When does a single comment constitute an act of discrimination?
It’s a key question that was involved in a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision regarding a complaint filed by a man against a taxi company.
The complainant was Taylor Culver, a person who identifies as Caucasian. He wears an orthotic knee brace, uses a cane, and walks with a limp.
Culver alleged that Kami Cabs Ltd., a Kamloops-based taxi company, discriminated against him because of his race, and mental and physical disabilities.
The complaint cites an April 2019 incident when Culver used a Kami cab to attend a physiotherapy appointment.
Tribunal member Beverly Froese, who dismissed Culver’s complaint because it has no reasonable chances of succeeding, recounted the submissions of the two parties.
According to Culver’s version, the driver asked him a question as he was getting out of the cab, which he did not understand because of the driver’s “accent”.
“Mr. Culver says he respectfully asked the Driver to repeat himself and apologized for not being able to understand him,” Froese related.
Culver said that driver had a “bad attitude”, and “asked if he had a hearing problem”.
“He says that when he told the Driver he simply could not understand what he was saying, the Driver said, ‘It’s because I’m Indian isn’t it! It’s because I’m brown isn’t it!?’,” Froese related.
Culver said that he told the driver, “I don’t care if you’re the colour of the rainbow, if I cannot understand you we will have to work out a way to communicate.”
Culver got out of the cab and walked away.
Culver says that as he was walking away, the driver “rolled down the window and caused a scene”.
“Specifically, Mr. Culver says the Driver called him names and yelled, ‘Nobody is going to pick your fucking white ass up’,” Froese wrote.
Kami has a different version.
“Kami’s manager [Manager] says the Driver has worked for Kami for at least 10 years and is a very polite driver,” Froese related.
According to Kami, which was represented in the complaint by its agent, Simar Vijay Singh, the driver asked Culver if the ride would be on his account or if he would be paying cash.
“He [manager] says the Driver calmly repeated his question a few times because Mr. Culver did not respond,” Froese wrote.
Culver allegedly challenged the driver to get out of the cab, and told the driver that he would beat him up with his cane.
According to Froese, the only allegation in the complaint related to Culver’s race was his claim that the driver supposedly told him: “Nobody is going to pick your fucking white ass up.”
Froese noted that there are cases decided by the tribunal in which a single comment is found to have contravened the B.C. Human Rights Code.
For example, a single comment could rise up to the level of discrimination because of its “egregiousness or virulence”.
The same also applies if the comment is directed at a member of a group that has faced historic discrimination.
In Culver’s case, Froese wrote that the driver’s alleged comment "falls into the category of cases where the Tribunal has found that a single comment, even one that is derogatory and hurtful to the complainant, does not rise to the level of discrimination under the Code”.
“I do not doubt that the April 2019 Incident was upsetting to Mr. Culver and I acknowledge that if it was made, the alleged comment by the Driver was unacceptable and inappropriate,” Froese wrote.
Froese noted that the “relevant factors weigh against a finding of discrimination if the complaint were to proceed to a hearing”.
“Specifically, the exchange between Mr. Culver and the Driver appears to have been brief and the alleged comment falls at the lower end of the egregious spectrum,” Froese wrote.
According to Froese, there is no evidence or information indicating that the alleged comment was part of a pattern of harassment against Culver by the driver or anyone at Kami.
“Lastly, the information before me indicates that the Manager met with Mr. Culver in an attempt to resolve the situation,” Froese stated.
Froese granted the taxi company’s application to dismiss Culver’s complaint without a hearing.