Job rejection: Bad manners or prohibited discrimination – or both?

Bethany Paquette was hurt by the response of Amaruk Wilderness Corp. to her job application.

Bethany Paquette was hurt by the response of Amaruk Wilderness Corp. to her job application.

It would have been a dream job for Bethany Paquette – adventure guiding in remote regions in Canada, and perhaps overseas.

But it was not to be. Bethany is a Trinity Western University (TWU) science grad, who has worked the past two summers for Hyak River Rafting, a Vancouver organization operating on many British Columbia white water rivers.

It appears she was educated at a university that the principals of Amaruk Wilderness Corp. could not tolerate.

The email Bethany received from Olaf Amundsen rejected her application out of hand, suggesting that, despite her experience with Hyak, she was not qualified. But it was the unsolicited broadside accompanying the rejection that Bethany found to be “pretty hurtful.”

It led her, in fact, to file a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal, in order to “put a stop to Amaruk discriminating against Christians and Trinity grads.”

amaruk1Bethany and her lawyer, Geoffrey Trotter, have posted the emails from Amundsen and Amaruk co-CEO Christopher Fragassi-Bjornsen. Among Amundsen’s quotes – and Bethany’s responses:

  • “Unlike Trinity Western University, we embrace diversity and the right of people to sleep with or marry whoever they want.” (Bethany’s response: “My beliefs have developed who I am as an individual, but they don’t come into play when I am doing my job.”)
  • “The Norse background of most of the guys at the management level means that we are not a Christian organization, and most of us actually see Christianity as having destroyed our culture, tradition and way of life.” (Ironically, the Christian denomination that founded TWU – the Evangelical Free Church – has deep roots in Norwegian and Swedish culture. Bethany wrote to Amundsen that the Norse people chose Christianity.)
  • “In asking students to refrain from same-sex relationships, Trinity Western University, and any person associated with it, has engaged in discrimination.”

The Trinity grad allowed that she had signed her email with “God bless” because “I knew it would irritate them.”

Seemingly it did. Amundsen replied: “[I am] a Viking with a PhD in Norse culture. No propaganda is lost on me. . . . ‘God bless’ is very offensive to me and yet another sign of your attempts to impose your religious views on me. I do not want to be blessed by some guy . . . who has been the very reason for the most horrendous abuses and human rights violations in the history of the human race.”

Then, using an expletive, he suggested that if he, himself, met God, he would have sex with him. It was that comment which triggered Bethany to take her case to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.

Amundsen’s email was followed by one from Fragassi-Bjornsen. Among his quotes:

  • “Trinity Western University believes that two men loving each other is wrong . . . we believe a man ending up with another man is probably the best thing that could happen to him.
  • “But we do not force these views onto other people, and we are completely fine if a guy decided to go the emasculation route by marrying a BC woman.”

Bethany, for her part, says: “They had never even met me and never talked to me in person and they just assumed all these things . . . and found it okay to attack me.”

Geoffrey Trotter says, “You are not allowed, in British Columbia, to refuse to hire someone because you associate them with other people, from centuries ago, who you think did something they should not have done.”

Bethany, herself a Christian, had no difficulty signing TWU’s community covenant, which, among other things, asks students to commit to refraining from sex outside traditional marriage. She grew up in Kamloops, with one parent who was Christian and the other not. She was attracted to Trinity Western because “it was the one school that caught my interest in returning to school. It was a cool place.”

Bethany has experience with river rafting, though not enough, according to Amaruk.

Bethany has experience with river rafting, though not enough, according to Amaruk.

Guy Saffold, special assistant to TWU president Bob Kuhn, approached for comment by CBC News, noted: “Canadians shouldn’t be treated this way by a foreign company. Mocking of their religion – there is a personal shaming element to it that was most unfortunate.”

But Amundsen said Bethany’s job application was rejected “solely based on the fact that she did not meet the minimum requirements of the position. Any further discussion after that, including the fact that we strongly disagree with the position that gay people should not be allowed to marry or even engage in sexual relationships, would have been a mere expression of opinion.”

Micheal Vonn, policy director for the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), told CBC News that employers should not express opinions about an applicant’s religious background: “You are allowed to think anything you like. But you have obligations as an employer to act in a non-discriminatory manner.”

With respect to what the Human Rights Tribunal might do with the complaint, Vonn noted: “What you have is written documentation that more or less is tantamount to a sign on the door that says no one of religious affiliation need apply for employment here. We don’t usually see discrimination cases that are quite this stark.”

While not taking a position on Trinity Western’s community covenant, the BCCLA has consistently sided with the right of the university to take the stances it does. That has been the case both in the current controversy over some law societies’ opposition to TWU’s plans for a law school, and when the university went through a similar process 14 years ago. At that time, TWU won at the Supreme Court of Canada, against the BC College of Teachers’ contention that the school’s community covenant required that its teacher education program be supervised by Simon Fraser University (a public and ‘secular’ institution).

For his part, Geoffrey Trotter wants the tribunal to send “a really strong message” that “it is not acceptable to discriminate based on what somebody believes or where they went to school – that it is not ‘open season’ on Christians in Canada.” 

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2 comments for “Job rejection: Bad manners or prohibited discrimination – or both?

  1. A Viking trying to guilt a Christian over historic wrongs seems quite funny to me, but then again I don’t have a PhD in Norse victimology.

  2. I welcome Bethany Paquette’s decision to take this matter to the Human Rights Commission, because it seems that’s how these issues are dealt with these days. Christians are usually on the receiving end of these tribunals, so it’s only fair to turn the tables. However…what I really hope comes out of this is a new awareness among the public and HRCs that people must be allowed to hold personal beliefs and act on them without being attacked for them.

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