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Tribunal rejects mask human rights complaint against New West business

No evidence of breathing health disability, adjudicator says
Shera Rael said she was denied entry to Cartwright Jewellers because she refused to wear a mask

B.C.’s Human Rights Tribunal won't hear a complaint from a woman who alleged her human rights were violated when she was asked to don a mask at a New Westminster jeweller.

The tribunal said asserting breathing issues without establishing there was a disability that a mask could harm was cause to deny the complaint.

Shera Rael told tribunal member Paul Singh she was denied entry to Cartwright Jewellers in July 2020 because she refused to wear a mask. She said she had breathing issues and could not do so.

The store and owner Susan Cartwright‐Coates as respondents to the complaint said Rael never advised she had a disability. 

“They say they refused her entry to the store when she declined to wear a mask because of reasonable COVID‐ 19 pandemic‐related safety concerns,” Singh said.

“When asked in the complaint form to explain how the harm related to her disability, she says, ‘My human rights were denied. Mask wearing is not a law.’”

The respondents acknowledged refusing Rael entry and said they instituted a mandatory mask policy to comply with public health orders and to prevent the spread of the COVID‐19 virus. 

They acknowledged people with disabilities have the right to be accommodated, which may mean exempting them from the requirement to wear a mask or finding other ways to accommodate their disability‐related needs. 

“However, they say that Ms. Rael at no time advised them that she had a disability or otherwise needed accommodation,” Singh said.

Singh said any claim of disability discrimination arising from a requirement to wear a mask must begin by the complainant establishing they have a disability and explaining why it interferes with their ability to wear the mask. 

“Ms. Rael’s mere assertion of ‘breathing issues’ without more, is insufficient to establish a disability under the (Human Rights Code).”

And, Singh said, while people are not required to divulge detailed particulars of a disability when seeking accommodation for that disability, they should, at a minimum, inform a service provider they require some form of disability‐related accommodation to trigger a service provider’s duty to provide assistance.

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