Ontario rights tribunal finds landlord violated tenants’ religious rights

Tribunal finds landlord violated tenants' religious rights

TORONTO — A landlord who repeatedly ignored his tenants’ requests to respect their prayer times and remove his shoes in their prayer space violated their religious rights, Ontario’s human rights tribunal has ruled.

John Alabi is facing a $12,000 fine after the decision, which found he discriminated against his tenants on the grounds of their Muslim faith.

The decision handed down from tribunal adjudicator Jo-Anne Pickel outlines a turbulent tenancy for Walid Madkour and Heba Ismail, who rented a unit from Alabi for less than three months after moving to Toronto from Montreal.

The issues that came before the tribunal all took place in January and February 2015 — the time between when both parties mutually agreed to terminate the lease and the day the couple moved out.

Conflicts centred around requests the couple had made while Alabi was trying to show their unit to prospective tenants.

Alabi told the tribunal he felt Madkour and Ismail were imposing their way of life on him, a claim flatly rejected in Pickel’s decision.

“Unfortunately, attempts by Muslims to practice their faith have increasingly been interpreted as an attempt to impose their way of life on others,” Pickel wrote.

“There was absolutely no evidence that the applicants’ requests for additional notice and for the removal of shoes in this case were an attempt by them to impose their way of life on the respondent or anyone else. 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.”

Between late January and late February 2015, Alabi had agreed to give the couple 24-hours notice if someone was planning to view the apartment, in accordance with Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act.

Madkour and Ismail, however, asked for additional notice up to an hour before Alabi planned to enter the apartment.

While they did not disclose the religious grounds for their request at first, they eventually explained that they wanted to be certain the visits did not coincide with prayer times designated by the Qur’an, the tribunal heard. As practising Muslims, both Madkour and Ismail pray five times a day during designated time periods.

Ismail also wanted to have enough time to ensure she was wearing her hijab and other “modest attire” in order to comply with another tenet of her faith, the tribunal heard.

Alabi frequently denied these requests or provided only momentary notice via text message before entering the apartment, the tribunal heard.

Once inside, another bone of contention often arose when Madkour or Ismail would request that people remove their shoes before walking through the unit.

The Qur’an states that the area in which prayers are conducted must be clean, the tribunal said, adding that potential contamination would result in extra work to cleanse the area.

In video evidence shown to the tribunal, Pickel said the couple is heard asking Alabi and a prospective tenant to remove their shoes before entering the bedroom, which they used as their prayer space.

Pickel’s decision said the video shows the prospective tenant wearing only socks, but clearly shows Alabi walking through the bedroom in shoes despite protests from Ismail, who is heard telling him that wearing footwear in the area is disrespectful.

Alabi told the tribunal that he ignored her request in order to avoid making a scene in front of the tenant and because he felt her stance was propaganda designed to make him look bad.

Pickel took a different view.

“I fail to see how such a request would make the respondent look bad if he complied with it,” she wrote. “If anything, it was the respondent’s non-compliance with the request that made him look bad in front of prospective tenants.”

She also pointed to some text messages sent to Madkour in response to his request for additional notice before an apartment viewing. One of those messages read “Welcome to Ontario, Canada,” prompting Pickel to find that Alabi was not respectful of the couple’s religious rights under the Human Rights Code.

She ordered Alabi to pay Madkour and Ismail $6,000 each, as well as to take an online course on human rights and rental housing.

A paralegal representing Alabi said he is disappointed with the tribunal’s decision and is considering an appeal.

Peta-Gaye Drummond said Alabi insists that none of his actions or omissions were motivated by the couple’s religion.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Second puppy killed by poisonous mushrooms in Victoria

Springer spaniel puppy died after consuming mushrooms in Fairfield neighbourhood

Western Speedway racing legend ‘The Flying Plumber’ turns 98

Dave Cooper recalls car crashes, his first win, and more

Driver charged in Central Saanich pedestrian’s death appears in court

Victim Kim Ward, 51, died on scene at the August 2018 crash

Nuisance tree will remain on perimeter of Fireman’s Park

Council re-affirm pledge to protecting healthy tree canopy

Saanich safety upgrades, bike lane extension on Finnerty Road near completion

Raised instersection and sidewalks part of safety improvements near UVic

WATCH: Greater Victoria’s top stories of the day

A round-up of the day’s top stories

POLL: Do you think the day of the federal election should be a statutory holiday?

Increasing voter turnout has long been a goal of officials across the… Continue reading

Fatal overdoses down by 33% in B.C., but carfentanil deaths continue to spike

Carfentanil, an illicit drug more powerful than fentanyl, causing more deaths than ever

Two RCMP vehicles vandalized in Duncan over long weekend

Local Mounties asking for help in finding culprits

A year after pot legalization in Canada, it’s a slow roll

It’s one year into Canada’s experiment in legal marijuana, and hundreds of legal pot shops have opened

ELECTION 2019: Climate strikes push environment to top of mind for federal leaders

Black Press Media presents a three-part series on three big election issues

Tickets available for Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame dinner and induction

Ryan Cochrane, Mike Piechnick and Rob Short among the inductees

Most Read