It was a bitter litigation that pitted two gay men against each other.
At the centre of this acrimonious case heard by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal was a photograph.
The image was of Shangzhou Li wearing a purple dress and heels.
It was taken from the garden of his landlord, whose name has been anonymized in the decision.
Li sent the photo by phone text to the landlord while he and his husband were having a romantic dinner at a restaurant.
It was the same image that the landlord eventually showed to Li’s workplace supervisor, an act that the tribunal found to be in contravention of the B.C. Human Rights Code.
After hearing the case in Victoria, tribunal chair Diana Juricevic determined that the landlord violated Section 7 (1) (A), which prohibits the publication of an image that “indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate”.
In the case of Li, it was the intent to discriminate because of his gender identity and expression.
Juricevic ordered the landlord to pay Li compensation of $5,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.
In her ruling dated October 16, 2018, she noted that while there was little disagreement over the events, Li and the landlord have different interpretations of what happened.
“I attribute discrepancies in the testimonies...to the very personal and acrimonious nature of this litigation,” the tribunal chair wrote. “It was clear that they regarded themselves as good people, champions for the gay community, and victims of each other’s misconduct.”
The couple rented a suite in their house to Li, and the tenant started living there in March 2016.
Citing from submissions in the case, Juricevic recalled that Li “wears casual male clothing and occasionally enjoys wearing female clothing”.
Li discussed his sexuality with the landlord, the tribunal chair wrote. “He wanted to feel comfortable where he lives, and did not want to hide or be someone else."
Li insisted that the landlord knew that he was not openly gay at work.
The couple were good hosts invited Li to restaurants and parties.
It was in April 2016 that Li sent the landlord a photograph of himself in a dress and heels.
The landlord didn’t find the photo to be appropriate. But thinking that Li was “looking for a father figure”, he responded to the text with this message: “You look gorgeous.”
Conflicts later arose during Li’s tenancy.
The tenancy ended on August 31, 2016, and during the move-out inspection, the landlord was upset about the cleanliness of Li’s suite.
In a recording that was surreptitiously done by Li, the landlord was heard to have said, “Do you want your employer to see you in a dress?”
The landlord also said, “Have a picture of your dress”.
The landlord claimed that he tried to return Li’s deposit. Li, for his part, filed proceedings with the Residential Tenancy Branch to reclaim his deposit, which infuriated the landlord.
“From his perspective, Mr. Li had concocted a legal proceeding to claim a damage deposit that he refused to accept six months earlier," the decisions stated.
On February 20, 2017, the landlord went to Li’s workplace, and showed a photograph of Li wearing a dress to his supervisor, Stephen Evans.
The landlord claimed that he showed the photo to confirm whether Li was working at that place, an assertion that Juricevic found as “simply not plausible”.
According to Juricevic, the landlord's act was “intended to embarrass Mr. Li in his place of employment”.
Moreover, Juricevic noted that it was also an “attempt to interfere with his employment”.