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B.C. massage school director who asked client if he was Muslim fined $12K

School’s director emailed the man prior to his appointment to ‘certify’ his religion
Joyce Middleton, the director of a northern B.C. massage school, must pay a Muslim man $12,000 after emailing him to confirm he was was not of the Islamic faith prior to his appointment, the B.C Human Rights Tribunal has decided. (Canadian Press photo)

The director of a northern B.C. massage school must pay a Muslim man $12,000 after emailing him to confirm he was was not of the Islamic faith prior to his appointment.

Majid Shahadat, who booked the massage appointment in 2019, was seeking an award between $20,000 and $25,000 through the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. He said he has experienced discrimination before, but nothing to that level and it was shocking for him to learn after 25 years in Canada that “there were people with such strong, wrong viewpoints.”

In her Jan. 10 decision – which was only released publicly on April 17 – tribunal member Devyn Cousineau said as a result of the school director’s discriminatory views, Shahadat was denied access to a service based on his religion, place of origin, ancestry, and colour.

She said she had no difficulty finding that the services were denied for reasons connected to his religion, place of origin, ancestry, and colour.

“Though his religion is clearly the primary issue, his experience cannot be disentangled from his identity as a brown Muslim man with Arab and Indian origins,” Cousineau wrote in her decision.

Shahadat had booked lymphatic drainage massage appointment online with the Northern School of Massage in Fort St. John in 2019. He input information about himself, including his phone number, email and name and received an appointment confirmation the same day.

However, that night the director of the school, Joyce Middleton, emailed Shahadat back to “certify” he was not of the Islamic faith, “which as you know has earned a bad reputation for raping and killing of infidels in Canada and elsewhere.”

“I apologize, this is not meant to be offensive, but I have to be watchful over my students as I am sure you will be able to understand,” Middleton wrote.

Three days later, Middleton followed up in a second email to say the school wouldn’t be accepting any new male clients because the school needed to “protect our students, who happen to be all girls at this time.”

She then directed Shahadat to a male massage therapist.

When Middleton initially denied the service, Cousineau said Middleton only suspected Shahadat may be Muslim based on his name. That suspicion was confirmed after he filed the complaint.

Cousineau said Middleton feared Shahadat for the sole reason that she perceived him to be a Muslim man, and that through the tribunal process Middleton has continued to “reiterate the basis of those fears, which are rooted in invidious and harmful stereotypes about Muslim people.”

Part of Middleton’s “defence” included on relying on misinformation that appeared to be from far-right, anti-Muslim websites, Cousineau said, adding that it “rests on stereotype and the vilification of all Muslim people, particularly Muslim men.”

Middleton chose not to participate in the virtual hearing, but instead asked the tribunal to consider a written statement.

Cousineau ordered Middleton to pay Shahadat $10,000 as compensation for injury to his dignity, feelings. and self-respect, as well as $2,500 as costs for improper conduct.

The $2,500, Cousineau said, is because Middleton has had multiple opportunities to stop pursuing anti-Muslim defences to Shahadat, but has “nevertheless persisted, and escalated to threatening scurrilous legal action” against him.