A Montreal man has been ordered to pay $8,000 to a panhandler after an email he wrote complaining about her presence outside a liquor store was deemed discriminatory by the province's human rights commission.
The incident dates back to 2010 and started at an SAQ liquor store in Montreal's Ahuntsic neighbourhood.
The woman involved is in her 60s and suffers from a degenerative bone disease, which prevents her from working. She receives social assistance, but makes ends meet by panhandling outside of the liquor store for a few hours on Friday and Saturday evenings.According to evidence presented to Quebec’s human rights commission, the woman said she was always polite and never bothered anyone. She took adaptive transport to the Henri-Bourassa Boulevard store and made between $15 and $30 a day.
But one customer found her presence a nuisance and complained to the store manager in an email.
In that letter, the customer described the woman as overweight and a "drunk" with "no apparent IQ."
Email suggested 'a bullet to the neck'
The letter goes on to talk about the city abolishing its prohibition on begging, and the problems he believed it has created. He then suggests five "solutions," including one labelled the "Chinese solution" that proposes "a bullet to the neck and send the bill for the bullet to the deceased bum’s family."
A customer service representative with the SAQ told the commission that he had seen hostile letters from customers before, but nothing like this one.
He consulted with legal services and was advised to contact the police. Montreal police said they couldn't take the complaint from a third party and that it had to come from the victim herself.
The SAQ then made the decision to share the letter with the woman, who was advised by the police to file a complaint with the commission.
The defendant argued that the letter was never intended for the panhandler and he had no intention of discriminating against her. However, the commission, referring to precedent cases, found the act itself violated her rights and the intention wasn’t relevant.
Woman sought $20,000
"Any ordinary person in the same situation as the victim, and anyone who was the target of these words, would have suffered a loss of dignity because of the contempt demonstrated by the defendant," the decision reads.
The woman said she was "deeply hurt" by the letter and "couldn't believe another person could say things like that." She asked for a total $20,000 in compensation.
The commission’s decision, released at the end of June, describes her hiding in her home with her curtains shut and her fear of the letter writer.
In the end, the commission ruled in the woman’s favour, calling the defendant's actions "highly reprehensible."
It found that, through his email, the man had violated her rights and ordered him to pay the victim a total of $8,000 for moral and punitive damages.