Nfld. & Labrador

'Learn how to read English': Kijiji discrimination case highlights human rights law online

Discrimination applies to online marketplace sites such as Kijiji, human rights commission ruled.

Local man awarded $1,500 after adjudicator determines he was discriminated against

Carey Majid is the executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Eight years after the complaint was made, a decision has come down in a St. John's human rights case that centres on discrimination in the world of online commerce.

The decision in Zaid Saad's case appears to be one of the first of its kind, according to the Human Rights Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador, which explicitly states a person cannot be discriminated against on online commerce websites, like Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji or NL Classifieds. 

Zaid Saad filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador in November 2011, after he attempted to purchase a vehicle off a seller on Kijiji, an online goods and services website. 

Saad said Aubrey Lynch discriminated against him "with respect to goods, services, accommodation, or facilities that are customarily offered to the public."

The complaint focuses on an email exchange, which was later probed by a neutral human rights specialist.

'This is not a country of donations'

Saad, using his Memorial University student email, responded to Lynch's ad for a 2006 Toyota Corolla, which stated any interested buyers must call and not email.

However, in September 2011, Saad inquired to the email address listed. (All punctuation and spelling errors are from the original messages.)

"Hi if you still have the car, i will offer you 5000 tax and all, the car has high milage, im serious about it thnks."

In response, Lynch said, "Your first step when you move here from another country is learn how to read english.  Your next step is learn this is not a country of donations. Now DO NOT email me again."

In its July 2019 decision, the human rights commission said Saad explained he was insulted, that he answered in English and had not written anything "out of line."

He later emailed Lynch back, calling him an "ignorant pig" who has "the opportunity to damage the reputation of such a wonderful place like Newfoundland. Good thing there are very few people I have met who show such racism and disrespect to others."

In response, Lynch said, "You obviously can't read english dude because read the friggin ad, do not email me. Now f--k off and beg someone else for a donation."

"I will be forwarding your email off to MUN admistration.  Nows how's that's my son."

If you put something up on Kijiji or even Facebook Marketplace there is the potential that human rights law would apply to this, and that means that you can't discriminate in who you're selling to.- Carey Majid

The Human Rights Commission receives between 1,200 and 1,500 complaints per year, and the majority go successfully to mediation before ever having to be rectified though a proper legal proceeding, like the one in Saad's case. 

"We get the people here in this boardroom talking with our mediator and we find complaints get settled relatively quickly," said Carey Majid, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission.  

"You can settle disputes for creative sort of solutions or come up with creative solution whether it's an apology or human rights training or policy."

In this case, Lynch didn't respond to multiple requests for mediation or respond to be involved in a neutral investigation by one of the office's human rights specialists.

Majid believes it is one of the first cases that looked at the online commerce relationship, and has decided that human rights law applies to the online purchase-seller arrangement.

"If you put something up on Kijiji or even Facebook marketplace there is the potential that human rights law would apply to this, and that means that you can't discriminate in who you're selling to," she said.

Trouble renting apartments

The rules always applied for brick and mortar stores, she said, and now it covers average people selling goods online, too. 

Complaints of this nature don't come into the commission often, she said, but she has heard stories of people having issues trying to rent apartments and homes listed online. 

The discrimination isn't always overt, she said, but leaves people with the impression their race or economic status played a role in them getting turned down. 

Selling an item on Kijiji? You can't discriminate based on someone's race. (CBC)

"I've heard a lot of stories from international students, that they have some difficulties finding apartments and they're not sure why. And I think that's the problem," she said.

"Is it because they're not from here? Is it because they have a different last name or is it that just legitimately the apartment was rented?"

Majid said she has heard similar stories from young single parents and people on social assistance. 

"When you're renting housing or an apartment or selling goods you shouldn't be making decisions based on kind of discriminatory reasons."

In Saad's case, he was awarded $1,500 but as with any such order, it doesn't mean he will necessarily ever get the money from Lynch. 

Respondents are able to appeal any human rights adjudicator decision to the Court of Appeal.

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