Trans woman who complained salons wouldn't wax genitalia ordered to pay $6K
VANCOUVER – The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed more than half a dozen complaints from a transgender woman who accused local salon workers of discrimination because they refused to wax her male genitalia.
The tribunal also ordered the complainant, Jessica Yaniv, to pay $2,000 each to all three of the estheticians who filed a defence in the case.
Jay Cameron of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a non-profit law firm that represented the women, said one of his clients was so relieved by the decision that she broke down in tears.
"It's more than an inconvenience to have a human rights complaint against you alleging publicly that you're some sort of transphobe," Cameron told CTV News. "That's a very serious allegation in today's culture and it's debilitating. It really altered their lives for the past year-and-a-half."
Another four women did not participate in the process and won't receive any financial compensation.
Though the basic premise of Yaniv's complaints triggered a wave of online outrage, the tribunal found they drew attention to an "under-studied area of public life" that warranted exploring.
In the end, however, tribunal member Devyn Cousineau accused Yaniv of abusing the process.
Yaniv gave "inconsistent and untruthful evidence," was evasive on key questions, and even improperly demanded a payout of $500,000 in an attempt to pressure one of the respondents into a settlement, according to Cousineau's written decision.
"Ms. Yaniv deliberately sought to weaponize the tribunal for financial gain," Cousineau said, even accusing the complainant of "a pattern of filing human rights complaints … to punish certain ethnic groups which she perceives as hostile to the rights of LGBTQ+ people."
Most of the salon workers were immigrants to Canada who did not speak English as their first language, and all provided their services either at their own home or at the homes of their clients.
The case hinged on the question of whether they generally performed waxing on men's bodies. The tribunal determined the answer was no, and that some of them actively avoided doing so for religious and cultural reasons.
And while Yaniv argued her gender identity as a woman entitled her to those services anyway, the tribunal found there are nuances to the issue that separate it from clear-cut incidents of anti-LGBTQ2 discrimination.
While Yaniv suggested her treatment paralleled cases where gay or transgender people were unfairly denied services, such as weddings, Cousineau was not convinced.
"I do not find the circumstances analogous. There is no material difference in a cake which is baked for a straight wedding, and one that is baked for a gay wedding. Nor does baking a cake for a gay wedding require you to have intimate contact with the client," Cousineau wrote.
"In contrast, in the case of genital waxing, I have found there is a material difference in waxing different types of genitals and that, because of its intimate nature, service providers must consent to provide service on a particular type of genitals."
A licensed esthetician who teaches at the Blanche Macdonald Centre in Vancouver spoke to the tribunal about the differences between waxing male and female genitalia. She said the services involve different techniques for positioning, applying and removing of the wax, and that if done improperly, the process can cause bleeding, skin-tearing and bruising.
Greg Robins of the Beauty Council of Western Canada agreed, telling CTV News it's a major liability issue for service providers.
"Estheticians are very specifically trained in very specific services, and if they're asked to do something outside of those services there could be real danger," said Robins, who added that the industry has been following the complaints closely.
Not everyone was asked to wax Yaniv's genitalia; two of the seven women were asked to remove hair from Yaniv's arms and legs, a service the tribunal found would not be substantially different whether the client is a man or woman. Cousineau went so far as to say at least one of those complaints was potentially justified, even though she ultimately opted to dismiss both given the overarching issues with the case.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms argued the three woman who responded to the complaints – Sandeep Benipal of Blue Heaven Beauty Lounge, Sukhdip Hehar of Sukhi Beauty Dream Salon and Marcia DaSilva – were entitled to $5,000 each given Yaniv's conduct.
But Cousineau said there were mitigating factors as well: her politeness and deferential behaviour throughout the hearings, and the "torrent of backlash and hatred" she has already faced in bringing forward her complaints.
"I am satisfied that $6,000 strikes the right balance in expressing the Tribunal’s condemnation of Ms. Yaniv’s conduct while not exacting too harsh a punishment on her," Cousineau wrote in her decision.
Yaniv declined to comment on the story when contacted by CTV News on Tuesday.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Angela Jung