A Surrey Pretrial inmate has lodged a human rights complaint against the provincial government for not serving her kosher food.
Hayden Patterson, who says she has identified as Jewish since age 15, claims the denial of her request for a kosher diet is a violation of Section 8 of the Human Rights Code.
The respondent — Her Majesty the Queen in right of the Province of British Columbia as represented by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General (Surrey Pretrial Services Centre) – applied to have Patterson’s complaint dismissed but tribunal member Devyn Cousineau decided on Jan. 18 that the matter “warrants a hearing.”
“The hearing is the appropriate time for Surrey Pretrial to advance its arguments that challenge Ms. Patterson’s credibility and the sincerity of her request, and lead fulsome evidence to justify its policy,” Cousineau stated in her reasons for decision.
“I agree that Ms. Patterson’s evidence about her faith is scarce,” she decided. “However, religion can be a solitary experience.”
Cousineau said Patterson told the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal she “sincerely believes that eating kosher is required by God,” and “argues that Surrey Pretrial’s policy for approving religious-based diets made it effectively impossible for her request to be approved, despite her best efforts.”
Patterson asked for a kosher diet in August 2016, requiring the pretrial chaplain to verify the authenticity of her request, in consultation with a rabbi. It was denied on June 2018.
Surrey Pretrial, in Newton, is a high-security remand centre located across the street from the provincial courthouse and holds alleged offenders, on court order, who are awaiting trial, transfer or are serving a sentence of less than two years.
The pretrial centre’s legal counsel, Zachary Ansley, argued that Patterson has no reasonable prospect of establishing at a hearing, the sincerity of her religious belief that compels her to eat kosher food and that her self-identification as Jewish is not enough to lift her complaint out of the realm of conjecture.
Cousineau heard that Patterson didn’t raise the issue of needing a kosher diet until nearly two years into her incarceration, and that her actions “support a stronger connection to Christianity, and she could not point to a single connection to the Jewish community prior to her incarceration.”
The tribunal member noted the remand centre is obliged under the Corrections Act to provide religious services for inmates. When an inmate arrives at Surrey Pretrial, they must declare any dietary requirements and can’t change them after that unless it’s okay-ed by the centre’s physician or chaplain.
When Patterson was admitted in September 2014 she advised her jailers that she had celiac disease and needed a gluten-free, wheat-free diet. A doctor verified this and her request was approved that October.
The tribunal heard she‘d been adopted by Christians who kicked her out of their house when she was 15.
“She says that she had formed the impression, based on her adoptive parents’ behaviour, that her birth mother had been Jewish,” Cousineau noted. “She says that her adoptive parents had never given her pork and were often emphasizing the importance of discipline and self-control in respect to food.”
Cousineau said Patterson believes her adoptive parents were trying to fulfill the wishes of her birth mother that she be fed kosher food.
“While she was homeless, she says that she did her best to eat only kosher foods but was not able to attend synagogue or connect with the Jewish community,” Cousineau noted. “This, she says, if why she could not provide the chaplain with contact information for a religious leader who could verify her faith.”
The tribunal member also heard that Patterson also asked her jailers for a “Catholic” Bible, a rosary, Catholic source materials, Christmas cards, a “Christian” Bible, and “inquired about an Islamic prayer mat and halal diet.”
“She explains that she was asking about the halal diet because she thought it was like kosher,” Cousineau said. “When she learned it was not, she ended her inquiries.”
Cousineau said the law is clear that Patterson’s rights under the Code are “not contingent on a religious authority recognizing her as Jewish.
“Her beliefs can be recognized, and protected, based on her subjective connection to Judaism.”