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B.C. spa school must pay Muslim man $10,000 in discrimination case

A Muslim man wanting a "lymphatic drainage massage" was asked to "certify" he was not of the Islamic faith.
Massage Therapy Getty
A Prince George spa school has been ordered to pay a Muslim man $10,000.

B.C.’s Human Rights Tribunal has ordered a Fort St. John spa school to pay a Muslim man $10,000 after finding it discriminated against him on religion, place of origin, ancestry and colour.

Majid Shahadat filed the case against Northern School of Spa Therapies and Joyce Middleton.

Shahadat booked a "lymphatic drainage massage" online with the school in July 2019, tribunal member Devyn Cousineau said in the April 17 decision.

Shahadat said school director Middleton emailed him to ask him for “credentials” and to “certify you are not of the Islamic faith, which as you know has earned a bad reputation for raping and killing of infidels in Canada and elsewhere.” 

In a subsequent email, Middleton said the school would not be accepting new male clients because it needed to “protect our students, who happen to be all girls at this time.”

Shahadat was born in Bahrain and is of mixed Arab and Indian descent. He has lived in Canada for 25 years and describes himself as a “proud Canadian.”

Cousineau said the denial of service was a discrimination under the Human Rights Code.

“Middleton feared Mr. Shahadat for the sole reason that he is, and she perceived him to be, a Muslim man,” Cousineau said. “Throughout this human rights process, she has continued to reiterate the basis of those fears, which are rooted in invidious and harmful stereotypes about Muslim people, including that they are dangerous and subscribe to religious beliefs that are anti-woman and a threat to Western society.

“As a result of Ms. Middleton’s discriminatory views, Mr. Shahadat was denied access to a service ordinarily available to the public, based on his religion, place of origin, ancestry, and colour. This denial was a violation of his dignity and an affront to B.C.’s commitment to an equitable society.”

Cousineau said Middleton has advanced a “defence” seeking to prove that her fears are rational and based on tenets of Islam which promote violence, particularly against women and children.

“In doing so, she has not only proven the elements of this human rights complaint but deepened the extent of the harm to Mr. Shahadat,” Cousineau said.

Middleton further argued “the God-given right to self protection is a universal law, and rides above Mr. Shahadat’s right to not have hurt feelings.”

Middleton’s “risk assessment was informed by ‘world news, police reports, country statistics, excerpts direct from the Quran,’ most recently referring to ‘evidence of Islamists killing, raping and torturing Nigerian women and children over [Christmas] 2023,’” according to tribunal documents.

“She concludes by saying that ‘any law that forces women and children to put themselves into the hands of a strange man, who could be a murderer, rapist, human sex trafficker, slaver or whatever … cannot be a just law,’” Cousineau said.

Cousineau said Middleton took patently untrue ideas about Islam and Muslim men, rooted in Islamophobia, and applied them to Shahadat.

The tribunal said Islamophobia continues to place Muslim people in Canada at a heightened risk of discrimination.

“It impacted Mr. Shahadat’s sense of dignity and belonging in Canada,” Cousineau said.

Middleton was also fined $2,500 for improper conduct during the tribunal process.

“It is unacceptable that, for Mr. Shahadat, the price of enforcing his quasi-constitutional human rights was that he had to endure further anti-Muslim commentary and threats,” Cousineau said.

“Ms. Middleton’s repeated attempts to prove the 'truth' of her discriminatory views exposed Mr. Shahadat to inflammatory anti-Muslim propaganda that compounded the impacts of the original discriminatory conduct.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the school was located in Prince George.