A Catholic woman has filed a human-rights complaint against the Khalsa Credit Union.
Emilia Peszynska alleged that her investment in a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) was cancelled by a Surrey branch of the credit union because of her religion.
For its part, the Khalsa Credit Union denies discriminating against the woman. The Vancouver-born credit union argued that provincial legislation allows it to exclude people who are not Sikhs.
The issue is before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, and tribunal member Pamela Murray has issued reasons for decision on the credit union’s application to dismiss Peszynska’s complaint.
Murray rejected the credit union’s application, noting that the complaint “alleges fact that could contravene” the B.C. Human Rights Code.
According to Murray’s summary, Peszynska heard a radio ad by the credit union about what she thought to be a good return for an RRSP. She set up an appointment with the Surrey branch.
Murray noted that both parties agree that on February 22, 2017, Peszynska signed paperwork to become a Khalsa member.
Peszynska paid $35 to purchase shares in the credit union. She left a “reasonably large cheque” for a term RRSP. The cheque was cashed by the credit union.
The next day, Peszynska received a call from Khalsa advising her that her RRSP transaction was “cancelled because she had not signed a religious declaration”.
As related by Murray, the declaration reads in party: “I solemnly declare that I believe in One God, the Ten Gurus (from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh), in Siri Guru Granth Sahib, in Siri Guru Granth Sahib’s Bani and teachings, and in Guru Gobind Singh’s Amrit and do not follow any other religion.”
Peszynska also received a letter from then Khalsa CEO Dalbir Singh Mehta, who “wrote, in essence, that Ms. Peszynska could not be a Khalsa member because she is not a member of the Sikh religion”.
For Peszynska, this is discrimination on the basis of religion in services customarily available to the public, which is prohibited by Section 8 of the human rights legislation.
Murray wrote that the credit union acknowledges that “they did not in fact ask Ms. Peszynska to sign the Declaration and it was only afterwards—after she had completed membership paperwork and left a cheque at Khalsa—that it raised this as an issue”.
According to Murray, Khalsa pointed out that based on the Credit Union Incorporation Act, a credit union must have a common bond of membership.
This common bond of membership includes “religious interest”.
However, Murray noted that the credit “did not include” one provision in the credit union legislation that pertains to membership qualification.
The said provision states: “If the directors of a credit union consider that a person may be conveniently served by it, the person is eligible to be a member of the credit union…”
“There does not therefore appear to be a requirement in the Credit Union Incorporation Act that common bond credit unions have only members that share the common bond,” Murray wrote.
The tribunal member continued that it appears “at least on a preliminary basis, that the Credit Union Incorporation Act allows Khalsa and other common bond credit unions to admit as members people the directors consider would be conveniently served although they do not share the common bond”.
“Khalsa did not admit Ms. Peszynska into membership because she is not Sikh and there is no indication before me that it considered whether to do so, as it is apparently permitted to do by the statute,” Murray wrote.