Ontario rights tribunal finds landlord violated tenants’ religious rights

Tribunal finds landlord violated tenants' religious rights

TORONTO — A landlord who repeatedly ignored his tenants’ requests to respect their prayer times and remove his shoes in their prayer space violated their religious rights, Ontario’s human rights tribunal has ruled.

John Alabi is facing a $12,000 fine after the decision, which found he discriminated against his tenants on the grounds of their Muslim faith.

The decision handed down from tribunal adjudicator Jo-Anne Pickel outlines a turbulent tenancy for Walid Madkour and Heba Ismail, who rented a unit from Alabi for less than three months after moving to Toronto from Montreal.

The issues that came before the tribunal all took place in January and February 2015 — the time between when both parties mutually agreed to terminate the lease and the day the couple moved out.

Conflicts centred around requests the couple had made while Alabi was trying to show their unit to prospective tenants.

Alabi told the tribunal he felt Madkour and Ismail were imposing their way of life on him, a claim flatly rejected in Pickel’s decision.

“Unfortunately, attempts by Muslims to practice their faith have increasingly been interpreted as an attempt to impose their way of life on others,” Pickel wrote.

“There was absolutely no evidence that the applicants’ requests for additional notice and for the removal of shoes in this case were an attempt by them to impose their way of life on the respondent or anyone else. Far from seeking to impose their way of life on anyone, the applicants were merely making simple requests for the accommodation of their religious practices.”

Between late January and late February 2015, Alabi had agreed to give the couple 24-hours notice if someone was planning to view the apartment, in accordance with Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act.

Madkour and Ismail, however, asked for additional notice up to an hour before Alabi planned to enter the apartment.

While they did not disclose the religious grounds for their request at first, they eventually explained that they wanted to be certain the visits did not coincide with prayer times designated by the Qur’an, the tribunal heard. As practising Muslims, both Madkour and Ismail pray five times a day during designated time periods.

Ismail also wanted to have enough time to ensure she was wearing her hijab and other “modest attire” in order to comply with another tenet of her faith, the tribunal heard.

Alabi frequently denied these requests or provided only momentary notice via text message before entering the apartment, the tribunal heard.

Once inside, another bone of contention often arose when Madkour or Ismail would request that people remove their shoes before walking through the unit.

The Qur’an states that the area in which prayers are conducted must be clean, the tribunal said, adding that potential contamination would result in extra work to cleanse the area.

In video evidence shown to the tribunal, Pickel said the couple is heard asking Alabi and a prospective tenant to remove their shoes before entering the bedroom, which they used as their prayer space.

Pickel’s decision said the video shows the prospective tenant wearing only socks, but clearly shows Alabi walking through the bedroom in shoes despite protests from Ismail, who is heard telling him that wearing footwear in the area is disrespectful.

Alabi told the tribunal that he ignored her request in order to avoid making a scene in front of the tenant and because he felt her stance was propaganda designed to make him look bad.

Pickel took a different view.

“I fail to see how such a request would make the respondent look bad if he complied with it,” she wrote. “If anything, it was the respondent’s non-compliance with the request that made him look bad in front of prospective tenants.”

She also pointed to some text messages sent to Madkour in response to his request for additional notice before an apartment viewing. One of those messages read “Welcome to Ontario, Canada,” prompting Pickel to find that Alabi was not respectful of the couple’s religious rights under the Human Rights Code.

She ordered Alabi to pay Madkour and Ismail $6,000 each, as well as to take an online course on human rights and rental housing.

A paralegal representing Alabi said he is disappointed with the tribunal’s decision and is considering an appeal.

Peta-Gaye Drummond said Alabi insists that none of his actions or omissions were motivated by the couple’s religion.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press

Just Posted

Langley Mustangs high jumper Aiden Grout, seen here in McLeod Athletic Park in Langley in 2019, has just qualified for several top international competitions, including the Olympic trials. (Photo courtesy Vid Wadhwani)
VIDEO: With one jump, Langley Mustangs high jumper Aiden Grout has qualified for three international competitions

Maple Ridge resident records new personal best at McLeod Athletic Park in Langley

Maple Ridge’s Eileen Robinson celebrated international Trails Day by hitting the Trans-Canada Trail in her hometown. It’s marked on the first Saturday of June, and encourages people to get out and use and enjoy their local trails, which both Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows have many. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Celebrating Trails Day by getting outdoors

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon

Shail Wolf admires the ancient tree the protesters have dubbed the grandmother. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
OUR VIEWS: Old-growth can kicked down the road

Latest deferral avoids a difficult conversation about how, when to stop logging our oldest forests

Maple Ridge brothers Paul and Johnnie Walker hit the trails at Rolley Lake, just across the border into Mission. Johnnie did the modelling both with the downed tree and at the waterfalls.(Special to The News)
SHARE: Discovering fun on Rolley trails

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of June 13

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

Most Read