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Queen's University
 

Berg

How do the rules for accommodating persons with disabilities apply to universities and their students?

Facts:

In 1981, a third year graduate student of the University of British Columbia's School of Family and Nutritional Sciences was involved in two incidents precipitate by depression. On the day in question. Berg wrote a suicidal message on the bathroom mirror of the School and attempted to jump through a window. After treatment, Berg retuned to U.B.C. When the School moved to new premises in 1982, it denied Berg access to two services customarily available to other graduate students: a key and a rating sheet. Berg complained to the B.C. Human rights Commission that the university had denied her services because of her mental disability. The University did not deny this fact, but argued that it had not violated the code because the services denied to Berg were not "services customarily offered to the public". The Supreme Court of Canada disagreed with the respondent; redefined the term "public" to include the student body and awarded costs against U.B.C. to the complainant. University of British Columbia v Berg (1993), 18 C.H.R.R.D./310 (S.C.C.).

Questions:

  1. Is the student body of a given university considered to be "the public" ?
  2. If so, can students with disabilities be denied any accommodation, service or facility customarily offered to students without disabilities?
  3. Did the university discriminate against a mentally disabled student when it refused to give her a key and a rating sheet?

Rulings

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Yes 

Reasoning:

  1. The "public" to which s.3 of the B.C. Human Rights Code implicitly refers, i.e. the general public, includes subsets of that public. Moreover, U.B.C. has a public relationship with its student body, which therefore constitutes its public.
  2. Keys and rating sheets are services customarily offered to a specific subset of the general public, i.e. the student public of U.B.C.
  3. Therefore, in denying her access to these services, U.B.C. discriminated against Berg on the basis of mental disability

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000