A Catholic woman has lodged a human rights complaint against Khalsa Credit Union on the basis of religious discrimination, claiming she was denied service because she is not Sikh.
Emilia Peszynska said she heard an advertisement on the radio for what she thought was a good rate for an RRSP and made an appointment with a Surrey branch to invest.
Khalsa Credit Union, established in 1986, has three branches in Surrey, one in Abbotsford, one in Vancouver and one in Saanich. According to its website, khalsacreditunion.ca, “Khalsa Credit Union (KCU) is a credit union based on the Sikh faith. KCU is proud to serve the Sikh community.”
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal heard Peszynska completed a membership application and left a “reasonably large” cheque at the Surrey branch but received a call from the credit union the next day informing her that her RRSP transaction was cancelled because she did not sign a religious declaration.
Tribunal member Pamela Murray, in her July 26 reasons for decision, noted Peszynska then received a letter from Dalbir Singh Mehta, CEO of KCU, “in which he wrote, in essence, that Ms. Peszynska could not be a Khalsa member because she is not a member of the Sikh religion. Ms. Peszynska says Khalsa and Mr. Mehta discriminated against her on the basis of religion in services customarily available to the public.”
The respondents deny any discrimination and applied to have Peszynska’s complaint dismissed. Murray dismissed the complaint against Mehta, but not against the credit union.
“The respondents primarily argue that legislation that applies to Khalsa requires or permits discrimination on the basis of religion and that membership in Khalsa – which they say is the service at issue – is not a service customarily available to the public,” Murray summarized. “However, I cannot find in the circumstances either that Ms. Peszynska’s complaint does not allege an arguable contravention of the Code or that her complaint has no reasonable prospect of success.”
None of the claims have yet been proven or disproven in a hearing before the tribunal. Murray noted the complaint “raises challenging legal issues that are likely to be of importance to the public, particularly in view of the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University.” In that case, Canada’s highest court in a 7-2 vote upheld a decision to deny accreditation to the TWU law school because it required students to commit to a religion-based covenant prohibiting sex outside of marriage between a man and woman, contrary to the rights of LGBTQ law students.
“Given the importance of the issue, certain factual similarities between this complaint and Trinity Western, and the slim materials before me, I am not prepared to dismiss Ms. Peszynska’s complaint on a preliminary application,” Murray decided.
Peszynska’s situation with Khalsa began Feb. 22, 2017, when she did her membership paperwork, paid $35 for shares, and left a cheque for the RRSP investment.The respondents argue that when KCU was established the Credit Union Act required that a credit union “shall have a common bond of membership which shall be based on…religious, ethnic or social interest.”
They told the Tribunal that people wishing to join KCU must sign a religious declaration, filed in September 1986 with the Superintendent of Credit Unions, Co-operatives & Trust Companies, that reads: “I solemnly declare that I believe in One God, the Ten Gurus (from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh), in Siri Guru Granth Sahib, in Siri Guru Granth Sahib’s Bani and teachings, and in Guru Gobind Singh’s Amrit and do not follow any other religion.”
Murray said Peszynska told the Tribunal she is “deeply concerned that, in modern Canadian society, she could be denied financial services because of her religion.”
The Tribunal heard that Mehta no longer works with KCU. The respondents argue the only allegation against him is that he wrote a “polite” letter to Peszynska explaining KCU’s “common bond of membership.”
Peszynka’s counter-argument is that as CEO Mehta was “more than just an employee” and had the ability to “change Khalsa policies to include all Canadians.”
Murray, however, found Mehta’s letter to Peszynska “does not involve the kind of responsibility or culpability that suggests he should remain as a respondent.”