A Warped Sense of Entitlement



April 15, 2011

For the most part, the Human Rights Act and Codes prohibit negative discrimination; that is, treating someone adversely on the basis of a protected ground like race or sex. While this policy is open for misuse, most notably the gradually widening definitions over what constitutes prohibited grounds, it does mirror the fundamental principle upon which any legitimate government is based: the Rule of Law.

This mandates that the law must apply equally to everyone who is under the jurisdiction of the law, regardless of personal beliefs or immutable characteristics.

However, there is a flip side to the prohibition of negative discrimination in the federal Human Rights Act, with similar provisions in most provincial Codes – positive discrimination. That is, if anyone does not have the capacity to avail themselves of your products, services, employment, or rental accommodation, you are required to “build them a ramp”, or go far beyond your profit margin for that particular transaction in order to accommodate some inability of your customer. Again, it is couched in words and intents that make it seem commendable. It is certainly a social good to help those who are less able to help themselves. But again, the devil is in the definitions.

There are two ways out for employers and landlords. The first, “bona fide” occupational requirements, allow the employer to justify the exclusion on the basis that it would represent a significant risk to safety or property. This would allow an employer to exclude a sight-impaired applicant from a truck driving job. In the second exemption, “undue hardship”, the employer or landlord can justify the exclusion on the basis that this accommodation alone would represent costs that would put him out of business.

Both of these definitions have been changing over time, making these defences more and more difficult to invoke. Most complaints alleging insufficient accommodation involve the disabled, who are beginning to realize the power at their disposal to have their every wish and whim granted. Don’t like the placement of bus stops in the city? Complain that your disability entitles you to have a bus stop installed closer to your house or your destination. Hate your boss? If you have a disability, you can get away with almost anything at work and you could launch a complaint if fired.

But in the most shocking case of this growing sense of entitlement, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal accepted a complaint from a man suffering from arthritis. After visiting a charity food bank to pick up his daily basket of free food, he demanded that his disability entitled him to a free ride. Food bank employees had given him a ride in the past out of the goodness of their hearts, but had recently been told by their insurance provider that their policy didn’t cover employees who did this.

Stung by the refusal for a ride, the man launched a human rights complaint with the OHRT, claiming that his right to be accommodated had been violated. The Tribunal informed the food bank that it must attend a meeting with the man to discuss the complaint. Searching for help, the directors of the food bank despaired to find that there was none for them – all government funds were dedicated to helping complainants, not respondents. In addition, they found out that their own personal property could be seized by the Tribunal to pay damages or a settlement, even though they are volunteers.

Luckily for the food bank and its directors, the complaint was dropped when the complainant failed to call in for the scheduled teleconference. The Tribunal claimed that the meeting was likely to inform all parties that the complaint had no reasonable chance of success, but that does little to assuage the anguish that the directors experienced in the lead-up to this meeting.

The OHRT and the Ontario Human Rights Code are turning good deeds into entitlements and legal requirements. In the process, they’re making it more and more difficult for everyday citizens to show compassion and charity to their fellow citizens, since it opens them up to complaints and harassment by those conditioned by the Code to a warped sense of entitlement.

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