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Tribunal finds B.C. fabric store didn’t discriminate against maskless customer

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decided this spring on 2020 case involving Fabricland customer in Nanaimo
A customer who wasn’t permitted to shop maskless in a Nanaimo fabric store wasn’t discriminated against, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal determined this spring. (Stock photo)

A Nanaimo fabric store that denied entry to a maskless customer in the first year of the pandemic did not discriminate against her, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal determined.

This spring, the tribunal dismissed a case brought forward by a customer who alleged Fabricland Nanaimo discriminated against her based on her disability after she wasn’t allowed to shop there without a mask in October 2020.

The unnamed complainant was dropped off at the store by her husband, but a security guard said she couldn’t enter the store without a mask.

According to the tribunal’s decision, the customer has a prosthetic eye and describes herself as legally blind, and said “the placement of the mask under her eyes … led to rubbing and touching of her eye” which caused infection that required treatment with eye drops.

The customer said she felt “embarrassed and humiliated” when she was told that she was not allowed inside the store and she described crying, feeling devastated, and entering a “dark hole,” as sewing makes her happy and relieves stress.

READ MORE: Human rights commissioner opposes end of mask mandate in B.C. health-care settings

Fabricland testified that it offered two other ways of shopping, a curbside pickup program and online delivery, that were specifically created for the purpose of accommodating people who were unable or unwilling to wear a mask. The store’s manager told the customer’s husband about those options at the time of the incident.

The customer argued that Fabricland took a “strong stance” to exclude people before the province had introduced mask mandates, which were enacted in November 2020, and expressed that in her opinion, a mask policy “was not necessary to achieve [the store’s] health and safety goals.”

Kathleen Smith, the tribunal member who oversaw the case, noted in her decision that the customer did not advise the staff of any medical reason for not wearing a mask at the time of the incident. The store made an effort to accommodate the customer, she determined, and so there was no evidence of discrimination.

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