Human Rights Advisory Services

Human Rights Advisory Services
Human Rights Advisory Services

Maughan v University of British Columbia


  • Cynthia Maughan claims to have been exposed to deliberate and negligent mistreatment on the basis of her religion. In 2001, Cynthia Maughan, a mature student at UBC, was offended by a comment made by a fellow graduate student on a university listserv.  In his critique of the Canadian Alliance Party, he expressed regret that that the ancient practice of stoning Christians was no longer a viable option. A debate ensued, the male student refused to apologize but Maughan did not file a complaint.
  • The author of the offensive remark ended up in the same English seminar (on the theme of giving/receiving) as Maughan one year later. After weeks of negotiation, the students agreed to hold a graduate seminar at his house on a Sunday near the end of class. Maughan did not object to this agreement in class, but later requested that the professor move the time and place of the conference. There is no written proof that Maughan informed the professor of any religious reasons for wanting this change, and professor claims to have denied it on the grounds of having already negotiated the deal democratically. 
  • In class one day, the students were discussing a Derrida text in which the author translated a passage from the Bible and referred to the last supper as a cannibalistic offering. Maughan took great offense at the translation and to the metaphor and a vigorous debate ensued. Maughan felt shocked and overwhelmed by other student’s support for Derrida. She contacted a professor in the French department for help with her concerns over the translation, but the professor advised her “to get over it”.  
  • Following this class, Maughan asked the Professor for permission to withdraw from class participation and from the class seminar. The Professor agreed, expressed regret about Maughan’s reaction to the Derrida text, but added that she could do nothing to change Derrida’s politics. The Professor accommodated Maughan by allowing her to write a paper rather than give an oral presentation. 
  • Near the end of the semester, two week before the paper was due; Maughan submitted her proposal in an email attachment. The professor claims not to have seen the attachment until after the course had ended. A week before it was due, Maughan called the professor to request an extension, which was refused. The paper submitted one week later was on a new topic and contained a critique of the professor who refused to grant a student an extension on a paper about Derrida. 
  • When Maughan received her marks (40.8/60 on the paper, 13.6/20 on the proposal, 17/20 on another short paper for a total of 73% in the course) she wrote an email demanding if the professor had granted extensions to other professors. The professor referred her to the departmental equity committee.  When she received her comments on the final paper, she saw in them “a perversion of the facts and a denial of her religious and academic freedom” and took steps to redress the situation.
  • Over the next few months, Maughan took her concerns to the Equity Office (which was powerless to help her because she refused to file a complaint and refused to allow them to contact the professor), the Faculty of Graduate Studies (which gave the professor two options; let the student redo the paper or let her take the paper to the departmental equity committee), to the Departmental Equity Committee (whose investigation determined the complaint was without merit), back to the Faculty of Graduate Studies (which rejects her appeal of the department’s investigation), the Senate Committee (which dismisses her appeal of the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ ruling), the Supreme Court (which dismisses the action based on lack of evidence).  Maughan v University of British Columbia (2009) CHRR Doc 09-2339, 2009 BCCA 447 Appeal from (2008) CHRR DOc. 08-1137, 2008 BCSC 14.


Did the Supreme Court err in ruling that there was no evidence of discrimination based on religion or of negligence?




The Court of Appeal agreed with the Trial Judge’s determination:  "This is a case which in the final analysis fails because it relies on speculation, innuendo and conjecture, rather than inferences based on the evidence, of the respective states of mind of the various defendants necessary to establish liability; in the case of the CRPA, the intention to interfere with the plaintiff’s civil rights by promoting hatred, contempt or her inferiority in comparison to others based on her religion, in the case of bad faith negligence, malice or ill will arising out of religious bias, or otherwise."