B.C. Human Rights Tribunal favours tenant in sexual harrassment case

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has awarded at least $19,422.84 to a female tenant who alleged that she was sexually harassed by her Vancouver landlord.

In a 60-page decision issued on February 2, tribunal member Diane H. MacLean found the complaint filed by Noemi MacGarvie to be justified.

MacLean ordered landlord John Friedmann to pay MacGarvie $1,922.84 for expenses; $10,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self respect; $7,500 for improper conduct during the hearings; and interest.

According to the decision, MacGarvie, a native of Sackville, New Brunswick, moved into an apartment unit of Friedmann’s at 1629 East 10th Avenue on February 1, 2004. A year later, on January 31, 2005, she moved out.

In her testimony, MacGarvie, a 28-year-old full-time UBC student at the time of the hearings in 2006, said that her landlord made inappropriate comments, issued invitations to go out, and gave her gifts like flowers and mirrors.

“Ms. MacGarvie testified that every time he came to her apartment, Mr. Friedmann would find an opportunity to make an inappropriate comment that made her feel uncomfortable,” MacLean wrote in the decision. “He would look at her body and smile or look at the bedroom and ask if her boyfriend was in or would refer to her figure and ask if she was losing weight.”

MacLean stated that Friedmann’s gifts were “used as a pretence” to go to MacGarvie’s apartment, where he then made inappropriate comments.

The decision also cited another incident that happened when MacGarvie went with Friedmann into the apartment’s basement to look at a bike that he said he might sell her. While MacGarvie was sitting on the bike, Friedmann put one of his hands on the handle and one on her buttocks.

“Ms. MacGarvie testified that it wasn’t an accident, but a very firm feel,” MacLean noted. “Ms. MacGarvie got off the bike feeling quite flustered.”

MacLean also cited MacGarvie’s testimony about the landlord’s “unnecessary questions, such as asking if her boyfriend was in and asking if her male visitor was an old boyfriend or if she wished he was her boyfriend”.

MacLean likewise noted that Friedmann “also made uncalled-for comments about her male friend being a bad man because he didn’t help her with painting, discussing Ms. MacGarvie’s sex life, saying he didn’t care who she slept with but that her friend is a bad man and had to leave”.

“This behaviour was particularly offensive because Ms. MacGarvie had told Mr. Friedmann that she would be having a visitor, and there was no evidence that this visitor was disrupting the other tenants or otherwise behaving inappropriately,” MacLean wrote. “Mr. Friedmann consistently sexualized her relationship with her old friend and I find that Mr. Friedmann’s behaviour constitutes sexual harassment.”

The decision noted that MacGarvie felt that Friedmann “seemed to be interpreting his relationship with her wrongly and inappropriately—more like a jealous boyfriend than a landlord”.

MacGarvie, who had seven witnesses testify on her behalf, was not cross-examined. Friedmann neither testified nor provided a closing submission.

MacLean noted that MacGarvie had also referred to Friedmann’s letter dated May 3, 2006, which was in response to her application for costs. In that letter, Friedmann “suggested that it was Ms. MacGarvie who sexually harassed him in hope of obtaining free rent, but he was not interested in her advances”.

“Ms. MacGarvie denied this allegation and said that this was the first and only time it was mentioned,” MacLean noted.

In her decision, MacLean cited a 1989 case decided by the Supreme Court of Canada that dealt with sexual harassment in the workplace. In that case, the court stated that sexual harassment “may be broadly defined as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature”.

MacLean went on to recall that in a 2003 case, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal concluded that the Supreme Court of Canada’s reasoning “with respect to sexual harassment in the workplace is applicable to cases of sexual harassment in a tenancy”.

In her ruling, MacLean wrote that Friedmann “knew or ought to have known that this ongoing commentary to a young female tenant would be unwelcome and inappropriate, and that the gifts were also unwelcome and inappropriate”.