The owner of Rental Diva, who is facing a human rights complaint, says she is the real victim, not the gay couple who she denied an apartment to in July.
The gay couple, Thiago Derucio and his boyfriend, Chris Prentice, filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal after the owner of Rental Diva, Juliet Stewart, refused to rent them an apartment because they are gay.
The community responded to the story with outrage. Many people calling and emailing Stewart personally to express an opinion on the policies of the agency, she says.
Stewart is now digging in her heels, saying she plans to file a complaint of her own against Thiago. She says he should be held responsible for the angry reaction of members of the gay community.
“You don’t even understand what I’ve endured,” she says. “Death threats, harassment, slander from the entire [gay] community. I had to call the police… Shame on these people who are calling and threatening me.”
Stewart, the owner of the unlicensed rental agency in Brampton, maintains that she was only doing what the landlord, her client, instructed. He explicitly told her that the apartment should not be rented to gay couples, she says.
The reason for the discrimination is on religious grounds, she says. The landlord is a member of the Seventh-day Adventists, a Christian denomination distinguished by its observance of Saturday as the Sabbath.
Derucio, who meets his human rights lawyer next month, is directing his OHRC complaint at both Stewart and the landlord. Steward has so far refused to reveal the identity of the landlord.
“If they want [the identity of the landlord], the Tribunal can go after Rental Diva to get to the landlord,” he says. “If Rental Diva doesn’t give up their information, I’m guessing the Tribunal can still go after them.”
Derucio says he has been inundated with encouraging messages and support.
“Everyone has been really supportive of me, telling me to keep pursuing it and fighting,” he says. “I walked into Crews and Tango and people shake my hand, congratulate me and tell me they’re all proud of me.
“I am not doing this for myself. I am standing up for everybody. I’m sure there is more than one person this has happened to in Toronto, and they kept their mouth shut. I’m not one to keep my mouth shut. If [Stewart] wants to see a diva, I’ll show her a diva.”
Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the OHRC, told Xtra at the time that housing providers are not permitted to discriminate against anyone, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, race, disability or religion. The only exception is if the apartment is a shared space with the landlord, which, in this case, it was not.
“Housing providers offering rental opportunities to the public need to do so in a non-discriminatory way,” Hall said.
Stewart says she is not worried about a complaint to the OHRC. Asked if she regrets the discrimination inflicted on Thiago, Stewart says “no.”
“No, absolutely not,” she says. “You know why? It’s not directed at Thiago. That’s why I never felt bad. It’s his lifestyle. Why don’t people understand that? It’s not him. It’s his lifestyle.”
“Gay people have choices about who they are. Religious groups also have rights. This is religion versus homosexuality.”