CBSA Accomodates Religious Travelers at the Expense of Female Border Guards

womensrightsLife in a liberal democracy is never as fair as you’d expect it to be. Case in point is the latest deference to religion in favour of violating the principle of gender equality.

According to CBC, on Monday, July 28, Pearson International Airport’s Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) granted the request of a group of Hindu priests to be screened only by male border guards at Terminal 3. The Hindu priests, called Sadhus, explained that they are forbidden to have contact with women.

Both male and female CBSA officers are upset by the granting of this request and their union is considering making a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission

You may think this is a trivial incident. Why not accommodate visitors to our country so that they feel comfortable? I completely agree that we should treat visitors with respect, but my politeness stops when doing so violates someone else’s rights. As the person who came forward with this incident rightly points out:

People are saying ‘What is next? If white supremacists come through, do we move all non-white officers from the line?'”

I have to agree. Accommodation can go only so far and religion gets no pass!

44 thoughts on “CBSA Accomodates Religious Travelers at the Expense of Female Border Guards

  1. It’s amazing to me that they don’t ever see it as a conflict of rights, just as deference to religious privilege.

  2. Well, it’s probably important whether these “sadhus” reject contact with women because they feel there’s some sort of inherent inferiority or uncleanliness in women, i.e., for malevolent reasons, or whether it’s some sort of hermitic type thing and it is purely out of their own self-denial.

    A quick look at wikipedia says there are actually also women “sadhvis”.

    It’s important because I don’t see any reason to come off as superior imposing jerks in all cases, especially if they asked nicely, and since there may in fact be a tangible difference here between malevolent ideologies (white supremacists) and non-malevolent, introverted intentions.

    There is always also the danger of becoming pertinacious ideologues. No free lunches.

    • Of course, knowing very little about what actually happened at the scene, it may be that these “sadhus” were acting like complete jerks, prompting this reaction by the men and ladies at the CBSA.

      However even if that is the case, I don’t think simply invoking some sort of no-questions-asked plea to the country’s well established sensibilities is a valid way of going about it.

      If these “sadhus” were actually being complete jerks at the airport, then the story should be recounted for us all to hear, preferably with evidence, because I don’t want to have my moral indignation manipulated by some jerks on this side just because they got the whimsy either.

  3. There are lots of people, even secular types, who don’t want to be searched by the opposite sex(quite a few feminists among them no doubt). As long as they don’t mind waiting a little longer… who cares.

    Comparing modesty to racism is dumb.

    • What statement do you think is not dumb:

      1) My religion says I cannot have contact with women, so you should accommodate me and make sure I do not come into contact with women.
      2) My religion says I cannot have contact with Jews, so you should accommodate me and make sure I do not come into contact with Jews.
      3) My religion says I cannot have contact with brown people, so you should accommodate me and make sure I do not come into contact with brown people.

      • #2 ?

      • I would say number 2 is the dumb statement, since it is an appeal to the Jew as perpetual victim fallacy. In fact, a new poll commissioned showed a majority of Israelis oppose interracial marriage. Did I mention this is the same country that by force steals Christian/Muslim Palestinian land for Jews-only enclaves? Sorry. I’m sure this somehow a verboten topic.

  4. Do we not have more important things to talk about, yes discrimination based on gender needs to be eradicated, but should we then have unisex toilets. If the religious want to wait in line so there preferences can be met let them.

  5. Of course, knowing very little about what actually happened at the scene, it may be that these “sadhus” were acting like complete jerks, prompting this reaction by the men and ladies at the CBSA.

    By my reading of the article, there was no incident at the scene. The sadhus phoned ahead and made the request, so the shift supervisor told the agents on duty to stick to their assigned lanes and don’t switch around, and when the sadhus arrived they went in the lane they were told to go into and were met by a male agent as promised. No fuss no muss.

    What statement do you think is not dumb:

    They’re all dumb, but that’s beside the point. I think a person who doesn’t want to go through the body scanner because they’re afraid of guards “checking out” their bodies is dumb, too. Yet they get accommodated, and that’s actually introducing a security risk – this accommodation was not.

    I’m generally very sympathetic to concerns about human rights, and anyone who insinuates that when it comes to choosing between bigotry and religious belief that i’m on the side of religious belief is a fucking idiot, but this complaint strikes me as specious. It doesn’t really matter why those travellers wanted to be screened by a male – the reason for the request is utterly irrelevant. Frankly, the reason shouldn’t have even been mentioned at all – even “i just don’t feel comfortable with it” is a good reason. The only question that should be asked is: can this request be reasonably accommodated without impacting the service? In this case the answer was clearly yes – the only “impact” it had on anyone was that the agents on duty were told to not switch lanes for just this one shift – so it should be accommodated. Period.

    Even worse, calling this a human rights violation is a farce because the reality is that no one was actually “violated” in any way. It’s not like the women agents were sent home, or docked pay or had any substantial – or even inconsequential – effect on their jobs, their safety, or their dignity. They were just told to stay in their assigned lanes (same as the male agents, by the way). The effect of the sadhus’ request was totally benign. The only “harm” at all being claimed is “offence”… literally, their complaint is that their feelings were hurt when they heard *why* they were being given an order that they really could have been given without explanation anyway (and that there could have been a number of secular reasons for, like performance testing or doing checks on the security). We don’t take religious people seriously when they’re butthurt because they’re being forced to accept a reasonable accommodation, so why are we taking these people seriously? That smacks of duplicity.

    This “outrage” seems to me to be merely a product of anti-religious bigotry… not actual reasonable concern. I am a secularist, but i am *not* an anti-religious bigot. If the exact same request had been made for a non-religious reason – even a ridiculous, inexplicable non-religious reason, like a phobia of intimate contact with women, or hell, even just personal preference (like a woman saying she would prefer to be screened by female agents) – it wouldn’t be news. It’s just because religion is involved – and a minority religion at that – that people are losing their shit.

    And let me add that there is also an element of ethnic bigotry involved here, too. One of the comments by the agent making the complaint was: “You are a guest in my country.” That should raise red flags for anyone. Because how does she know that? How does she know those weren’t Canadians? It is unlikely if she were a screener she would have dealt with their passports or citizenship status. More than likely, she just assumed.

    I get that the women agents are annoyed that someone wanted to avoid them, but that’s life – it’s the same way that men get annoyed at being denied membership to certain clubs, or that people get annoyed when they’re tuned away from Mensa and so on. Sometimes people just don’t want to deal with you, and it could be because of your gender, it could be because of your IQ, or it could just be because of your face. Deal with it. If you’re a border services agent, your job is to check the passengers, not be liked by them. If a passenger doesn’t want *you* to check them but is okay with one of your colleagues – for whatever reason – deal with it, and just do your damn job.

    And yes, to drive the point home, if someone came to the airport and said they wanted to be screened by a brown person because they hate white people (or vice versa), then that, too, should be accommodated if it can be – and the white agents can all grumble about how annoyed they are at being slighted, but they’ll have to deal with it like adults. If there are no brown people on duty at the moment, then the request will have to be denied (as this request would have had to have been denied if there were only women on duty) – at that point the requester can choose to either suck it up or don’t get on the plane. Whatever the request – and the reasons are utterly irrelevant – if it can be accommodated reasonably, then it should be. If it can’t, then tough luck. The only criteria is whether the accommodation can be done reasonably; nothing more, nothing less.

    • I’d like to see more television workers speak out anonymously about the over-representation of caucasians on Canadian television.

    • By your reasoning then, it would be okay to hire someone at a job who did not want to work with women if that request could be reasonably accommodated?

      • By your reasoning a woman who objects to a male doctor… or even being strip searched by males…. is merely sexist and driven by religious fervor.

        • This had nothing to do with searches – the priests did not want ANY contact with female officers. …they didn’t want to be questioned by females…. body searches are not done by the opposite sex. You’re missing the whole point here. They don’t want to deal with women – in any manner.

      • By your reasoning then, it would be okay to hire someone at a job who did not want to work with women if that request could be reasonably accommodated?

        Why is it that whenever someone starts a sentence with “by your reasoning” on this blog, what follows is always not only obviously *not* by the person’s reasoning, it is usually explicitly refuted right in the reasoning given?

        Case in point, here is what i wrote about why this accommodation is not unreasonable: “Even worse, calling this a human rights violation is a farce because the reality is that no one was actually “violated” in any way. It’s not like the women agents were sent home, or docked pay or had any substantial – or even inconsequential – effect on their jobs, their safety, or their dignity. They were just told to stay in their assigned lanes (same as the male agents, by the way).”

        So after explicitly spelling out in some detail that this is reasonable precisely because it *DOESN’T* impact anyone’s jobs or the nature of the workplace in any way… *somehow* “by my reasoning” it is okay to implement a bigoted hiring policy.

        What next? “By my reasoning” it’s okay to force border agents to wear hijabs if Muslim travellers request it? “By my reasoning” it’s okay eat the children of the poor?

        • Well, they *were* deprived of their opportunity to make snarky behind the back comments, jeers, and hushed catcalls by not being told beforehand what the reason for the sudden break of routine was.

          • So, just to be clear, in all seriousness, I DO think that the Border screeners should have been told the reason beforehand, and I agree with the argument that NOT telling people entrusted with security what’s going on, or keeping them in the dark, is bad policy and I can see why THAT would be something to be upset about. Just in case anybody deemed it fit to make that argument as opposed to the whole moral culture thing.

          • They were told the reason beforehand.

        • I guess we will have to disagree then. I certainly see parallels if someone came to my work place and told senior managers that, because of their religion, they couldn’t interact with women. There was harm done. The women felt like second class citizens.

          • The important point is that while they may have *felt* that way, the plain and irrefutable fact is they were not being *treated* that way. Not in any way that makes any sense (unless you really want to devalue the meaning of “second class citizen”, and who would they be second class to anyway? because the male agents were given the *exact* same instruction as the women). The “offence” was all in their mind.

            And i get that they were hurt and angered by the request and the fact that they had to accommodate it. I would be, too – it’s an idiotic request (flip the genders and get a group of sadhvis (female sadhus) that wanted to only deal with female agents, it would still be idiotic). But what are the options? A) tell the travellers to go fuck themselves on principle making it impossible for them to travel without violating their beliefs; or B) tell the agents on duty to stay in their lanes and not to shuffle around so the request can be harmlessly and trivially accommodated. I’m not a fan of religion, but when i weigh those two options, i don’t really find that option A makes much sense. In fact, it seems a little insane.

            The bottom line is that if we really are serious about living in a free and open society, part of that package includes occasionally having to encounter opinions and practices that infuriate or disgust you. We always tell religious people “you don’t have the right to not be offended”… does that apply to just them but not us? I don’t think so. Which means that from time to time, we secularists will have to put up with disgusting and infuriating opinions and practices. So long as they don’t harm anyone else, or infringe on their rights, freedom, or dignity, then we just have to grit our teeth and find a way to live with them. In this case, being told to not get in the face of people who politely asked that you not get in their face – regardless of their reason for wanting that – is not harming the border agents, or infringing on their rights, freedom, or dignity.

            (Incidentally, as an aside, if your work is private, the senior managers have the freedom and the right to flat out refuse to acquiesce to that request. Public servants like border officials do not have that luxury – they cannot simply refuse requests they find rude, annoying, or stupid, they *have* to consider any reasonable accommodation that can be made. You can’t have, for example, border agents refusing to let you enter the country because your reason for travel is idiotic.)

          • And I’m still not sure I see how ascetics, especially budhist-like inner-self meditative type ascetics, are in any way infuriating or disgusting.

            I think some people should be more careful about their tendencies for violent pogrom-like rhetoric, thinking they can just as easily hide behind the sweetness of femininity if things don’t go well.

          • Of course, I know nothing actually about these Sahdvis and Sadhus other than what wikipedia has to offer.

            If anybody has information demonstrating how they are deplorable people, blame worthy for some sort of pedophilia or india’s “rape culture” for example, then I’d love to hear it.

            But since wiki says women Sadhvis are revered as Goddesses….I think we are probably demonstrating to them our severe intolerance and violent penchant rather than the opposite.

  6. If these Hindu priests refused to be questioned by a female officer, say “sorry” and send them back to wherever they came from on the next plane. The CBSA is clearly wrong.

  7. Just to clarify – these “priests” did not want to have any CONTACT with female officers. It had nothing to do with a “search”….which is always done by same sex officers. In other words….male officers – search males and vice versa. We are not talking about physical searches. The hindu priests didn’t want ANY contact – that means being questioned by female officers. Here’s a question: How did they manage to fly across the world with female flight attendants present on the plane. Oh yes, that’s right – it’s okay because they were serving them food. That’s acceptable in their religion. What can you expect from a religion that worships the cow. just sayin’

    • I’m not surprised at the Hindu priests’ request – I’m surprised that CBSA accommodated the request. Canada has respect for all people – except their own. What kind of hill-billy management is running that place. Shame on CBSA.

    • Oh so it’s ok for women to be sexist and all victorian modesty about searches… even tho men are just as capable of performing a search as females. Men have magic cooties after all. And its not like men are even capable of professional conduct. They are pervs.

  8. Maybe its good thing that these men and women can’t have contact with the opposite sex, at lease they are out of the Gene Pool…

  9. As far as I know when it comes to searches by Border Services, it is never a practice to have the opposite sex employees to do them. If the issue is simply due to religious reason of no contact with women at any level, then there is a big issue of the government violating the Human Rights legislation. Whoever made that call to remove the female officers definitely have lots to explain as most of us really like to know who authorized that degrading act. I thought gender discrimination is unlawful in this country but I was obviously terribly wrong. When the government violates the rights of its own citizens to accommodate religious requests, are they going to accommodate cultural requests, cult requests and every other request simply because the request is actually a demand? Does it mean visitors are excluded from abiding to Canadian law just by citing their firm religious practices? I wonder during their trip if they received special treatment all the way…

    • “As far as I know when it comes to searches by Border Services, it is never a practice to have the opposite sex employees to do them”

      It’s called systemic sexism.

    • If the issue is simply due to religious reason of no contact with women at any level, then there is a big issue of the government violating the Human Rights legislation. Whoever made that call to remove the female officers definitely have lots to explain as most of us really like to know who authorized that degrading act. I thought gender discrimination is unlawful in this country but I was obviously terribly wrong. When the government violates the rights of its own citizens to accommodate religious requests, are they going to accommodate cultural requests, cult requests and every other request simply because the request is actually a demand? Does it mean visitors are excluded from abiding to Canadian law just by citing their firm religious practices?

      *facepalm*

      Nobody “removed” any female officers! There was no “discrimination”! This whole thing is being spun out into ridiculous proportions, with cries of “human rights violations”, and “degradation” and so on, and nobody’s bothering to pay attention to what *really* happened, or why. If you have to fabricate offences in order to be angry at something, maybe being angry about it is not the right move. What really happened is completely benign.

      Imagine there are 10 lanes that serve passengers, just like different checkout lanes at the supermarket – passengers can pick any one of those 10 lanes; whichever is shortest or whichever they think is moving the fastest or whichever is being staffed by an agent that they think looks nice… that’s their choice. These 10 lanes require 10 agents. Now imagine that day there were 5 male and 5 female agents on duty to staff those lanes. On a normal day the agents are free to randomly switch lanes any time they please.

      So now imagine the sadhus arrived, and chose a lane with a male agent on duty. No problems so far… but then while they’re still in line, the agent goes on break, and gets replaced with a female agent. If this were a supermarket checkout line, the sadhus could just quietly excuse themselves from the queue and go to another lane… but you can’t do that at the airport (switching lanes like that is very suspicious, and would probably trigger concern by the security people).

      To avoid that problem, the sadhus made the very reasonable and very sane request of the CBSA that they make sure there’s a lane they can be assured is male-staffed. The CBSA officials opted to handle that request, not by assigning a specific lane to being male-staffed (presumably for security reasons, so that the operating lanes would remain unpredictable), but rather by telling the agents not to swap lanes, so the sadhus could simply pick a male-staffed lane, and be assured it would still be male-staffed when they got to the head of the queue. That’s it. That is *literally* it. The agents were simply told not to move from lane to lane. No one was “removed” (there were still the same hypothetical 5 female agents and 5 male agents on duty). No one was “discriminated” against (the same request was given to *all* agents, not just the females). Nobody had their “rights violated” (i don’t even-). And nobody gets off the hook and doesn’t have to follow the law (where the hell did *that* even come from?).

      The whole affair was handled reasonably, politely, and professionally by all parties – both the sadhus, the CBSA administration, and the agents themselves… until this one agent who was pissed off at the fact that some people didn’t want to deal with her (and, judging by her comments, seems more than a little bit motivated by bigotry) went to the media. And the CBC was of course thrilled to have something to put on the air that would stir up controversy (and ratings) and that they didn’t actually have to do any real journalistic work for.

      • This is very interesting as I was not aware that no female officers was relieved by a male officer for religious privileges granted to the priests. Especially one can request to be served by a preferred gender due to religious preferences. I think you should take a good look at the Human Rights Code on what is classified as gender bias which is commonly called “the law” by common people even though it is referred to as a legislation by others. There should never be any such special accommodation made and convenience granted while the regular Joe has no entitlement to. You want to come into Canada, you shall follow Canadian law as the CBSA is a law enforcement agency. If a group of people claim for whatever reasons they do not deal with Border officers of certain ethnic group, should we say feel free to pick one of your liking and we will make that happen? So far I haven’t heard a word from CBSA management saying the reported facts are not true, never mind stating what actually happened. If someone accuse you of a wrong doing through the media based on fabrication, won’t you defend yourself against it?

        • Actually the legislation does allow for exceptions… I think there is a 3 part test… ianal*.

          *nofeels were harmed making this post.

          • Base on the exceptions in the legislation allowed by the Human Rigts Code, the priests did not qualify under any.

          • I’m afraid you really have no idea what you’re talking about.

            First of all, the Human Rights Code probably does not apply in this case. This seems to be under federal jurisdiction, which would imply that the Human Rights *Act* would be in force.

            Second, you’re just flat-out wrong. The sadhus *would* fall under *several* protected grounds against discrimination – religion, ethnicity, nationality, and so on. That’s true for both the OHRC and the CHRA.

            Third, you keep talking about the Human Rights Code as if you know what it says, but (and the CHRA, too!) it actually says the *opposite* of what you think. It *requires* (see section 5, which says that you cannot deny any service “customarily available to the general public”, which border services would count) the CBSA to accommodate reasonable requests unless it would cause “undue hardship… considering health, safety and cost”. There was no undue hardship here, no risk to health, safety, no excessive cost… all that it required was telling the employees to not shuffle around for a single shift. If the CBSA had refused to accommodate the request, they could have been sued (if not by the sadhus directly, then I’m sure any number of Canadian Hindu organizations would have gladly stepped up).

          • Very good, the punch line is you cannot deny any service “customarily available to the general public. So, you tell me if one doesn’t cite religious stuff, he or she can pick the gender of the CBSA to deal with because it is customarily available to the general public? Sue what? For refusing to grant privileges? If you want to quote the Human Rights Act, well quote the whole paragraph “Discriminatory Practices
            Marginal note:Denial of good, service, facility or accommodation

            5. It is a discriminatory practice in the provision of goods, services, facilities or accommodation customarily available to the general public

            (a) to deny, or to deny access to, any such good, service, facility or accommodation to any individual, or

            (b) to differentiate adversely in relation to any individual,

            on a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

            BTW,
            Accommodation of needs

            (2) For any practice mentioned in paragraph (1)(a) to be considered to be based on a bona fide occupational requirement and for any practice mentioned in paragraph (1)(g) to be considered to have a bona fide justification, it must be established that accommodation of the needs of an individual or a class of individuals affected would impose undue hardship on the person who would have to accommodate those needs, considering health, safety and cost.

            The request was solely based on gender bias as it was made clear to those priests that they will not be searched by the opposite sex. If they would not have any form of communication or distant contact with the opposite sex, they should not even be born as that would be a serious contradiction to their religious belief.

          • Very good, the punch line is you cannot deny any service “customarily available to the general public.

            No, the punchline is you cannot deny any service customarily available to the general public without a good reason. Health, safety, cost; those are good reasons. Bigotry is not.

            Very good, the punch line is you cannot deny any service “customarily available to the general public. So, you tell me if one doesn’t cite religious stuff, he or she can pick the gender of the CBSA to deal with because it is customarily available to the general public?

            This is gibberish i cannot reply to, because it doesn’t make sense. If you can copy-paste the law, you can surely make the effort to read and understand it.

            Sue what? For refusing to grant privileges?

            Sue the CBSA – and, indirectly, the government. For refusing to make a reasonable accommodation.

            The request was solely based on gender bias…

            The request was based on religious asceticism. The “gender bias” is in your head.

            (For it to *actually* be “gender bias”, the sadhus would have to refuse to deal with women *because there is something wrong with women*. That is not the case. Their rules just forbid interacting with other genders – the same rules which apply to sadhvis (female sadhus) – along with a laundry list of other things they’re not allowed to do depending on the sect, like touching money, seeing their families, or owning anything other than a staff and a pot.)

            If they would not have any form of communication or distant contact with the opposite sex, they should not even be born as that would be a serious contradiction to their religious belief.

            Okay, now you’re just being a bigoted idiot.

        • Also, it may be the case that these sadhus who seem to dress very ascetically have experienced bad treatment from our border services, which may be why they requested ahead of time a certain kind of treatment.

          I’m also struck by the sort of holier-than-though “welcome immigrant” – don’t take off your shoes or track in an mud – attitudes.

          The assumption seems to be that these ascetics came to Canada to marvel at Niagara Falls, instead of what is likely the case, they were asked to come by some canadian entity for some purpose, maybe even begged to come, since they don’t look like the traveling types.

          If that’s the case, then I think the rules change and it’s the one who asks that has to accommodate requests by the one being asked.

          • I am sure CBSA did not invite them. The ones who invited them should have educated them of some of the important Border’s rules of this country. I absolutely agree that some of the immigrants have no respect for Canadian culture when it comes to interacting with Canadians which is bad manners but they did not get exempted from CBSA’s regulations or have their special requests for religious believes accommodated in such a fashion.

          • Actually, it would appear someone *did* educate them about our “culture”… because they did exactly the right thing and called ahead to request a special accommodation.

            They appear to have been quite well informed about our laws. The Canadians freaking out over this incident, not so much.

          • So if you or I or anyone to call the CBSA and request the same thing we will all be accommodated the same way? Many are informed of our laws but not respecting and complying with it is the cause of this incident. Where exactly are the so called request for special accommodation or proof of acceptance? There is nothing presentable that showed CBSA ever granted that request under its name.

          • Well, I certainly do hope that if I call CBSA ahead of time, and say, “Look I have an extreme psychological condition that makes me deathly and helplessly afraid of interaction with the same sex. This usually gets me in heaps of trouble especially at borders where the it’s not particularly good to be going through a sweaty panic attic. Is it possible that you let your Border agents know about this for me, or let me request to be queried by an opposite sex agent?”, that my request would at the very least not be met by, “Suck it up dirt bag, and make sure you look straight as an arrow, or expect a 12 hour hold over while we fine-tooth comb you.”

          • Some Canadians have no respect for Canadian culture as well.

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