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Queen's University
 

Noble v York University

What is an appropriate Religious Accommodation Policy?

Facts:

Dr. Noble, a history professor at York University, wrote letters to the President, the Chair of Senate, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and the Ombudsman complaining about the university’s practice of not scheduling classes on Jewish High Holidays. He held that this was a discriminatory practice that privileged Jewish students and discriminated against non-Jewish students. He wanted the University to terminate the policy or extend it to all students. When the University made it clear that it was not going to change its practice, the professor “went public”; in his classes and in the student newspaper he announced that he was holding classes on Jewish High Holidays. Following this announcement, the University sent a message to all faculty members cautioning them to respect university policy. Dr Noble complied with this directive, but also began cancelling classes on the high holy days of all other students. Dr. Noble faced hostility from certain Jewish students in his classroom and had to call security twice when one student became aggressive. This student later filed a complaint against Dr. Noble with the University’s Human Rights Office. Dr. Noble alleged that the University sided quickly and unfairly with the student and did nothing to protect him and his family from the harassment he faced. David Noble and York University and Robert Drummond (Dean of Faculty of Arts), Lorna Marsden (President) and Patricia Bradshaw (chief executive officer) AAHD-6HBS9C

Questions

  1. Was Dr. David Noble subjected to unequal treatment in services and with respect to employment on the basis of creed and association?
  2. Was Dr. David Noble subjected to reprisal for claiming and enforcing his rights?

Rulings

  1. Yes
  2. Not enough information

Reasoning

  1. “The university’s practice of not scheduling classes on Jewish high holy days clearly results in differential treatment on the basis of creed, in that individuals in one group (those of Jewish faith) are given preferential treatment over others. The Commission’s Policy on Creed and the Accommodation of Religious Observances cites the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Chambly case, in which it ruled that since Christian employees receive the benefit of two paid religious leave days through the statutory holidays for Christmas and Easter, non-Christian staff were subjected to constructive discrimination. York’s practice has a similar effect, in that Jewish students are entitled to observe their religious holy days without missing classes or having to specifically request religious accommodation, while students of other faiths are required to either miss classes or take proactive steps to negotiate accommodation for their religious observances”. (Para 25) “The commission’s policy cites as an example of direct discrimination in services on the basis of creed, a public school giving priority to the Lord’s Prayer as part of opening and closing exercises, stating that such a practice fails to treat non-Christians equally. York’s practice is an analogous situation” (para 26) .      
  2. The evidence relating to the reprisal allegations is less clear and requires testimony under oath to assess the relative weights of the positions of all parties on that ground (para 26)

NB The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has heard final arguments, but has not yet made a ruling, in the related case of reprisal allegedly suffered by Professor Noble at the University when he campaigned against the policy.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000