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Man won’t sell home to gays, couple alleges

Couple files rights complaint with British Columbia tribunal

A lesbian couple alleges that because of their sexuality, an Alberta man refused to sell them a North Vancouver townhome.

“We had no conditions to sale. We had pre-approved finance. It was subject free. In the real estate world, that’s a really compelling offer,” says Claire Benson-Mandl, who co-signed the contract with her spouse Natalie Prichard.

But their offer for the home was rejected. The owner said he wanted to sell to a young family instead, claims Benson-Mandl.

Days later, Prichard and Benson-Mandl filed a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal against the homeowner, Alexander Berry. The case is set to be heard Oct 15-16.

Under BC’s Human Rights Code, a person may not discriminate based on sexual orientation when selling property.

The man tried to get the complaint dismissed by arguing that as an Alberta resident, he was not within the jurisdiction of the BC rights tribunal. But the tribunal decided on Sep 27 to allow the case to proceed because the townhome is located in British Columbia. That decision sets an important precedent, says Benson-Mandl.

“So much real estate in Vancouver is owned by people that don’t live here and who live in countries where gay and lesbian rights don’t exist. But they are now subject to the law here, regardless of what their home country or state believes,” she says.

Berry denies that he knew the women were a couple. He says he rejected their offer because they placed a short time limit on the agreement and he felt pressured to make a decision.

He provided the tribunal with polygraph test results to support his case, but the tribunal refused to accept the results. A 1987 Supreme Court of Canada decision stated that polygraph tests are not admissible.

The couple say they really just wanted to find a new place to live, and they fell in love with the North Vancouver townhome when they saw it. Since then, they have found a new home, but they are not giving up the fight against what they say was discrimination.

“We are committed to seeing this through mostly because we recognize our rights have been hard-won over the past 40 years,” says Benson-Mandl. “Now that this has come up, it’s our turn.”