The Star Reports: Tenants’ religious rights violated by Brampton landlord who refused to remove shoes

A human rights tribunal has awarded $12,000 to a Muslim couple, who claimed their landlord failed to accommodate their religious practices.

Walid Madkour says he and his wife are relieved their human rights case is over. “Being different is nothing to be ashamed of,” he says. (WALID MADKOUR)

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has awarded $12,000 to a Muslim couple, who claimed their landlord failed to accommodate their prayer times and notify the wife when she was home alone before bringing in prospective new tenants for apartment viewings.

The respondent discriminated against the applicants by failing to accommodate their religious practices relating to prayer times by providing advance notice shortly before showing the apartment,” tribunal panel vice-chair Jo-Anne Pickel wrote in a recent 38-page decision. “He also failed to accommodate their religious practices by refusing to remove his shoes when entering their apartment and especially their prayer space. Finally, he also harassed them, at least in part, because of their religiously-based accommodation requests.

The decision is believed to be the first of its kind from the tribunal with respect to discrimination based on creed and housing.

The overall intake of human rights cases based on creed has been on the rise, up by 13 per cent to 837 last year compared to 741 in 2015. During the same period the number of inquiries specifically about Muslim identity went up by 39 per cent to 196 cases from 141, said the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

Pickel rejected the landlord’s argument that the tenants were attempting to “impose their way of life” on others, ruling that there’s no evidence to support the claim.

“This claim by the respondent echoes arguments that have become common within public discourse. Unfortunately, attempts by Muslims to practice their faith have increasingly been interpreted as an attempt to impose their way of life on others,” wrote Pickel.

“Far from seeking to impose their way of life on anyone, the applicants were merely making simple requests for the accommodation of their religious practices.”

According to the tribunal, Walid Madkour and Heba Ismail, who immigrated to Canada from Egypt, moved into their Brampton apartment in December 2014 and agreed a month later to move out of the unit by Feb. 28, 2015 due to issues with the temperature of the apartment, the use of the internet and the request for a quiet environment at night.

The human rights complaint was based on the events and correspondence between the couple and the landlord when the landlord started planning viewings of the apartment to prospective tenants in late February 2015.

Despite repeated requests by Madkour for an additional five-minute warning so his wife had time to put on modest attire before the viewings, the landlord John Alabi — a Christian, according to the ruling — would only provide blocks of time that prospective tenants would be coming, with 24 hours’ notice.

The tribunal found Alabi discriminated against the couple when he failed to comply with their request that he remove his shoes when he entered their apartment and especially when he entered the prayer space in the bedroom, which must be kept “free of any contamination, including any discharge from humans or animals.”

Although the landlord insisted he was wearing indoor shoes and that he had removed rubber coverings on the shoes when he entered the couple’s apartment, that was disputed by the couple, who videotaped Alabi during one of the viewings.

On the video, the tribunal said, Ismail could be heard telling Alabi he should remove his shoes as she and her husband prayed in the bedroom, adding that it was disrespectful and an act of racism not to do so. However, the respondent could be seen wearing shoes on the video whereas the prospective tenant was in socks, noted the tribunal.

“The respondent’s refusal to remove the shoes when walking into the applicants’ prayer space represented vexatious conduct linked to the applicants’ religion that was known to be unwelcome,” said the tribunal.

“There is no doubt that the respondent knew that the conduct was unwelcome as the applicants told him so a number of times.”

Peta-Gaye Drummond, Alabi’s counsel, said her client was disappointed at the tribunal decision, feeling it was unjust.

“He has maintained that the accusations against him arise out of misunderstanding. In his 15 years as a landlord, he has rented to so many people from different ethnic origins and has not had this kind of dispute being labelled a discriminator,” she said. “He was sympathetic to the tenants, but maintains his innocence.”

Drummond said her client is considering filing a request for reconsideration to the tribunal, which must be submitted in 30 days.

In an interview, Madkour said he and his wife never intended to create trouble or inconvenience, and are relieved the case is over.

“I feel the page is closed. It was a painful experience for my wife. We just wanted to forget about the case and move on,” said Madkour, who along with his wife has since moved to a different city.

“We are happy with the tribunal decision because it proved that if you are genuine, you get your rights. We didn’t do anything wrong. Being different is nothing to be ashamed of.”

Ismail, who immigrated to Canada in 2012, said she and her husband had not experienced discrimination and racism in the country.

“It was not about money,” she said. “We don’t want anyone in the future to have the same experience. No one should be able to get away with it.”

Alabi has also been ordered to take the Ontario Rights Commission’s online courses, “Human Rights in Rental Housing” and “Policy on Human Rights and Rental Housing,” within 30 days.

Source: thestar.com | Tenants’ religious rights violated by Brampton landlord who refused to remove shoes | By Nicholas Keung | Immigration reporter | Tues., May 2, 2017

Related: Madkour v. Alabi, 2017 HRTO 436 (CanLII) read here

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