Former First United Church volunteer's complaint will be heard by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      It's quite common for the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to issue decisions involving employees alleging discrimination on the part of their employer.

      But it's far rarer to see a complaint by a volunteer.

      German Omar Baharona started working for free in the First United Church kitchen in 2005.

      In a filing with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, he has alleged that in October 2015, he began enduring racial harassment from a church employee.

      Specifically, Baharona has claimed that he was repeatedly called a "spick".

      This included one instance when he was allegedly berated with a comment about whether he was on the premises to work or just to eat.

      He maintained that he handed in his resignation as a volunteer because he felt too threatened after an employee allegedly asked him to go outside and fight.

      Baharona has complained that this treatment violated two sections of the B.C. Human Rights Code: discrimination in employment and discrimination in accommodation, service, and facility.

      The society that operates the historic Downtown Eastside church has denied the allegations, which haven't been assessed by the tribunal.

      Last week, tribunal member Catherine McCreary denied the society's application to dismiss the complaint. This came after the society claimed that there was no employment relationship and that Baharona had no reasonable prospect of success if a hearing were held.

      As part of its application, the church noted that Baharona was alleging that he was discriminated as a volunteer and that this is not a "service relationship" under the B.C. Human Rights Code.

      McCreary, however, concluded that Baharona's relationship with the church was "like an unpaid employee and thus entitled to the protection of the Code".

      "He had a specific job to do for which he had to apply and where he was supervised," McCreary wrote. "When there was difficulty, supervisory staff at the Church were expected to be involved in the resolution of the issue."

      As a result, Baharona's complaint will proceed and could become the subject of a hearing if it's not resolved before then. 

      Meanwhile, the unnamed employee at the centre of the complaint has claimed that Baharona insulted her on several occasions, calling her a lesbian who liked "licking pussy" and insisting that she was a man.

      She has also denied calling Baharona a "spick". In addition, she claimed that Baharona approached her in an "angry and hostile manner" after she made an inquiry into why some items were going missing.

      The church operates a low-barrier homeless shelter and provides 24-hour access to the building for residents, who are offered three meals a day.

      "There is no way for me to be able to resolve the differences in the evidence without the benefit of a hearing and cross-examination of the persons involved in the dispute," McCreary wrote as part of her conclusions. "It follows that I am unable to conclude that the complaint has no reasonable prospect of success."

      McCreary's ruling noted that Baharona has claimed that he "suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of experiences he endured in El Salvador, his country of origin, before immigrating to Canada".

      "Mr. Baharona says that volunteering is like therapy to him," the tribunal member wrote. "It is his way of showing solidarity with people who have suffered, as he has."

      Comments