British Columbia

Trinity Western University graduate awarded $8.5K in religious discrimination case

A graduate of a Christian university has been awarded $8,500 by a British Columbia human-rights tribunal that found a company refused to hire her in part because of her religion.

Amaruk Wilderness said it wouldn't honour any monetary award made in favour of the complainant

Bethany Paquette filed a human rights complaint against Amaruk Wilderness Corp. and said her job application was rejected because she's Christian. (CBC)

A graduate of a Christian university has been awarded $8,500 by a British Columbia human-rights tribunal that found a company refused to hire her in part because of her religion.

Bethany Paquette applied in September 2014 for an assistant guide position with Amaruk Wilderness Corp., which says it is headquartered in Norway and operates an office in Vancouver.

The tribunal says the graduate of Trinity Western University received an emailed response from wilderness guide Olaf Amundsen, who informed her she was not qualified.

"Unlike Trinity Western University, we embrace diversity, and the right of people to sleep with or marry whoever they want, and this is reflected within some of our staff and management," he wrote.

"In addition, the Norse background of most of the guys at the management level means that we are not a Christian organization, and most of us actually see Christianity as having destroyed our culture, tradition and way of life."

Trinity Western criticized

The university's plans to open a law school in Langley, B.C., have drawn national criticism of its so-called community covenant that forbids sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman.

Paquette replied to Amundsen's email with a lengthy defence of Trinity Western's ban on sex outside of marriage.

Amundsen responded that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and opinions, but Trinity Western has engaged in discrimination by asking students to refrain from same-sex relationships.

"This is nothing new: people who did not agree with your church would be flayed, burnt, roasted, quartered, etc ... so you guys have a long history of intolerance."

Shortly after, Paquette filed a complaint against Amaruk and company director Christopher Fragassi-Bjornsen with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

Company director leaves hearing

Its decision says Fragassi-Bjornsen walked out of the tribunal hearing in November 2015 after he was denied requests to be asked questions in French and to have a security detail. The hearing proceeded without the respondents or their lawyer, James Macdonnell.

"While leaving, Mr. Fragassi-Bjornsen advised that the respondents would not honour any monetary award which the tribunal might make in favour of the complainant," says a written decision released Wednesday.

The decision says a written response was filed to the complaint. In it, the respondents say Paquette did not meet the minimum requirements of the position and they "specifically" deny that her employment application was rejected because she was involved with Trinity Western.

Amaruk and Macdonnell could not be reached for comment.

'Egregious' religious harassment

In the decision, tribunal member Norman Trerise says religious discrimination was a factor in the company's rejection of Paquette's employment application, and that the emails sent by staff were "egregious" religious harassment.

He ordered the company to pay her $8,500 for injury to her dignity and self-respect, as well as $661.08 to reimburse various expenses. He also ordered the company to stop discriminatory practices.

However, Trerise also found Paquette was not qualified for the position and declined to award her lost wages.

Paquette's lawyer, Geoffrey Trotter, said in a statement the decision "is a victory for Bethany and for equal treatment for everyone, regardless of their beliefs or background."

Trotter said Paquette is currently in the far North running dog sled tours, "the very kind of work that Amaruk rejected her from."