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Queen's University
 

Sonnenberg

Do service providers have the right to discriminate, based on their religious beliefs, against groups protected by human rights law?

Facts

Klaus Sonnenberg is the pastor of « New Life Center, a church affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. In 1984, Sonnenberg attempted to rent an auditorium or theatre on the campus of the Centre Universitaire St. Louis-Maillet so that he could hold a gospel assembly “to proclaim the gospel in a neutral location”. His request was denied. One year later, he attempted to rent premises on campus to promote a guest speaker, Dr. Wilkerson, evangelist and founder of “Teen Challenge”. He filed a complaint of discrimination in the provision of services on the basis of creed.  The Director of Student Services admitted that he had personal prejudices against Sonnenberg’s creed but that these discriminatory attitudes did not affect his decision not to rent the facilities to him. Rather, he was operating in accordance with facilities rental policy of the Université de Moncton. According to this policy, each campus has the authority to control the general public’s access to its premises based on an assessment off the effect of the event on the student population. If the campus had reason to believe that a group might “bother or involve the students”, then it could refuse to rent premises to that group on that basis. The University told the Board of Inquiry that an incident in 1979, in which a member of a religious group stripped the university chapel of its contents, led to the elaboration of a room rental policy in 1982 which granted authority to each campus to control the public’s access to its premises (38883). . Sonnenberg v. Centre universitaire St-Louis-Maillet (1987) 9 C.H.R.R. D/5100 (N.B. Bd. Inq.)  

Question

Does the University’s facilities rental policy constitute discrimination on the basis of creed?

Decision

No

Reasoning

The University has a human rights obligation to offer facilities to members of its own limited public (registered students) but not to members of the general public (non-students). Although the Board found that the director of Student’s services personal prejudices to be unfortunate, it ruled that the Human Rights Act does not apply to this case: "Here I regretfully conclude that the appellant’s claim must surely founder. No matter how I strain to extend the meaning of the clear words used, I find it impossible to conclude that facilities provided by a private university for students that it has chosen to admit to the university can be considered facilities which are “customarily provided” to members of the public off facilities to which “members of the public have access.” The facilities are not provided for the public at large but are provided only for the registered students off the university. A member of the public has no right of access, unless he is a student, to athletic ort other facilities of a university, or to be considered for participation in university athletics.  Similarly, accommodation in university residences or restaurant or other services in university buildings are not “customarily provided to members of the public nor do members of the public have access to them"

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000