Human Rights Office

Human Rights Office
Human Rights Office

Amir and Nazar v. Webber Academy Foundation, 2015 AHRC 8 (CanLII) 
Webber Academy Foundation v. Alberta (Human Rights Commission), 2016 ABQB 442 

Summary:

In this case Mr. Amir and Mr. Nazar were students at the Webber Academy. By its own description, Webber Academy is a “non-denominational, co-educational, university preparatory, accredited private school.” Mr. Amir and Mr. Nazar began attending Webber Academy in December of 2011. Both students are Muslim and require space at school in order to pray during the day. For the first two weeks of classes the students were allowed to pray openly on campus. After this initial few weeks a series of correspondence/events occurred between Dr. Webber (acting on behalf of Webber Academy), the parents of Mr. Amir and Mr. Nazar and Mr. Amir and Mr. Nazar:

December 17, 2011 – Dr. Webber telephones parents to inform them the students are not allowed to pray on school campus.
January 17 & 30, 2012 – Letter from parents to Dr. Webber asserting students need to pray on campus and the duty to accommodate.
February 6, 2012 – Letter from Dr. Webber to parents advising that the students will not be allowed to pray on campus and will not be re-enrolled for the following school year. 
February 10, 2012 – Mr. Siddique is conducting prayer in the library at Webber Academy when he is approached and forced to stop praying.
February 24, 2012 – Parents and students were praying outside on Webber Academy campus and they are stopped by Dr. Webber. 

In this case, Webber Academy stated that in order to remain “non-denominational” it would not allow Mr. Amir and Mr. Nazar to pray inside the buildings of Webber Academy. As a compromise, Mr. Amir and Mr. Nazar were permitted to pray outside of Academy buildings (on campus property). It was found that Mr. Amir and Mr. Nazar were discriminated against based on religious belief. It was further decided that the “non-denominational” structure of Webber Academy did not justify the discriminatory standard imposed on Mr. Amir and Mr. Nazar. 

Question to be Determined:

            1. Has prima facie discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs been established?

            2. If prima facie discrimination is established, has the respondent shown that the discriminatory standard has a bona fide and reasonable justification?

Findings:

1. Has prima facie discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs been established?

YES.

2. If prima facie discrimination is established, has the respondent shown that the discriminatory standard has a bona fide and reasonable justification?

NO.

Reasoning:

            1. In this case it was decided that a prima facie case of discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs was established. It was stated that the Students were denied services in the form of both a refused re-enrollment and a denial to exercise their religious prayer on campus. That these denials were based on the Students’ desires to exercise their religious beliefs clearly connects the protected ground of religion to the adverse impact of refusal and denial of enrollment" (para 79).

It was further noted that the school’s claim that in order to remain non-denominational it could not allow Mr. Amir and Mr. Nazar to pray at Webber was misguided and in fact discriminatory.

The respondent argued its policy under the general motive of remaining "non-denominational" such that it appeared to be neutral on its face, similar to "everyone has to work on Saturday" however, its effect on these Muslim Students was adverse and discriminatory. After having met all of the eligibility and admission requirements of the respondent, the Students were thereafter denied meaningful access to Webber Academy (in all its facility and service offerings) based on their religious belief, a protected ground. Accordingly, a finding of prima facie discrimination is made out (para 81).

            2. In this case it was decided that the discriminatory standard was not bona fide or reasonably justified. Webber Academy’s standard of no overt prayer or religious activities on school property was not reasonably necessary to accomplish the identity of        being non-denominational. It was however stated that it did appear that Dr. Webber adopted the standard in good faith, feeling that it was necessary in order for Webber Academy to remain non-denominational.

 In coming to this conclusion particular attention was paid to the form and level of accommodation offered to Mr. Amir and Mr. Nazar. In particular, attention was paid to the different types of accommodation afforded to different religious practices.

The evidence also showed the respondent accommodated religious headcoverings and facial hair. The respondent asserted that because prayer constituted an "activity," this justified a different approach. We see no distinction between a turban as a religious    obligation or prayer as a religious obligation and we find no reasonable justification for treating these Students' religious prayer requests differently than a religious headcovering request. Webber Academy's express allowance of certain visual religious             observances undermines its position that overt praying could not be accommodated (para 115).

The respondent's refusal to undertake a balancing analysis to at least ascertain whether there would be any undue hardship involved, together with its refusal to allow the Students to continue praying on campus beyond their first two and a half weeks of         enrollment, further support our finding that the respondent’s actions were not reasonable and justifiable. The evidence overwhelmingly supports that accommodation of the prayer was possible and it would not have been an undue hardship to accommodate the Students’ requests to pray on campus (para 118).

Remedy:

Award for damages for distress, injury and loss of dignity:

Mr. Amir $12,000

Mr. Siddique $14,000 (slightly higher to compensate for persistent fear)

 

Webber Academy Foundation v. Alberta (Human Rights Commission), 2016 ABQB 442 (CanLII)

In 2016 an appeal was filed by Webber Academy. This appeal was dismissed therefore reaffirming that the discriminatory practices perpetrated by Webber Academy were not reasonable or justifiable. It was further stated that Webber Academy did not demonstrate hardship, let alone undue hardship, motivating this policy.