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Queen's University

 The Konyk Case (1983)

When do racial, religious or ethnic caricatures/epithets indicate discrimination?


William Konyk, a Ukrainian entrepreneur, uses the trademark "Hunky Bill" to advertise his restaurant and concession services. "Hunky" is a term used, in the past, as an ethnic slur against Ukrainian immigrants. William Konyk has expropriated the term and is proud of his Ukrainian heritage. Over the years, Konyk received about 20 complaints from the Ukrainian community who found the term to be offensive. Finally, in 1982, one of these complainants went to a Board of Inquiry, who ruled that according to the B.C. Human Rights Code, it was not an offence to call oneself a name that others might find offensive if used to designate them; and that a sign is not prohibited unless it discriminates against persons of a designated group in one of three areas of employment, services, and/or housing. In other words, being offensive is not being discriminatory. The case was appealed , in 1983, to the Supreme Court of B.C. who supported the decision of the Board of Inquiry. Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Association v. Konyk (1982) 3 C.H.R.R. D/1157; affd (1983), 4 C.H.R.R. D/1653 (B.C.S.C.).


  • Does a sign have to target an individual or class of individuals in order to be found discriminatory?


  • Yes


  • "It is my view that the term "discriminate" as used in the Act cannot be extended to cover the situation where a word is used that may be offensive to the hearer or viewer, but not directed to that person or to a class of persons. For there to be discrimination within the meaning of the act, it is my view that there must be singling out of a person or class of persons with respect to accommodation, service or facility and denying them to such person or persons, although making them available to the public at large" (14149) In 1982, Statute 2 of the Human Rights Code read: "No person shall publish or display before the public, or cause to be published or displayed before the public, a notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation indicating discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or class of persons in any manner prohibited by this Act". The judge reasoned that by specifying "in any manner prohibited by this Act", the legislation limited the prohibition of discriminatory signs to those which discriminated in one of the three prohibited areas of employment, services or housing. The simple act of displaying an offensive sign is not, in and of itself, an offense he maintained. This is true, even when people feel they have been discriminated against because they can not allow themselves to use the service without condoning the stereotypical and degrading attitude signified by the word on the sign. He said that if the Singer Case had been tried under the B.C. Human Rights Code, the complaint would have been dismissed. **

**Editor's note

The new B.C. Code eliminates the phrase "in any manner prohibited by this Act" and adds a clause prohibiting material that "is likely to expose a person ro group or class of persons to hatred or contempt".

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