The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has decided to hear a case involving a single mother who was allegedly harassed in a Christian church in Burnaby.
Raquel Cunanan resigned as volunteer with the Willingdon Church believing that the church did not properly respond to her complaints of harassment.
Cunanan, originally from the Philippines, had complained of inappropriate behaviour towards her by church custodian Cesar Beltran, also a Filipino.
Cunanan claimed in her submission before the tribunal that she was denied a service and discriminated against in regard to her position as a volunteer.
According to the mother of a young boy, she faced discrimination because of her sex, race, ancestry, place of origin, and marital and family status.
The church sought a dismissal of the complaint, and this was rejected by tribunal member Devyn Cousineau.
“Ms. Cunanan’s allegations must be tested at a hearing, where an expert Tribunal Member can hear and weigh all of the evidence to determine whether Mr. Beltran engaged in a course of conduct and exerted a form of power, rooted in Ms. Cunanan’s protected characteristics, which poisoned the Church environment for her, leading her to feel she had no choice but to resign her volunteer duties and leave the Church,” Cousineau wrote in her decision.
According to information summarized in Cousineau’s decision, Beltan began to allegedly act inappropriately toward Cunanan in September 2016.
“She says that on one occasion, she was using the women’s washroom when Mr. Beltran came in to clean it,” Cousineau related. “He started to push her stall door open, while she said ‘someone is here!’ He then looked at her through the crack in the washroom stall. When she came out of the stall, he was still standing inside the washroom, smiling at her.”
Other alleged incidents followed, and when Cunanan brought her concerns before church authorities, Beltran allegedly started to cause her more discomfort.
Beltran allegedly began showing up at places in the church where she does her volunteer work. He also would be “staring angrily” at her.
“On January 8, 2017, Ms. Cunanan alleges that Mr. Beltran stared angrily at her son, and mouthed the ‘F‐‐‐ word’. Later that day, she ran into Mr. Beltran near the washroom, and almost collided with him,” Cousineau wrote in her decision.
Cousineau cited an email by Cunanan where the woman stated, “This is a typical behaviour of Filipino men towards Filipino women. They tend to have a power showdown.”
“I also think that he looks down on me because I’m a single mom,” Cunanan also claimed in the email.
The woman added: “If I was married and has a husband with me, he would think twice before doing these things to me.”
Cunanan resigned as volunteer following her meeting with Penny Fuchihara, executive director of the church, on January 15, 2017.
Less than a month later, church elder Mark Loewen wrote Cunanan to tell her that her accusations against Beltran were “unfounded”.
“This situation has caused undue stress to Cesar [Beltan] who is performing his regular duties as a custodian of Willingdon Church,” Loewen told Cunanan. “This could be considered a case of defamation of character and we will take further action if necessary.”
Cunanan filed a complaint before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal on February 27, 2017.
According to Cousineau, “Her allegations relate to how the Respondents treated her as a whole person whose identity is not just that of a woman and single mother, but also a Filipino woman interacting with a Filipino man.”