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HOWARD LEVITT: Jessica Yaniv case shows that human rights tribunals can undermine those they should serve

Jessica Yaniv arrives for a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hearing in Vancouver, on July 26.
Jessica Yaniv arrives for a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hearing in Vancouver, on July 26.

Human rights law in Canada today is a mockery of what was intended when the legislation was passed

You are a low-income, married Muslim woman who works from your Vancouver home performing waxing services exclusively on women.

One day, a transgendered woman asks you to wax her untransitioned genital area. The request is contrary to your religious beliefs and your sense of modesty – your husband is adamantly against it.

When you refuse, Jessica Yaniv, the customer, files a human rights complaint against you. In fact, Ms Yaniv has filed 29 human rights complaints against individuals and salons who refused her the service. At least one of those salon owners, who also started the business out of her home,  shut it down as a result of the stress and expense of the litigation.

One would think that an individual could safely refuse to administer such a service, based on religious beliefs, feminist principles or personal comfort and safety. One might also think that the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has more pressing applications to hear than the 16 applications Ms Yaniv filed this year, and the 13 she filed last year.

Within the B.C. Human Rights Code is a provision that allows the tribunal, at its own discretion and with or without a hearing, to dismiss any application that “was filed for improper motives or made in bad faith.”

But the tribunal refused to categorize Ms Yaniv’s application as improper or frivolous, nor her as a “vexatious litigant,” in a decision released on May 30. The author of the decision said that the complaints addressed real problems and genuine grievances.

This is human rights law in Canada today — a mockery of what was intended when the legislation was passed.

Instead, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal insisted on hearing Ms Yaniv’s multitude of complaints, at the expense of the public. This is someone who, in her quest to champion the rights of a minority, has repeatedly and viciously disparaged immigrants and visible minorities in her community on Twitter.

Our human rights system has transmogrified into one where an individual who was born male and who possesses biologically male genitalia, can make an apparently valid claim against a female aesthetician for refusing to handle that genitalia.

And the usual defenders of the women who refused to provide Ms Yaniv service have remained silent, cowed at the altar of transgender rights.

Jordan Peterson, who I represent, famously claimed that the impact of the federal human rights legislation on transgenderism would be to force people to use made-up words. Even he could not predict that it might contribute to women being forced to handle male genitalia against their will. It would seem that transgender rights are now trumping those of women, religion, ethnic rights and family values.

In Ontario, human rights can be enforced by the courts. My view is that these tribunals should be abolished and Canadians should turn to the courts for relief if they believe their rights have been trampled. Our activist commissions, through cases such as this, are ultimately weakening the protections minority groups require.

Howard Levitt is senior partner of Levitt LLP, employment and labour lawyers. He practises employment law in eight provinces.The most recent of his six books is War Stories from the Workplace: Columns by Howard Levitt.

hlevitt@levittllp.com

Twitter.com/HowardLevittLaw

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