ENGLISH-SPEAKING BLACK WOMAN DROPPED HER HUMAN RIGHTS TRIBUNAL CASE DUE TO LACK OF MEANS
Montreal, December 10, 2015 — An English-speaking Black woman, who lost her business and significant revenues after seeing her lease being arbitrarily terminated by a West Island shopping center, has decided to drop her lawsuit before the Human Rights Tribunal due to lack of means.
Last May, Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission ruled that there was sufficient evidence of racial discrimination in the case of Ms. Christiana Howe. Her lease was terminated in 2011 by the company that managed a major shopping center in Montreal’s West-Island, because she failed to comply with the landlord’s arbitrary requirement that she not carry more than 5% of Black hair products among the merchandise sold at her kiosk. This quota was imposed on her due to complaints from an adjacent hair salon.
After she objected, she had to close her business, ending up with her significant financial loss and debt.
While finding sufficient evidence of discrimination, the Commission exercised its discretionary power not to represent her before the Human Rights Tribunal and allowed her to go to the Tribunal at her own costs.
With CRARR's help, she filed her claims before the Tribunal against the two companies, which retain major law firms to fight her case. Unable to afford a lawyer, the woman has to put an end to her claims.
“I still have debts from the loss of my business, and I can't afford justice anymore,” said Ms. Howe.
“It is disturbing to see that a someone in dire economic conditions is left to go at her own expense before the Human Rights Tribunal, in what is a ‘David versus Goliath’ legal battle,” noted CRARR’s Executive Director Fo Niemi.
This is not the first time an economically disadvantaged person is left unrepresented by the Commission before the Tribunal. Last March, the Commission also allowed a Chinese victim of job discrimination to go before the Tribunal, but at his own expense. The man, who speaks Mandarin and basic English, is in his sixties, and is on pension. He could even afford a Chinese interpreter for his case and had to drop his lawsuit.
In two other cases, the Commission upheld complaints filed by CRARR for a Muslim mother on social assistance who brought a claim against a major retail store, and a Black woman with disabilities and on social assistance against a public transit company. However, the Commission decided not to represent these women before the Tribunal and let them go on their own. One had to borrow money to proceed, while the other dropped her case due to her welfare status.
According to the Commission and the Tribunal’s annual reports, in fiscal year 2013-2014, in 12 cases, the victims were allowed by the Commission to go to the Tribunal at their own expenses. Of these 12 victims, only 2 actually went ahead (in fact, in one case, the plaintiff went despite the Commission's ruling that there was no discrimination). In 2012-2013, 19 victims were allowed to proceed before the Tribunal, but only 4 actually did. There are no available data on what kind of victims are allowed to proceed on their own before the Tribunal, and why many decided not to.
“We should be concerned that human rights protection in today's Quebec is for those with sufficient financial, mental, social and linguistic means. It is important that legislators look at this issue,” said Mr. Niemi.