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Nanaimo thrift store facing human rights complaint from maskless shopper

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal denies Habitat for Humanity’s application to dismiss complaint

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has decided it will hear a case about a customer without a mask who was denied entry to a Nanaimo thrift store during COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

In November 2020, Lawrence Forbes attempted to enter the Habitat for Humanity Mid-Vancouver Island store without a mask, claiming a medical exemption; however, he was denied entry. He later filed a human rights complaint against the non-profit. Habitat for Humanity attempted to have the complaint dismissed, but on Friday, Jan. 26, the tribunal denied the application for dismissal.

According to the tribunal’s decision to hear the case, Forbes said he asked to speak with the manager of the store, but they were unavailable.

“Forbes said he called the manager to discuss what happened and see if he could be accommodated during a future visit but got the manager’s voicemail. He says he left a detailed message and asked for a call back but never heard back,” noted the report.

The store had complimentary masks and complimentary face shields, allowed customers to stay outside and request products, and accommodated mask-free shopping after regular store hours. The tribunal noted the store has not provided any evidence that it informed Forbes of any of its accommodation options or its process.

READ ALSO: Tribunal finds B.C. fabric store didn’t discriminate against maskless customer

To prove his complaint at a hearing, Forbes will need to prove that he has a physical disability, that he was adversely impacted by the incident, and that his disability was a factor in the adverse impact, the tribunal noted.

“A medical report [from 2021] states that Forbes has a respiratory condition which causes some shortness of breath and could be aggravated by some protective masks. Forbes says he is working with a respirologist to confirm a diagnosis,” noted the tribunal.

The store disputed that Forbes has a disability that prevented him from wearing a mask, saying his medical reports note he was never diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, though his symptoms are “in keeping with COPD.”

The tribunal noted that denying the application to dismiss the complaint does not mean that a complaint will succeed at a hearing, only that there is more to the complaint than conjecture; as well, Habitat has not persuaded the tribunal that it did not cause the complainant undue hardship.

“To establish an improper motive or bad faith, a respondent must do more than present a different version of events and say the complainant is wrong,” noted the decision. “Habitat argues that Mr. Forbes wishes to make an example out of a local business and is looking for a ‘payday.’ Based on the materials before me, I am not persuaded by Habitat’s argument. Habitat has not provided evidence beyond its own version of events to demonstrate that Mr. Forbes did not have an honest and reasonable belief that Habitat violated his rights.”

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Bailey Seymour

About the Author: Bailey Seymour

After graduating from SAIT and stint with the Calgary Herald, I ended up at the Nanaimo News Bulletin/Ladysmith Chronicle in March 2023
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