Landlord discriminates against Crown prosecutor who sought tenancy
Minnie Wong knew she was dealing with a lawyer, a Crown prosecutor, no less.
And even though Wong understood that she was committing an act of discrimination against Jennifer Horneland, she rejected the solicitor’s application for tenancy.
Wong also said in jest that she could discriminate because her brother, who owns the Vancouver rental home she manages, cannot fire her.
This was all laid out in a decision Tuesday (January 7) by Murray Geiger-Adams of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
The ruling came a day after Horneland marked her eight-year anniversary as a lawyer. She was called to the bar on January 6, 2006.
As Crown counsel, Horneland successfully prosecuted for murder a 72-year-old Richmond woman who slashed the throat of her husband’s wealthy mistress—the daughter of a Taiwanese billionaire—with a box cutter.
“I am not persuaded that Ms. Wong was intimidated by Ms. Horneland’s status as a lawyer or prosecutor,” Geiger-Adams noted in his decision that found Wong and 388 Properties Ltd. in violation of the Human Rights Code of B.C.
Horneland had filed a complaint of discrimination on the basis of her family status. According to her, she was refused tenancy because she had a young child.
The Human Rights Code provides that a person shouldn’t be denied tenancy because of “race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, age or lawful source of income”.
Wong claimed that Horneland’s application was denied because her prospective roommate had two cats, an assertion that the tribunal did not accept.
The case has its origins in the summer of 2011, when Horneland and her friend Lanie Forget were looking for a place.
Horneland had separated from her husband. She and Forget each had a young child; Forget had two cats.
In September 2011, Wong advertised, on behalf of 388 Properties Ltd., a third-floor suite for rent on Craigslist. Including the one by Horneland and Forget, there were three applications. The two others involved neither children nor pets.
The telephone conversation between Horne-land and Wong on September 12, 2011, was at the heart of the dispute, and according to Geiger-Adams’s decision, both agreed that “neither of them mentioned cats”.
Horneland was at work when she called Wong during lunch break. In her testimony, Horneland recalled that Wong “made reference to the amount of time she and Ms. Forget would be home, as mothers with small children, and that the suite wasn’t really appropriate for children”.
“She referred to safety concerns, as it was above ground level with a balcony,” the decision records. “Ms. Horneland testified that she felt taken aback, and thought it important to confirm with Ms. Wong what her concerns were with the application, and to know for certain that their having children was one of the reasons she might not accept the application.
“She says she asked Ms. Wong whether her concern was the fact that she and her friend had children, and Ms. Wong answered, ‘Yes,’ ” Geiger-Adams continued. “Ms. Wong went on to say that she knew that might be discrimination, but her brother, the owner, couldn’t fire her.”
According to Geiger-Adams, Horneland was “struck by the content of the conversation, and knew from her employment as a lawyer that it was important to document it as soon as possible”.
She printed and completed a complaint form that day, or shortly after her conversation with Wong. She submitted the form on November 7, 2011.
“My essential findings of fact, arising from a close examination of the evidence, and a consideration of the credibility of both Ms. Horne-land and Ms. Wong, are that Ms. Wong did consider the fact that Ms. Horneland and Ms. Forget each had a young child as a negative factor in their tenancy application, and that their having two cats was not a bar to their being considered for tenancy,” Geiger-Adams noted in his decision.
Geiger-Adams ordered Wong and 388 Properties Ltd. to compensate Horneland $2,500 for injury to her dignity, feelings, and self-respect.