Eadie and Thomas v. Riverbend Bed and Breakfast and Others, British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, Canada (17 July 2012)
Shaun Eadie and Brian Thomas filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal alleging that Riverbend Bed and Breakfast and its owners Susan and Les Molnar had discriminated against them on the basis of their sexual orientation.
The Molnars, who are evangelical Christians, own and run a bed and breakfast. The Riverbend was not exclusively advertised to Christians, but some of its advertising used a Christian fish symbol. Eadie and Thomas made a reservation but the Molnars cancelled the reservation when they learned that the two were a same-sex couple.
Whether Eadie and Thomas had been discriminated against in violation of the British Columbia Human Rights Code.
British Columbia Human Rights Code, Section 8 (prohibiting discrimination in public accommodation on a number of grounds including sexual orientation).
Egan v. Canada, Supreme Court of Canada, 1995 (establishing that sexual orientation constituted a prohibited ground of discrimination under Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms).
Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers, Supreme Court of Canada, 2001 (dissent of Justice L’Heureux-Dubé rejecting distinction between sexual orientation and conduct).
British Columbia (Public Service Employee Relations Commission) v. British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union (“Meiorin”), Supreme Court of Canada, 1999 (establishing three-part test for bona fide and reasonable justification).
Smith and Chymyshyn v . Knights of Columbus and others, British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal (2005)
In the Matter of Marriage Commissioners Appointed Under the Marriage Act, Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, Canada (10 January 2011) (holding that marriage commissioners, when performing their public duty, could not refuse to perform same-sex marriages, even f such a marriage was inconsistent with their personal religious belief).
Reasoning of the Court
The Molnars maintained that they did not object to Edie and Thomas on the basis of their sexual orientation but rather on the basis of their sexual behavior. The Tribunal found this distinction unsupported by the facts or the law. Instead, the Tribunal found, the Complainants were denied a service because of their sexual orientation. The question was then whether the Molnars had a bona fide and reasonable justification.
Under the three-part test established by the Supreme Court in Meiorin, the Molnars had to prove that:
(1) they adopted a standard for a purpose or goal that is rationally connected to the function being performed;
(2) they adopted a standard in good faith, in the believe that it is necessary to the fulfillment of the purpose or goal; and
(3) the standard they adopted is reasonably necessary to accomplish their purpose or goal, in the sense that they cannot accommodate persons with the characteristics of the claimant without incurring undue hardship.
The Molnars argued that they were evangelical Christians whose beliefs prohibited them from permitting certain conduct that they considered immoral to occur in their home. They further contended that the refusal to rent a room to the Complainants was rationally connected to their religious belief and that they could not be compelled by the state to act in a manner inconsistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs
The Complainants distinguished the facts from Knights and Trinity on the ground that those cases involved religious organizations with a mandate to advance their religious values. According to the Complainants, the Molnars failed the first prong of the test in that they could not show that the refusal to accommodate them was necessary to the function of the Riverbend Bed and Breakfast.
The Tribunal agreed. It found that the Molnars were a private couple operating the bed and breakfast as a for-profit business that was open to the general public. Thus the facts were unlike the Knights of Columbus case. The Tribunal stated: “It was the Molnars’ personal and voluntary choice to operate a business in their home that offered temporary accommodation to the general public. . . . I am not persuaded that the standard of restricting accommodation in single bed rooms to married heterosexual couples was adopted for a purpose or goal that was rationally connected to the Riverbend’s function, which was to offer temporary accommodation to the general public. The standard was rationally connected to the Molnar’s personal religious beliefs, but not to the function or purpose of the Riverbend.”
Considering nevertheless the second and third prongs of the test, the Tribunal determined that the Molnars did not accommodate the Complainants “to the point of undue hardship.” The Molnars did not offer alternative accommodation.
Under the “spectrum” analysis adopted in Knights of Columbus, the Tribunal found that the facts fell “more toward the commercial end of the spectrum.” In this regard, it was significant that the Molnars made a “personal and voluntary choice to start up a business in their personal residence. In this respect, the Molnars were not compelled by the state to act in a manner inconsistent with their personal religious views.” Instead the Molnars, having “entered into the commercial sphere . . . were required to comply with the laws of the Province.”
The Tribunal ordered the Molnars to pay damages and costs and ordered them to cease and desist the discriminatory conduct and to refrain from committing the same or similar conduct.