the Knights of Columbus and in favour of a lesbian couple that was denied the use of a Knights hall for a wedding reception. See Canadian Press's story here and the actual ruling here. The CP story says the Knights could have refused to host the reception, based on the organization's religious beliefs, but that the Knights apparently erred in carrying out their refusal in a way that caused undue hardship.

I've not yet had time to read the ruling completely, but I have noted that it states, at its conclusion, that the Tribunal finds the Knights guilty of discrimination --  and not of causing the lesbians hardship -- under section 8 of of the BC Human Rights Code, and, further, that the Tribunal orders the Knights to refrain from committing the same or similar contravention again.

This appears to mean the Tribunal has ordered the Knights to stop discriminating against homosexuals; it does not appear to say that the Knights can discriminate, as long as they ensure such discrimination causes no undue hardship. Perhaps those of you out there, with some extra time, can go through the ruling more thoroughly in an attempt to get to the bottom of this.

By the way, Section 8 of the Code holds that a person must not, without bona fide and reasonable justification, deny to a person or class of persons, the use of a facility that is customarily available to the public...on the grounds of that customer's sexual orientation.   

Later addition: Apparently my confusion about the actual impact/meaning of the ruling is shared. As noted in this CBC story, both the lawyer for the Knights and the lawyer for the lesbians are trying to figure out what the Tribunal means. I suppose the Knights can take some measure of satisfaction in knowing that the lesbians' lawyer, barbara findlay, is not pleased that the ruling apparently says it is OK to discriminate on the basis of deeply held religious beliefs.

Posted by Terry O'Neill on November 29, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink


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SO BASICALLY, the KNIGHTS WERE NOT BEING NICE ENOUGH. Read the last two paragraphs to get the final gist. Further, the case seems to rest on a hypothetical. Here are the key excerpts:

It was clear that not all the groups who rent the Hall fall into the category of those persons with core religious beliefs that are consistent with the Catholic Church. Generally, it appears that the Hall is rented to non-profit types of organizations or gatherings. However, there was no evidence to support the Knights’ assertion that the groups using the Hall must be groups that “advance or are wholly consistent with the cardinal and theological virtues of the Catholic Church”.

The Panel is not persuaded, by the Knights argument, that the Hall was exclusively a place where Catholics put their faith into practice. It was much more than that. While many groups and individuals would have used the Hall for those types of functions and purposes, they were not the only types of events that took place in the Hall. The evidence established that the Hall was available to rent to members in the larger non-Catholic community. Further, the sign advertising the Hall for rent did not include such a requirement.

The Panel is not persuaded that the Hall is solely a religious space; it was available to the public for rental for a variety of non-religious events.

In this case, the Knights could have taken steps such as meeting with the complainants to explain the situation, formally apologizing, immediately offering to reimburse the complainants for any expenses they had incurred and, perhaps offering assistance in finding another solution. There may have been other options that they could have considered without infringing their core religious beliefs. The fact is they gave no thought to any option other than cancelling the rental. In the circumstances of this case, including the fact that the Hall was not solely a religious space, and the existence of the agreement between the parties for its rental, the Panel finds that the Knights should have taken these steps, which would have appropriately balanced the rights of both parties.

Although it is true that the complainants quickly found another hall to rent, this does not answer the question of whether or not the Knights met their duty to accommodate them. Had the complainants not successfully searched for their own solution, the consequences to them would have been significant; they would have had no place to celebrate their marriage, a marriage that they had the constitutionally protected right to solemnize and to celebrate. This should not be taken to mean that the Knights were required to find another hall for the complainants, but they were required to consider whether they could assist the complainants in that process, if necessary.

Posted by: Jonathan M | 2005-11-29 5:45:10 PM

I find the judgment puzzling; the judgment accepts that both sides have an 'equal right' to their core beliefs. And then, it goes on to effectively state that the expression of these core beliefs cannot infringe on the beliefs of each other.

That seems to me to be unreasonable. If the Knight's belief as against SSM, and this couple's beliefs are in favour of SSM, then, to state that these two agents must co-exist in the same SPACE, is a violation of basic logic. But that's what the judgment seems, to me, to conclude.
If the Knights are against SSM, then, their evaluation of marriage as (a) in favor of OSM and (b)against SSM, is an act of evaluation. The court seems to confuse evaluation and selection of ONE option - to be an act of discrimination.

Then, the Court stated that since the Knights didn't check to validate the religious beliefs of others who rent the hall for various purposes (day care, alcoholics anonymous) and ensure themselves that these people were practicing Catholics, then, they had no right to evaluate this lesbian couple.

I disagree with the court, for it is merging USERS of the hall with USE of the hall. The Knights are not involved in screening the beliefs of each and every individual who rents or uses the hall; they are involved in the USE of the hall. If a practicing Catholic wanted to USE the hall for a Rave Drink-Drug Concert, I think the Knights would object.

They objected to the USE of the hall, to celebrate an action with which they were opposed. The court erred, I think, in ignoring this use, and instead focusing on the USERS.

And, the court erred, I suggest, in rendering the right to believe (in the tenets of one's religion) but in reducing this merely to belief, rather than also - to action.

By the way - I think it's interesting that Harper is bringing SSM immediately into the election campaign. I think it's because he knows that the Liberals would use it against him, and the CPC wants to retain control of all issues of the campaign, to prevent the Liberals from 'attacking' and the CPC being put in the position of merely 'responding'.

Posted by: ET | 2005-11-29 5:50:40 PM

I agree with what you say by Harper not merely responding. Plus, might as well get the controversial stuff out there fast right?

Secondly, I am not sure you could exactly call the tribunal a "court." Its ruling appears to hinge on the words "The fact is they gave no thought to any option other than cancelling the rental". They did not fully accomodate. And that is why the Knights were refused a win in this case.

Posted by: Jonathan M | 2005-11-29 5:54:52 PM

I suggest there is hypocrisy in that situation. Homosexuals are using it as propaganda for their deviation.

Anyway they could find another place quickly so they did not had problems.

Posted by: Rémi houle | 2005-11-29 6:01:52 PM

That's exactly why Harper is doing it ET - good point.

As far as the ruling, is it really surprising in a gay-rights obsessed country which does not respect private property rights?

Posted by: Dabioch | 2005-11-29 6:05:28 PM

Next thing they will want to start a "Bible Registry." I guess I will have to put my Bible with my un-registered shotgun(s).

Posted by: Lemmytowner | 2005-11-29 6:10:33 PM

Jonathan - I'm not sure why the Knights should be obliged to find the Users another hall.

I can see that they ought to refund the money with a statement that they, as owners of the hall, cannot permit its use for an action which their religious beliefs oppose. That is their right. They should most certainly not apologize for their beliefs! We don't expect the supporters of SSM to apologize; equally, the opponents should not apologize. [Aren't Canadians supposed to be tolerant of diversity, or are we only tolerant of Liberal ideals?]

That's all. Explain and refund the money. Nothing more. Note that the women immediately found another hall. Therefore...

I wonder about the two women. Hmm. Did they not know exactly what they were doing? Why would they rent a hall from a declared Catholic organization, which they would know opposed SSM? Doesn't that sound a bit arrogant, an 'in-your-face' action?

Did they inform the Knights what it was for (celebration of a marriage? Ah...celebration of a SSM!). Then - when the Knights found out, AFTER the rental...the women could pounce, and claim discrimination and hurt feelings and etc, etc.

So- I suspect a set-up.

Posted by: ET | 2005-11-29 6:24:34 PM

[QUOTE] Although it is true that the complainants quickly found another hall to rent, this does not answer the question of whether or not the Knights met their duty to accommodate them. [UNQUOTE]

We the Tribunal find that although nobody slipped and fell into the hole, it does not answer the question of whether the construction company met their duty to help people who fell into the hole, but because nobody fell in the hole, the company clearly didn't help anyone, and because of that we decided to slap around the construction company, in case anyone thinks we did not do our duty to uphold the rights of prominent, vocal and electorally concentrated special interest groups, which means that we must give the appearance of trampling over other people's rights in their favour, while using the slipperiest possible language in order to avoid getting this non-ruling overturned by a real court with real lawyers who actually know a little bit about the law in it.

This Tribunal is adjourned.

Posted by: Justzumgai | 2005-11-29 6:32:59 PM

"I'm not sure why the Knights should be obliged to find the Users another hall." - I totally agree. I was never agreeing with the case, just relaying its reasons. Here is my view:

The tribunal said they accepted the complainant's argument that they never knew it was affiliated with a Church or religious group, even though there were pictures of the pope in the hall and crosses - and even though they looked around the hall very thoroughly. They still did not know it was Catholic.

Interestingly enough, in the news article, she says that she did not go looking for trouble or to pick a fight, they were not "accomodated" by the Knights, even though they spent the time and money to complain about it. As for their feelings being hurt by the hall being cancelled, cancellations happen all the time in all types of business.

And they were very ambiguous on what the hall was actually being used for. They did not tell the knights exactly who was getting married either. I suppose the Knights could have done better at this point by asking first. I am guessing this whole mess would have been avoided if no contract had been signed to begin with. Thus, I think that some claims that say this is a setback to religious freedom is really overrated. IF you look at the case, it was more about the Knights agreeing to something and the women having to deal with the cancellation of the agreement and the inconveniences it caused.

Posted by: Jonathan M | 2005-11-29 7:38:17 PM

>Thus, I think that some claims that say this is a setback to religious freedom is really overrated.

I think you're right Jonathan. The tribunal sez the KoC had the right to refuse the hall rental and did NOT have a duty to find another hall for them. That's not a setback that's confirmation of the KoC's rights.

It was the way that the cancellation was done that got them in trouble. If they had sent out an explanation and an offer to pay for damages ( reprinting of invitations, cost of the new hall ) when they returned the deposit they would have had a complete win.

What the tribunal sez they did wrong was sending back the deposit without apology or even an explanation; they had to be asked twice to pay damages ( something that anyone who voids a contract would be on the hook for ) and , apparently, some of the tone of conversations and comments made to the press were less than polite.

Posted by: Nbob | 2005-11-29 8:17:47 PM

I wonder if it were reversed, what the outcome would be? If the knights wanted to rent a hall from a gay activist group for a meeting of their Catholics brethern, at which they wanted to re-enforce their religious belief that same sex marriage was sinful, would the activists be required to honor their religious freedom and rent them the hall? Would they do it willingly?

Posted by: thots | 2005-11-29 10:38:47 PM

I would love to have some gay activist answer this for me. Would they willingly let people practice their religious beliefs in one of their establishments. Do they only believe in the charter of rights - for some people. or for all people.

Posted by: thots | 2005-11-29 10:41:19 PM

Set aside the homosexual angle and the intrusion into the affairs of a religiously affiliated organization. The facet of this little tale that interests me is the large degree to which administrative tribunals have wormed their way into Canadian life. In the US, these two women, seeking vindication of their supposed rights, would have to hire a lawyer, file suit, and submit their claim to a jury. Thereby, the community would have its say as to the legitimacy of their claim. In Canada, the bureaucrats, like school principals maintaining discipline over unruly children, run the show, and they do it according to their standards, not the standards prevailing in the community.

Posted by: Texan | 2005-11-30 6:32:34 AM

It was explained once that a constitution lists what they state can't do to the people, a criminal code lists what the people can't do to the state and a civil code listed what the people can't do to each other.

Sounds like everything is covered, so why are human rights codes needed?

Posted by: Kathryn | 2005-11-30 8:53:10 AM

My father is a Knight, although not with the council involved. It's my understanding that the Knights did not know the real purpose for the hall rental, and when they found out, they offered to pay for the cost of reprinting invitations. Why this was not mentioned in any of the mainstream media reports is interesting.

Posted by: jsh | 2005-12-01 12:15:04 AM

If the Knights inquired as to the use of the hall and for whom, they'd be still taken to the HRC for asking, for asking assails the *blessed* celebration of homosexuality.

Posted by: wharold | 2005-12-01 10:04:17 AM

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