A Vancouver coffee bar owner must pay four people $1,000 each after a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal found she discriminated against them on the basis of race in violation of B.C.’s Human Rights Code.
Moncef Ben Maaouia, Walid Haouas, Bechir Gharbi and Aissa Dairy are friends and long‐time customers of Toscani Coffee Bar on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive owned by Cyrilla Conforti, said tribunal member Devyn Cousineau’s Feb. 23 decision.
Haouas said on July 8, 2017, Conforti told him she did not want “you Arabs” to come to Toscani anymore and to “tell your friends."
Ben Maaouia testified that when he went to Toscani later that day, Conforti told him that she would not serve him or his friends anymore, and asked him to talk to Haouas about why.
As a result of these events, the four have not returned to Toscani, Cousineau said.
Gharbi and Dairy had been going to Toscani almost daily for 20 years while Ben Maaouia had attended for 15 years. Haouas had been going since 2013.
All are immigrants from North Africa.
Conforti is woman of colour, raised in a Muslim family in Indonesia. Her husband, Lamberto, is Italian.
There had been some disputes over service, use of a TV remote control and smoking outside.
Haouas was in a dispute about who would serve him, and Conforti eventually approached him, the decision said.
“’I don’t want you Arabs here, and you should tell your friends I don’t want you here. You are not welcome anymore.’” Haouas said Conforti told him.
Case documents said Conforti's husband wouldn’t intervene, not wanting a fight with his wife.
Later the same day, Ben Maaouia and Gharbi arrived.
Conforti said she assumed they had spoken with Haouas and that the two didn’t want her to serve them either.
She told the panel that Ben Maaouia then approached her and said, “F**k you, you piece of sh*t. Go back to the third world country where you belong."
“She felt shocked, scared, and speechless,” Cousineau said.
Ben Maaouia denied making the comment, saying he also came from a third world country.
Conforti agreed she did not want to serve Haouas, but said it had nothing to do with him or his friends being Arab. She also denied making the comment alleged by the four ex-customers of Toscani.
Rather, she said, Haouas had disrespected her and Maaouia cursed at her and called her names.
Conforti denied any discrimination.
Cousineau accepted Conforti’s explanation she did not want to serve the four as they had disrespected her and not because of their Arab ancestry.
However, Cousineau also accepted Haouas’ evidence that Conforti told him – in the heat of the moment - that she would not serve “you Arabs”.
“This comment connected the complainants’ race to Ms. Conforti’s refusal to serve them,” Cousineau said. “This was a violation of the Human Rights Code.”
Cousineau found it probable the “you Arabs” comment was said in the heat of the moment – not because Conforti meant to offend the complainants but because she was angry and chose the wrong words in a second language.
But, Cousineau said, it is not the intent of words used but their effect that is important.
“Discriminatory words were ‘spoken at the very same time and place’ as she told Mr. Haouas she would not serve him, and they were ‘inextricably linked’ to that communication,” Cousineau said.
Cousineau said the shop was a place where the men could gather with other members of Vancouver’s small North African community.
“Losing that space was significant to each of them,” Cousineau said.
However, Cousineau expressed some sympathy of Conforti as a small business owner running and working in a busy coffee shop, dealing all day with members of the public.
“I have accepted that some of the complainants made her feel disrespected in her own business and that was upsetting to her, particularly when they complained about her to her husband,” Cousineau said. “I recognize the gendered power dynamics that she talks about when she emphasises that she felt intimidated, afraid, and disrespected as a woman.”