The BC Human Rights Tribunal has agreed to allow, in part, the BC Humanist Association (BCHA) to intervene on a complaint filed by the White Rock Pride Society against the Star of the Sea Catholic Parish.
In the summer of 2019, the White Rock Pride Society filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal, alleging discrimination by the Star of the Sea Parish on the basis of sexual orientation.
Earlier that year, Pride Society president Ernie Klassen told Peace Arch News that his organization felt discriminated against because Star of the Sea would not rent its community centre to the society for a “Love is Love” pride event.
Archbishop delegate James Borkowski told PAN that same year that the decision to deny the event application was made because the event would be contrary to the teachings on faith and morals of the Catholic church.
On Tuesday, (Feb. 2), the tribunal granted an application by the BCHA to intervene on the matter, which was opposed by the parish. The society didn’t take a position on the application.
While the tribunal has allowed the application, it did not do so in full.
According to the submission, the BCHA is an “independent, non-partisan, registered charity that provides a community for the non-religious and campaigns for progressive secular values.”
The BCHA also works “to promote progressive values, secularism and works to end religious privilege and discrimination based on religion and belief.”
The organization identified a number of issues of interest pertaining to the Pride Society complaint, including “the substance of the right to freedom of religion in a commercial or quasi-commercial context; how freedom of religion should be balanced with the right to be free from discrimination, particularly in the commercial realm; and the extent to which a discriminating party may rely on stereotypes, misconceptions and/or its own inaccurate perception of a group’s purpose, in order to justify discriminating against that group.”
In the decision, tribunal member Emily Ohler agreed with arguments made by the Star of the Sea that some of the submissions proposed by the BCHA are beyond the scope of the complaint and would have the potential to shift the focus away from the two parties involved.
“In particular, submissions on the right to be free from religion and on protections for or the viewpoint of atheists, agnostics and the non-religious are not clearly tethered to the issues raised by the Complaint nor likely to usefully contribute to the resolution of the issue that is,” Ohler wrote.
The BCHA also proposed to put forward a framework of understanding that allows for both freedoms to flourish to fullest extent possible, helping foster a pluralistic society where citizens with all manners of beliefs can coexist peacefully.
“This, in my view, is too vague and broad to ground in the specific facts within which the issues in this Complaint live. It is unclear to me how such a broad and conceptual submission could be of assistance to the Tribunal here,” Ohler wrote.
However, the BCHA said that the substance of its submissions will focus on the extent to which one can rely on freedom of religion to justify discrimination when participating in the public, commercial sphere.
“On this, I am satisfied that the BCHA is likely to make a useful contribution to the resolution of the issues raised in the complaint,” Ohler wrote.
While Ohler declined to allow the BCHA to lead evidence, she wrote that she is of the view that written closing submissions are sufficient for the BCHA to bring its submissions on the question at issue.
“In all of the circumstances, I exercise my discretion to grant the application in part. I have placed appropriate limits on the scope of BCHA’s participation,” Ohler wrote.
In conclusion, the BCHA was granted leave to file written submissions at the close of the hearing, not to exceed 10 pages in length. The scope of BCHA’s submissions is limited to the issue of the parameters of freedom of religion when offering services to the public; and it does not have standing to take part in any procedural matters before the Tribunal without leave of the Tribunal.