Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Losing the war

*** Note that this post has been rewritten and shortened after I realized that I didn't have the Tribunal's ruling down correctly. I came across a better story in the paper at work today and the link I used last night seems to have had new details added to it that made the changes necessary. Oh Canada...
"Actually, my clients had no idea who the Knights of Columbus were. They had never heard of them and were completely shocked that this erstwhile bingo hall was turning them down," she said. The hall where the couple booked their reception had a "bingo" sign outside. Though findlay and her clients are "jubilant" that they won the ruling, the legal challenge may not be over. "For gay and lesbian people, we are going to need to study this judgment in detail. While my clients won their case, it currently appears that if the Knights of Columbus had found them another hall, the tribunal would have agreed that they could refuse the rental to my clients," findlay said. "So one way of characterizing it is that we won the battle but we lost the war."
This ruling by the BC Human Rights Tribunal says that that Knights of Columbus (KoC) had a legal obligation to find a lesbian couple another hall for their reception. They had this obligation because the couple - if the story of the mistaken rental isn't a complete fabrication - was too lazy and / or stupid to do any research into who they were dealing with. It seems neither the couple nor the Tribunal has heard of Google. By this logic, the next time a police officer pulls you over and asks you if you know what the speed limit is, an answer of "no" will get you off the hook and a cheque for $1000 to compensate for police harassment. Brilliant. When has ignorance been acceptable as grounds for a lawsuit? Decisions like this run the risk of having facilities like the Knights' hall closed to the public, thereby harming the public good by diminishing the facilities available to it. The details of this story are no longer fresh in my mind but I recall that the Knights did recognize that they had a good samaritan sort of moral duty to the couple and they responded to it by refunding the downpayment and more if my memory is any good. The couple took the money and sued for their "rights" anyway. I say "rights" with quotes because the Knights have rights too, rights to religious freedom that are plainly found in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms under "Fundamental Rights." The Tribunal thankfully did uphold the Knights' right to refrain from being accessory to something they object to on religious grounds. Rather than be thankful they were awarded $1,000 for being ignorant, the couple has taken the view that the ruling says it is "Ok for the Knights to discriminate as long as they do it politely." The financial award is a headscratcher but the decision to let the Knights decide who can use their hall is undeniably correct. It takes some chutzpah to get a ruling like this and still complain that you're being victimized. But then the lesbian couple's lawyer thinks that capital letters are oppressive. What they want, it seems, is the ability to use the force of the law to gain access to private property and if you think by that I simply mean a Hall available for public rental, think again. Nor do I mean the ability to use the force of the law to gain access to private worship spaces. No, I mean that they hope to force entry into your very mind itself, and failing that (as they can only fail given the hubris of the idea), force you into the smallest possible physical space and humiliate you. See the end of this National Post editorial.

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