Founded in 1983 - United for Diversity and Racial Equality


Montreal, June 26, 2013--- A precedent-setting civil rights complaint could significantly advance the fight against intersectional discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, language, and gender identity in Quebec.

Ms. Tomee Sojourner, President of Tomee Sojourner Consulting and a Black lesbian management consultant, has filed a complaint of judicial bias with the Conseil de la justice administrative (the Administrative Judicial Council) against a member of the Rental Board for the latter’s conduct during a hearing held earlier this month.

On June 11, 2013, Ms. Sojourner appeared before the Rental Board in a case against her former landlord, for not addressing toxic mold water damage, and for inappropriate conduct by her building superintendent, in her apartment in the Côte-des-Neiges borough. The landlord had filed a claim against Ms. Sojourner for breaking her lease. Ms. Sojourner was accompanied by a friend, also a former tenant in the same building; her friend is also a Black professional woman.

According to her complaint with the Council, the presiding judge, Luce De Palma, repeatedly referred to her as a man (by calling her “il”, “lui” et “monsieur Sojourner”), despite being reminded by Ms. Sojourner and the landlord's representative that she is a woman. At one point, when Ms. Sojourner corrected the judge by telling her that she should be addressed as “Madame Sojourner”, not “Monsieur”, Judge De Palma said, “it's probably your hair ...” and proceeded to call her “Mr. Mrs.”

In addition to these offensive remarks, Judge De Palma showed a distinctively hostile, dismissive and unprofessional attitudes towards Ms. Sojourner, compared to the way she addressed the landlord's representative. She often cut off Ms. Sojourner, made minimal eye contact with her when she spoke to her and appeared visibly annoyed by Ms. Sojourner's explanations. She also spoke to the landlord's representative in French, leaving Ms. Sojourner completely in the dark as to what was being exchanged between the two. The hearing concluded after 15 minutes, without a decision being rendered.

“The judge was clearly biased, hostile and discourteous towards me as I am a Black woman whose image does not fit that of a “typical” woman,” said Ms. Sojourner, who is bald and burly.

“By repeatedly referring to me as a man despite being corrected by both the landlord's representative and myself, and with her offensive remark about my hair as a rationale for calling me a man, the judge clearly showed her racial and transphobic bias,” added Ms. Sojourner.

As a result, she believes that the judge's behaviour led to the denial of her right to the equal protection and benefit of the law and a fair and impartial hearing. The issue of the intersection of race, gender identity, sexual orientation and language are key factors in this complaint.

“This may be the first civil rights complaint of its kind in Quebec that invokes gender identity, a term that is neither found in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, nor the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as a prohibited ground of discrimination. It is therefore potentially groundbreaking,” said McGill law student Stephen De Four-Wyre, who works on the case.

According to CRARR's Executive Director Fo Niemi, “this case also illustrates the need for administrative tribunals to have more judges who come from different racial, linguistic and other diverse backgrounds and trained on anti-discrimination so that everyone is equal before and under the law.”

On November 9, 2006, human rights experts from many countries met in Yogyakarkta, Indonesia to address the abuse of human rights of LBGT people around the world, and adopted what is known as the Yogyarkata Principles (Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). Under these Principles,

  • Gender identity is understood to refer to each person's deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms.
  • Countries around the world are called upon to “adopt appropriate legislative and other measures to prohibit and eliminate discrimination in the public and private spheres on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity” and to “take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to prohibit and eliminate prejudicial treatment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity at every stage of the judicial process, in civil and criminal proceedings and all other judicial and administrative proceedings which determine rights and obligations…”

    On June 17, 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a Resolution calling on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to examine “how international human rights law can be used to end violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”