A Trinity Western University (TWU) graduate has filed a human rights complaint against a wilderness tourism company for discrimination on the basis of religion and political belief, following a heated email exchange in which the prospective employer challenged Christianity as well as TWU’s community covenant that prohibits premarital sex and homosexuality.
Bethany Paquette, a self-described “proud Christian,” applied by email Sept 10 to work as an assistant guide intern for Amaruk Wilderness Corp. The next day she received a reply from Olaf Amundsen, the company’s hiring manager.
“I do not understand the purpose of your application considering you do not meet the minimum requirements that are clearly outlined on our web site,” Amundsen wrote, according to documents released to CBC news.
“Additionally, considering you were involved with Trinity Western University, I should mention that, unlike Trinity Western University, we embrace diversity, and the right of people to sleep with or marry whoever they want, and this is reflected within some of our staff and management,” Amundsen continued.
“In addition, the Norse background of most of the guys at the management level means that we are not a Christian organization, and most of us actually see Christianity as having destroyed our culture, tradition, and way of life,” he added.
In another email, Amundsen noted that Trinity Western graduates were not welcome in their Norwegian company and objected to Paquette’s use of “God Bless” in her follow-up email.
“I do not want to be blessed by some guy who was conceived by a whore, outside of marriage, and whom has been the very reason for the most horrendous abuses and human right violations in the history of the human race,” Amundsen wrote. “If I was to meet the guy, I’d actually fuck him.”
“I would say that in my experience at Trinity Western, I never heard of or saw any discrimination. And for me to simply apply for a job and to be attacked because of the university I went to is pretty hurtful, and I felt wronged,” Paquette tells Xtra. “It’s a very accepting campus, and all people are treated with respect. I also want to say minorities should be protected and shouldn’t be discriminated against by belief or stance in life. The value of people is important and shouldn’t ever be belittled.”
Paquette subsequently received email messages from three other Amaruk employees, including the CEOs, who supported Amundsen’s email and explained that TWU’s values are unacceptable in both Canada and Norway.
Christopher Fragassi-Bjørnsen, co-CEO of Amaruk, describes the emails as an exchange of opinion — not discrimination. He says the comments about Trinity Western and Christianity had nothing to do with their decision not to hire Paquette.
“She’s trying to mix different matters together,” he tells Xtra. “If a person applies for a job at an airline and they don’t have the proper qualifications, namely the pilot’s licence, any conversation that ensues afterwards is irrelevant to the hiring process. In order to be an assistant guide intern, you need a certificated assistant guide certificate. When someone doesn’t meet requirements, we don’t look at their application anymore.”
Paquette’s lawyer, Geoffrey Trotter, does not believe this.
“The grounds for discrimination don’t need to be the main factor — they can just be part of the decision-making process,” he says. “It’s not going to fly for them to say, ‘We didn’t hire for this reason,’ when most of the email filled up with things about her religion.”
TWU spokesperson Guy Saffold agrees. “It’s an interesting claim, but when you put that in the rejection letter and sign your name on company internet stationary and put the company name underneath it, I think that’s a fairly hollow excuse,” he says. “What we would like to say is that every human being, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, gay or lesbian, deserves to be treated with dignity, respect and kindness.”
Marcus McCann, a gay law-school graduate who led a crowd-funding initiative to fight Trinity Western in court, describes the emails from Amaruk as shocking and unacceptable.
“Provincial human rights codes are abundantly clear,” he says. “In an employment situation, an employer is required not to discriminate. If the attached complaint is true — and an adjudicator will decide whether there is merit in the case and come to a determination — if the facts are as she alleges, there is not a lot of grey area there. It is pretty bald, and I don’t know if the facts of her complaint are in dispute, but if they are true, then it is totally unacceptable and totally unrelated to the complaint that has been fought against the accreditation of Trinity Western’s proposed law school.”
In April, Trevor Loke, an openly gay Christian who plans to go to law school, sued the BC government for approving TWU’s proposed law school, alleging the school’s covenant discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. The case has not yet been heard in court.
The Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the BC Ministry of Advanced Education have approved the school. The law societies in Alberta and Saskatchewan voted to accept TWU graduates, while the law societies in Nova Scotia and Ontario refused. New Brunswick initially accepted TWU’s bid for accreditation, but law society members there are now urging the board to reverse that decision. In British Columbia, accreditation will now be decided by the province’s 11,000 members through a binding mail-out referendum.
“When you look at the exchanges that occurred in this context, this is a very unusual case,” says Micheal Vonn, policy director for the BC Civil Liberties Association. “You will find very, very few cases at least that have been through to tribunal where people are actually being told face-front in writing, ‘I am not happy with your religious views.’ This is very rare.”
Vonn says there is a time and place for the religious commentary in Amundsen’s emails, such as a blog or an email exchange between friends.
“You are allowed to hold any views about this subject that you choose,” she says. “It’s part of your freedom of conscience and your freedom of belief. One of the places you aren’t free to express yourself is in the context of being an employer and being governed by human rights legislation that doesn’t allow you to discriminate on these grounds. That’s for the tribunal to sort out.”
Paquette is seeking unspecified compensation for lost wages and salary, as well as injury to feelings and self-respect; a declaration that the emails constituted discrimination and harassment contrary to the code; and an order that the company cease that type of conduct.
“Bethany’s experience reminds us that all minorities are in need of protection, and for that reason, I would hope the LGBT community would feel empathy for Bethany and her complaint,” Trotter says.