Le Québec semble bien gérer les questions d’accommodements raisonnables

I tend to share the assessment that the drop in numbers reflects that public and private organizations are dealing with requests on their own, with no need to refer cases to the Commission:

Les demandes de conseils sur les accommodements raisonnables de type religieux sont en baisse depuis deux ans à la Commission des droits de la personne (CDPDJ) et sont désormais supplantées par les demandes faites par les personnes handicapées.

Entre avril 2015 et mars 2016, le nombre de demandes de conseils reçus est passé à 20 et ce nombre s’est maintenu ces derniers mois. C’est la moitié de ce qu’on observait les années précédentes (40 demandes en moyenne).

Depuis la Commission Bouchard-Taylor, la Commission offre un service-conseil en matière d’accommodements raisonnables de type religieux. Le service s’adresse aux employeurs et aux organismes donnant des services. Les conseils sont donnés à titre indicatif et ne sont, dès lors, pas décisionnels.

La liste des demandes reçues révèle en outre que les congés religieux sont l’enjeu qui génère le plus de questions. Ainsi en 2015-2016, de nombreuses demandes provenaient d’entreprises privées et portaient sur la pratique du ramadan.

Le président d’une compagnie de biocarburant, par exemple, s’inquiétait pour la sécurité parce qu’un de ses employés était affaibli par le jeûne. Chez un fabricant de vêtements de sport, on déplorait que trois employés de la même chaîne de montage aient réclamé des congés en même temps. Au total, huit demandes concernaient la période du ramadan et trois des congés liés à des célébrations juives comme celle du Nouvel An juif en septembre.

Une minorité de demandes étaient toutefois plus complexes comme ce cas d’une étudiante de confession juive qui réclamait du matériel pédagogique non informatisé pour pouvoir se préparer à son examen final pendant le Sabbat.

Un seul cas portait sur le port de signes religieux (le voile) et deux concernaient la tenue de prières musulmanes dans des institutions publiques ou des commerces. Enfin, un employeur a contacté le service à propos d’un employé qui exposait une photo de Jésus « de grande dimension » dans son lieu de travail.

En vertu de la Charte, les accommodements sont un corollaire du droit à l’égalité et les organisations doivent chercher à en offrir à ceux qui le demandent. L’accommodement raisonnable est toutefois balisé par le concept de « contrainte excessive » qui protège l’organisation ou le milieu de travail.

Un bon signe, selon les experts

Cette baisse suggère que les organismes s’en tirent plutôt bien avec ces questions, croit le professeur Marc-Antoine Dilhac, un expert des enjeux d’inclusion rattaché à l’Université de Montréal. « C’est plutôt encourageant, dit-il. Il y a une forme de jurisprudence qui s’est imposée pour des affaires similaires. »

François Rocher, de l’Université d’Ottawa, un spécialiste des enjeux d’immigration, souligne que même à 40 par an, ce sont de petits nombres et que contrairement à certaines perceptions, la « Commission n’est pas submergée de demandes ».

« Mon hypothèse, c’est que les organisations publiques et les entreprises ont bien compris la notion d’accommodements et que la société civile réussit assez bien à s’organiser avec ce problème-là. »

M. Dilhac constate en outre que les questionnements soulevés sont souvent les mêmes et qu’il est dès lors de plus en plus facile pour les employeurs de savoir quoi faire.

Le record de demandes d’avis reçus sur les accommodements religieux a été établi en 2009-2010 avec 52 dossiers contre 29 pour les personnes avec un handicap qui normalement donnent lieu au plus grand nombre de questions.

Cette tendance s’est depuis renversée. Ainsi en 2015-2016, le Service a reçu deux fois plus de demandes pour des accommodements raisonnables touchant des handicaps que pour des accommodements religieux (57 contre 20).

Source: Le Québec semble bien gérer les questions d’accommodements raisonnables | Le Devoir

Muslim Girls in Switzerland Must Attend Swim Classes With Boys, Court Says – The New York Times

Good in-depth report on the decision and the accommodations that were offered, along with other examples where European countries are inflexible on accommodation issues.

Overly rigid approach IMO:

In 2008, school officials in Basel, Switzerland, ordered a Muslim couple to enroll their daughters in a mandatory swimming class, despite the parents’ objections to having their girls learn alongside boys.

The officials offered the couple some accommodations: The girls, 9 and 7 at the time, could wear body-covering swimsuits, known as burkinis, during the swimming lessons, and they could undress for the class without any boys present.

But the parents refused to send their daughters to the lessons, and in 2010, the officials imposed a fine of 1,400 Swiss francs, about $1,380. The parents, Aziz Osmanoglu and Sehabat Kocabas, who have both Swiss and Turkish nationality, decided to sue.

On Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the Swiss officials’ decision, rejecting the parents’ argument that the Swiss authorities had violated the “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, which the court enforces.

“The public interest in following the full school curriculum should prevail over the applicants’ private interest in obtaining an exemption from mixed swimming lessons for their daughters,” the court found.

The case was the latest to pit freedom of religion against the imperative of social integration, and to raise the question of whether — and how much — a government should accommodate the religious views of Muslim citizens and residents, many of them immigrants.

The ruling could set an important precedent in other cases in which religious and secular values or norms come into conflict.

The decision comes as Europe has been struggling to integrate migrants, many from majority-Muslim countries where religious and social mores, particularly around gender and sexuality, can be at odds with liberal and secular norms of the societies where they have sought refuge.

Far-right political parties with anti-immigrant bents, from the National Front in France to the Danish People’s Party in Denmark and the Swiss People’s Party in Switzerland, have argued that too many Muslims have not managed to assimilate.

In May, the authorities in the canton of Basel-Landschaft — which is next to the canton of Basel-Stadt, where the swimming case occurred — ruled that two Syrian immigrant brothers, who studied at a public school in the small town of Therwil, could not refuse to shake their teacher’s hand on religious grounds. Their refusal to do so had provoked a national uproar.

The challenge of integrating immigrants has spilled over into culture, and, at times, helped fan a simmering culture war. In Denmark, pork meatballs and other pork dishes that are popular staples became part of a debate on national identity last year after the central Danish town of Randers voted in January to require public day care centers and kindergartens to include the meat on their lunch menus.

Supporters of the proposal said that serving traditional Danish food such as pork was essential to help preserve national identity. Critics said the proposal did nothing more than stigmatize Muslims, who had made no attempts to ban pork from school menus.

Germany was shaken during New Year’s Eve in Cologne in 2015 when young men, many of them of North African origin, committed sexual assaults during the street celebrations there. The attacks became an uncomfortable symbol of the challenges of integration in the country.

In France, the clash between secularism and religious conservatism came into sharp relief this summer when nearly 30 towns, mainly in the country’s southeast, introduced burkini bans, suggesting that the garments impinged upon French culture and way of life.

In the case of the swimming classes in Switzerland, the authorities ruled that lessons mixing boys and girls were an important part of the school curriculum; they did allow that the girls could apply for an exemption on religious grounds, but only if they had gone through puberty, which was not the case for the daughters of Mr. Osmanoglu and Ms. Kocabas.

The parents argued that even though the Quran does not require girls’ bodies to be covered until puberty, “their belief commanded them to prepare their daughters for the precepts that would be applied to them from puberty” onward, according to the court’s summary of the case.

The decision, by a chamber of seven judges, did not dispute that the denial of the parents’ request interfered with their religious freedom, but it emphasized that the need for social cohesion and integration trumped the family’s wishes. The court also noted that schools play “a special role in the process of social integration, particularly where children of foreign origin were concerned,” and that, as such, ensuring the girls’ “successful social integration according to local customs and mores” took precedence over religious concerns.

The parents have three months to appeal the court’s decision. Representatives of the family could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

In Switzerland, politicians and civic groups across the political spectrum welcomed the ruling, calling it an important validation of the supremacy of secularism and the rule of law, even as some Muslims complained that it reflected growing intolerance for religious minorities.

“The swimming pool verdict unfortunately is what we expected,” Qaasim Illi, a board member of the Swiss Central Islamic Council, wrote on Twitter. “Tolerance toward the religious is diminishing throughout Europe.”

Port de Montréal: la sécurité avant la liberté religieuse, tranche un juge

While decision is likely to be appealed, it is a good example of how reasonable accommodation is applied, including its limits:

Trois sikhs coiffés de turbans, qui estimaient être victimes de discrimination en raison de l’obligation de porter un casque de sécurité au port de Montréal, viennent de perdre leur bataille devant la Cour supérieure. Le juge André Prévost a donné son approbation aux règles qui prévalent sur les quais, jugeant que la sécurité des travailleurs devait ici supplanter leur liberté de religion. Julius Grey, qui défendait les travailleurs, évoque déjà un appel.

Qu’a décidé le juge Prévost ?

Dans une décision de 57 pages, datée d’hier, le magistrat a d’abord indiqué que le fait d’appliquer aux sikhs l’obligation de porter un casque viole leur liberté de religion prévue par la Charte canadienne des droits et constitue de la discrimination. Contrairement à leurs collègues chrétiens, musulmans ou juifs, « il leur est personnellement impossible de respecter l’obligation de porter le casque protecteur sans contrevenir à leurs croyances religieuses », reconnaît la décision.

Toutefois, cette violation est permise « en regard du bien-être général et de la sécurité des citoyens du Québec, vu les risques importants de blessures à la tête existant pour les camionneurs » circulant au port, a écrit le juge Prévost. En conséquence, il l’a approuvée.

Quelle situation a mené au conflit ?

Trois camionneurs de confession sikhe contestaient les règles de sécurité des entreprises portuaires qui gèrent les conteneurs destinés à prendre la mer. Les routiers se rendaient de temps à autre au port pour livrer de la marchandise. En 2005, à la suite d’un accident de travail, le port du casque est devenu obligatoire sur les quais. Les travailleurs sikhs voulaient être exemptés du port du casque. Selon eux, « aucune étude ne démontre un risque de blessure à la tête » pour les travailleurs dans leur situation.

Qu’en est-il des accommodements raisonnables ?

La décision d’hier rapporte qu’un accommodement raisonnable avait été mis en place entre 2005 et 2008 : les camionneurs sikhs demeuraient en tout temps dans l’habitacle de leur camion – échappant ainsi à l’obligation de porter le casque – et des employés venaient à leur rencontre. Mais l’accommodement fâchait à la fois les camionneurs et leurs clients.

« Au lieu de nous servir comme les autres camionneurs, on nous fait attendre pendant des heures sur certains terminaux. Et ça, c’est si on accepte de nous servir. C’est de la discrimination. On nous traite comme des citoyens de deuxième classe », a expliqué à l’époque Harvirender Singh Clair à La Presse. M. Singh Clair était l’un des demandeurs dans la cause. Du côté des entreprises, on évoquait sa « non-viabilité tant du point de vue organisationnel qu’économique », rapporte la décision de justice.

Source: Port de Montréal: la sécurité avant la liberté religieuse, tranche un juge | Philippe Teisceira-Lessard | Actualités judiciaires

Toronto school [Thorncliffe Park] offers sanitized sex-ed amid parent concern

Seems like an accommodation that preserves the essence of the curriculum while addressing parental sensitivities:

An alternative to Ontario’s updated health curriculum is being offered by the Toronto elementary school that found itself at the centre of the sex-education controversy — with Grade 1 students having the option to learn about “private parts” instead of proper names for genitalia.

Thorncliffe Park Principal Jeff Crane said because a number of parents had concerns about their children being taught the words penis and vagina, the school decided to offer a class where teachers covered the key issue of inappropriate touching without being specific about body parts, a move meant to keep kids in school this week and at least learn some of the curriculum.

About 60 per cent of the 300 students in that grade were taught the proper curriculum, the remaining 40 per cent the sanitized version.

“We let parents know ahead of time when the health strands for human development were being taught and, for Grade 1, that there would be one lesson where there would be discussion of body parts … They were told if learning the names of genitalia was a concern, they could write me a letter requesting a religious accommodation,” said Crane, whose school is located in the riding represented by Premier Kathleen Wynne, who championed the updated health curriculum.

Parents were told “the lesson would be exactly the same, but instead of using proper terms like penis and vagina, we would use the term ‘private parts.’ The key learning in that expectation is that this is a part of your body always covered with clothes, nobody touches it and you don’t show anybody. We were able to maintain the integrity of the expectation with a very simple accommodation.”

Last September, Thorncliffe Park school was hit by protests — which saw hundreds of children pulled out of school because of the sex-ed curriculum — where parents set up their own classes in the adjacent park. Even weeks later, when that protest ended, enrolment remained lower than expected. But now, it has rebounded and sits at 1,310 students, down from the projected 1,350.

Crane said he held 20 sessions with more than 650 parents to go over the curriculum and to counter misinformation circulating in the community, which has a large Muslim population.

He said he expects to offer modified lessons to students in Grades 4 and 5, when puberty and menstruation are among the topics covered.

Source: Toronto school offers sanitized sex-ed amid parent concern | Toronto Star

Forcing Jewish hair stylist to take Saturdays off is grounds for rights complaint: Quebec commission

Interesting case:

Quebec’s Human Rights Commission has decided there is sufficient evidence to support a complaint by a Jewish hairstylist who claims his employer, the owner of a Snowdon beauty salon who is also Jewish, discriminated against him on the basis of his religion by not letting him work on Saturdays.
The commission has recommended that Spa Orazen and its owner Iris Gressy compensate hair stylist Richard Zilberg $17,500 in damages ($12,500 for loss of income and $5,000 for moral damages) and that Gressy pay an additional $2,500 for punitive damages to Zilberg for intentional violation of his civil rights.

Zilberg worked at Spa Orazen throughout the fall of 2011 and winter of 2012 for about 30 hours a week, including Saturdays. But that spring, he says his boss, Iris Gressy, began to suggest that he should not be working Saturdays because it is Shabbat, the traditional day of rest for observant Jews.

In July 2012, Zilberg says he was told he would no longer be scheduled on Saturdays, the busiest day of his work week, although the salon remained open Saturdays and non-Jewish employees were allowed to work Saturdays. Another Jewish employee was told she could not work on Saturdays, he claims.

I come from a long line of Jewish people and I love my faith but it is 2015 and I can choose how I want to practise

“I come from a long line of Jewish people and I love my faith but it is 2015 and I can choose how I want to practise,” Zilberg said at a news conference called by the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR), a civic rights organization that brought the case to the Human Rights Commission on Zilberg’s behalf.

Zilberg told some of his regular Saturday clients that his employer would not let him work on Shabbat because he is Jewish. One of those clients, who is Jewish, complained to the owner of the salon on Aug. 15, 2012 that the policy was “mishegas”, a Yiddish word for “crazy”. An argument ensued and Zilberg was fired on the spot, he said.

He eventually got a job at a nearby salon, Intercoupe Coiffure and Spa on Décarie Blvd., but he worked fewer hours and had to rebuild his clientele from scratch.

In December 2012, Zilberg decided to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, with the help of CRARR.

“I couldn’t let go of it. Every night I would go to bed and I’d be angry,” He said. “They took from me my choice to practise my faith as I see fit.”

A commission investigator examined the complaint, and the Commission determined that the evidence obtained was sufficient to submit the case to a court of law. The Commission recommended that Spa Orazen and Gressy compensate Zilberg, rather than let the case proceed to the Human Rights Tribunal.

The respondents had until Oct. 23, 2015 to compensate Zilberg, to avoid a court case.

“That didn’t happen so we’ve been advised by the Human Rights Commission lawyers that the case will go to the Human Rights Tribunal,” said Fo Niemi, executive director of CRARR.

The Human Rights Tribunal is a specialized tribunal of Court of Quebec judges and assessors which has jurisdiction to hear and rule on complaints concerning discrimination prohibited under the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. A lawyer from the Human Rights Commission will now represent Zilberg at the Tribunal.

Reached at her salon Tuesday, Gressy told the Montreal Gazette she fired Zilberg because he was irresponsible. She claims she did not ban him from working Saturdays because he was Jewish but because he bickered with another employee who worked Saturdays.

“I can’t be racist against this man because I’m Jewish myself,” she said, adding that she herself sometimes works Saturdays.

She said she will not pay the recommended compensation. “Why would I pay for something I am being falsely accused of? I am going to court. I’m going to fight this.”

Zilberg said he may have been late for a shift or two in the ten months he worked at the salon, but said he was not fired for being irresponsible.

“It bothers me that she doesn’t acknowledge that I was forbidden because of being Jewish to be in there on Saturdays to work … I was fired after a client insulted her because of this policy,” he said.

Niemi noted that the case can be resolved out of court at any time. If the Human Rights Tribunal rules that discrimination has occurred, the Tribunal can impose whatever compensation or remedy it sees fit.

http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/forcing-jewish-hair-stylist-to-take-saturdays-off-is-grounds-for-human-rights-complaint-quebec-commission