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Montreal, Canada, April 9, 2009 --- The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal has rejected the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board's motion to dismiss the case of the Filipina-Canadian mother fighting for her son's right to be free from discrimination at his school.

In December 2008, Ms. Maria-Theresa Gallardo filed her lawsuit with the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal (“the Tribunal”) against the school board and two officials for racial and ethnic discrimination she alleges was perpetrated against her and her son, L.C. In particular, she alleges that L.C. was reprimanded at school for eating in the customary Filipino manner, with fork and spoon, during the lunch hour, and that on a separate occasion, an educator made discriminatory remarks about Filipinos and hand washing. She is seeking $24,000 in moral and punitive damages from the educator, the school principal, and the school board.

One month later, the Respondents filed a procedural Motion to dismiss the proceeding claiming that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the case. The Motion was heard at the end of February 2009, and in a decision handed down approximately one month later, the Tribunal denied the School Board's request.

In support of its Motion, the School board argued that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the case because the Quebec Human Rights Commission (QHRC) (a) only partially upheld the complaint; and (b) did not refer the remainder of the matter to the Tribunal citing public interest reasons. The Respondents further used a well-known legal principle of proportionality to argue that the impugned comments, which were found to be discriminatory by the QHRC, had minimal consequences and the Tribunal ought not to use its resources to hear “insignificant” matters. Further, the School board argued that if the Tribunal decided to hear the matter, the inquiry should be limited to discriminatory remarks made by the one educator.

In its decision dated March 31, 2009, the Tribunal ruled that allegations of Charter violations are not considered to be insignificant matters. The principle of proportionality cannot be invoked when the QHRC has found there was enough proof to refer the matter to the Tribunal, particularly in a society founded on the rule of law and protection against discrimination.

As a result, the Tribunal ruled that it cannot dismiss the matter on a preliminary motion to dismiss, such as the motion brought by the School Board, and that it is required to hear the evidence before deciding the case on its merits.

The Tribunal also denied the School Board's request to limit the matter to the educator's remarks, as to do so would be an error in law. Accordingly, the Tribunal will hear the matter in its entirety.“I am very pleased that the Human Rights Tribunal will hear the whole case. This is an important first step in our fight for the dignity of my son, and the entire Filipino community,” said Ms. Gallardo, who was supported by CRARR throughout the duration of her QHRC complaint and is currently represented by civil rights lawyer René Saint-Léger in her lawsuit.

The facts of this case date back to 2006, when Ms. Gallardo, a Filipina-Canadian, mandated CRARR to file a complaint before the QHRC alleging that her son was exposed to discriminatory remarks and treatments for eating with a spoon and a fork in a west-end school of Montreal. She denounced the educator who asked L.C. whether “in (his) country Filipinos washed their hands before they eat” (her son was born in the Philippines but came to Canada at the age of 8 months). She also denounced comments allegedly made by the school principal to the effect that Ms. Gallardo ought to teach her son to “eat the way Canadians eat”.

The QHRC upheld the complaint with respect to the educator's comments (although CRARR maintains that the QHRC did not fully investigate the school principal's comment). It exercised its discretion not to represent Ms. Gallardo before the Tribunal. In Quebec, the QHRC receives and investigates complaints of civil rights violations and will take the case to the Human Rights Tribunal on the victim's behalf if it finds sufficient evidence of discrimination. When the QHRC upholds the civil rights complaint but exercises its discretion, in the public interest, not to refer the case to the Tribunal, a complainant can bring the case before the Tribunal at his or her own expense. In this case, Ms. Gallardo was required to file the lawsuit at her own expense.

The Gallardo family and CRARR welcome donations from anyone in Canada to defray the costs of the litigation.

Gallardo c. Bergeron, TPDQ, 03-2009.pdf47.7 KB