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Queen's University
 

Pieters v. Peel Law Association

Pieters v. Peel Law Association [2010] HRTO 2411.

Facts

The Peel Law Association runs the A. Grenville and William Davis courthouse in Brampton, Ontario.  The Association has a policy restricting access to certain areas of the courthouse, including its lounge and library. In these areas, only lawyers are permitted access; members of the public and paralegals are a not allowed in. To enforce this policy, copies of which are posted on the doors to the lounge/library, a certain number of librarians are authorized to ask unknown persons for identification. These librarians regularly screen persons in the library and lounge who are unknown to them.

On the date in question, the personal respondent (an employee authorized to enforce the access policy) was walking through the lounge on her way to the robing room to investigate a report of an unknown person. She deviated from this task when she saw three black men sitting in the lounge. She approached the men and asked them, one at a time, to state and then prove their professional status.  A heated argument ensued, in which Mr. Pieters, who had been in the middle of a phone call, announced to his caller that he was being subjected to an act of racial profiling. When asked by the complainants why she was asking them for ID, she stated that paralegals were not allowed in the lounge; when asked why she was targeting only black people, she falsely responded that she knew that everyone else in the lounge were lawyers.  Four persons who were unknown to the personal respondent and who had witnessed the interaction with the complainants all produced ID in anticipation that they, too, might be asked for it. The respondent was so shaken by the angry confrontation with the respondents that she did not confirm that their ID was credible. The Tribunal found that her approach was “aggressive”, “blunt”, “demanding”, “abrupt”, “offensive” and “demanding” and that the overall experience of the respondents was “demeaning”.

Following this conversation, the librarian accompanied Mr. Pieters to the courtroom in order to retrieve one of his business cards. Later that day, following a meeting in which the personal respondent made an incident report to the PLA Board of Directors, additional signage was posted in the areas around the lounge and library alerting persons to the admissibility policy.

The Respondents (PLA) argued that the librarian did not discriminate against the applicants because:

  1. She did not address Mr. Pieters, who was on the phone
  2. She was concerned that the applicants were the persons who had wrongfully re-arranged furniture earlier that day
  3. She routinely and legitimately questioned unknown persons in the lounge

 Issues

  1. “Based on the evidentiary findings set out above, is there a sufficient basis to conclude the applicants’ race and colour was a factor in the personal respondent’s decision to approach and question the applicants in the manner she did”?  [81]
  2. Were the applicants’ race and colour a factor in any of the respondents’ subsequent actions?” [81]

Decisions

  1. Yes
  2. No

Reasoning

  1.  The Tribunal used the following standards, taken from the Phipps v. Toronto Police Services Board [2009] to make its determination of racial discrimination:
  • The prohibited ground or grounds of discrimination need not be the sole or major factor leading to the discriminatory conduct; it is sufficient if they are a factor;
  • There is no need to establish an intention or motivation to discriminate; the focus of the enquiry is on the effect of the respondent’s actions on the complainant;
  • The prohibited ground or grounds need not be the cause of the respondent’s discriminatory conduct; it is sufficient if they are a factor or operative element;
  • There need be no direct evidence of discrimination; discrimination will more often be proven by circumstantial evidence and inference; and
  • Racial stereotyping will usually be the result of the subtle unconscious beliefs, biases and prejudices.

It also referred to the following words from the Nassiah v. Peel [2007] case:

 I find the racial profiling social science evidence is relevant because it speaks to, not just the initial decision to stop, detain, pursue an investigation, but also supports the general phenomenon that the scrutiny applied to the subsequent investigation is different, more heightened, more suspicious, if the suspect is Black. The stereotyping phenomenon is the same, whether it manifests itself in the discretion to stop/arrest/detain a person in part because they are Black, or whether it manifests itself in the form of greater suspicion, scrutiny, investigation in whole or part because a suspect is Black.

Lack of a persuasive non-discriminatory reason

The Tribunal found that the applicants had made a prima facie case of discrimination: the personal respondent singled out and aggressively questionned three black men and not other unknown persons. The PLA's arguments in defense of the personal respondent were either incorrect (the respondent did speak to Mr. Pieters), or unsupported (the librarian never testified that she linked the respondents with the persons who had re-arranged furniture) or untenable (if the librarian was on the way to a different room to investigate another unknown persons report then why did she stop to speak to the three respondents)?  Furthermore, the explanation provided by the personal respondent (she knew everyone else in the room to be lawyers) was shown to be false (there were at least three other unknown persons in the lounge). The Tribunal stated that it was "the lack of a persuasive non-discriminatory reason for the questioning of the applicants provided either at the time of the incident or at the hearing leads me to conclude that the personal respondent's decision to question the applicants was indeed tainted by considerations of their race and colour". (90).

Manner in which the questioning took place

The Tribunal found that "the way in which the personal applicant approached the applicants and the blunt and demanding manner in which she asked her questions was not how she would approach and question persons that she imagined were lawyers and had a right to be in the lounge, and [it] was prepared to draw the inference that the way in which she interacted with the applicants was tainted by consideration of their race and colour". (91)

2. The subsequent actions (following Mr. Pieters to the courtroom in order to get his business card and posting additional signage re. the admissions policy) were ruled to be non-discriminatory because the respondents provided persuasive non-discriminatory reasons for each one.  In the first case, the librarian was eager to determine Mr. Pieters' identification because she was worried about the incident that had just happened, especially about the accusations of racial profiling, and knew she would have to report what had happened to the Board of Directors, which would want to know Pieters' professional status. Secondly, the PLA argued that it posted additional signage after the incident in order to alert more people to the admissions policy so they would be aware they might be questioned and asked for ID.

Order

Both the personal respondent (the librarian) and the corporate respondent (PLA)  were ordered to pay $2000 to each of the applicants "for violation of their inherent right to be free from discrimination and for injury to their dignity, feelings and self-respect".

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000