Haircuts vs. Human Rights


Faith McGregor walked into the Terminal Barber Shop on Bay St. in June to get a haircut…Shop co-owner Omar Mahrouk told her his Muslim faith prohibits him from touching a woman who is not a member of his family. All the other barbers said the same thing.

Local readers have no doubt already heard about this case. Faith is taking her complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and it will be interesting to see what happens with it in the near future.

Photo by Corpse Reviver.

Some Torontonians worry that if the tribunal decides the Terminal Barber Shop can refuse service to a woman because of her gender it will begin to roll back the effects of the Human Rights Code of Ontario. (U.S. readers should note that Canadian laws and culture in this area are a little different from what one finds in the States. Please click on the link for more information.)

Others think it’s wrong for the barbers to be forced to do something against their religious beliefs. There are plenty of other barbershops in Toronto that don’t have a problem cutting a woman’s hair. Why not just take your business elsewhere?

What I find incredible about this case is how much attention it’s received so far. In a city as sprawling and multicultural as Toronto surely this issue has come up before. Need a prescription to be filled or a medical procedure to be completed? I’m all for insisting that pharmacists and doctors either do it themselves or ensure you’re quickly referred to someone who is able to look after you. Outside of the medical field I think there’s a little more leeway, though.

If general-your religious beliefs prohibit you from touching women outside of your family why not hire one person to work in your shop who is comfortable with it? Or find a nearby competitor who is happy to take some of your business?

I’d gladly walk a few extra blocks for a 10-20% discount on a haircut. In fact, I’d give good word-of-mouth advertising to both shops if they were friendly, helpful and apologetic about the hassle. This way everyone wins – the customer gets a good deal, the competitor gets extra money in his or her till and the original barber doesn’t have to disobey his god.

With that being said I also understand Faith’s point of view. Being a woman is difficult enough without having to walk down the street and guess which businesses are willing to serve you. Open to the public shouldn’t be restricted to 50% of the population any more than it should be reinterpreted to mean only for a certain religious or ethnic group.

What I don’t see is why this has to be a legal battle.


Am I missing something here? What do you think? What local news stories have puzzled you lately?



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2 Responses to Haircuts vs. Human Rights

  1. TWF

    I guess its just too easy to get sucked up into thinking that matters like these require some sort of dogmatic blanket policy. But I’m with you. We are talking about a non-critical service where alternatives are readily available, so it should be within the shopkeeper’s rights to have his own restrictions, and in his interest to employ the great solutions you suggest: employing someone who can cut women’s hair or humbly suggesting another salon. It certainly isn’t like Toronto has an issue with diversity that requires government intervention to change the mindset!

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