The Quebec Human Rights Commission has ruled in favour of a retired gay couple who launched a complaint after alleged incidents of antigay harassment. The commission has ordered the father of a man, who was 17 at the time of the alleged incidents, to pay the couple $10,000 in moral damages.
“We are very pleased with this decision,” says Fo Niemi of Montreal’s Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), who argued in front of the commission on behalf of the couple. “They had a very legitimate case. They were being singled out for being gay.”
The couple, Roger Thibault and Theo Wouters, have lived in the Montreal suburb of Pointe Claire for more than a decade. They say they were harassed for several months by at least two young men driving a blue pickup truck. The harassment, which allegedly occurred in 2003, included an incident where the truck slowed down and someone threw a roll of toilet paper on Thibault and Wouters’ lawn. In another incident the youth allegedly threw something that was on fire onto the couple’s front doorstep.
One evening, just as the couple arrived home, Thibault and Wouters say the blue pickup truck drove by and slowed down long enough for one young man to yell homophobic slurs at the couple. Wouters and Thibault got in their car and gave chase, cornering the truck a few blocks away and refusing to move. A young man got out of the truck and threatened to break the window of the couple’s car and Wouters’ face. Thibault, meanwhile, had used his cell to call police, who arrived shortly thereafter. When police did not press charges the couple say they approached CRARR out of frustration.
“Theo and I are both in our 60s now,” says Thibault. “It’s really not fair for us to have to put up with this. But we had to say something. To allow this to go on without saying anything would have been wrong. We are glad that the commission has taken this stand.”
The identities of the young man involved and his father are protected under Quebec’s Youth Protection Act because the former was a youth at the time of the incidents. In his testimony the youth acknowledged that he did not agree with the “lifestyle” of the couple.
Wouters and Thibault had already become well-known in Quebec in 2003 for their complaints of harassment against two of their neighbours, but their story was called into question after one of the neighbours, Robert Walker, told the media that he wasn’t homophobic. Wouters and Thibault’s case against Walker was subsequently thrown out of court. Walker is now suing Wouters and Thibault in a civil trial, slated to be heard in February.
Niemi says he sees no connection between the two cases. “We didn’t consider that case at all. The facts were very clear in this one. We had police reports to back up what had happened.”
Though CRARR deals primarily with issues around racism, Niemi says this case was so appalling, he and others at CRARR felt they had to represent Wouters and Thibault. He says his only disappointment in the ruling is that the couple was not also awarded punitive damages.
The commission’s ruling gave the man’s father a July deadline by which to make the $10,000 payment; as of press time the payment had not been made. The refusal to pay almost certainly means the case will be put before a commission tribunal, which will then have the power to force the man’s father to pay Wouters and Thibault the money.