Hair that should not be brushed away

Michel Botman Photography © (Toronto 2012)

Last Friday, I sent a letter to the Toronto Start in response to the following article on a recent Ontario Human Rights lawsuit:

Did Ms. Dimanno get it right?

Ontario courts are being questioned on a case of human rights versus religious rights.  A Toronto woman was recently denied a haircut because she is a woman.  A male hairdresser refused to cut her hair, claiming that his faith did not allow him to touch a woman’s hair (other than that of a close relative).

While it is true that the problem could have been avoided if the owner of the salon had clearly advertised his establishment to be a “Men’s Barber Shop”, the issue at stake is certainly of a much deeper nature.  It is the question of the relative rights of competing rights.  In our society, are some rights more fundamental than others?

Some will – figuratively and hastily – attempt to brush the issue away, claiming: “It was just a haircut.” “What is all the fuss about?” “This lady could have gone anywhere else to have her hair done.”

However, is it acceptable for a woman to be discriminated against, and denied services, because she is a woman?  Is it tolerable for black people to be discriminated against because they are black?  Is it right for transgendered people to be discriminated against because of their genetic nature?  In our society, don’t we all have equal rights and freedoms?

Some will claim to have such prejudicial prerogative for personal, philosophical, moral, traditional or religious reasons.  After all, there are many societies where individuals are not afforded equal rights because of gender, skin color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cast, etc.

Ms. Dimanno is right.  When in Bagdad or Kandahar, Canadian women will be subjected to substantial discrimination because of their gender, and will have no other choice but comply to local traditions and customs.  But this is Canada; misogynistic and patriarchal traditions have no place in our free society.  While immigrants from any part of the world are welcomed, they are certainly not welcomed to import attitudes that are in direct opposition to our charter of rights and freedom.

The issue is complex, significant and will hopefully not be brushed away.  A full analysis would require lengthy debate, but essentially it should simply be understood that the relative value of competing rights should be measured on the essential nature of such rights.  Essential rights and freedoms should not be diminished or truncated by personal convictions.  The greater good of a society and the freedom of all its members should not be jeopardized by the personal beliefs of others.  It is the immutable and fundamental principle of one’s freedom not restricting the rights and freedom of others.

Values, traditions and religions are many, often conflicting in nature and ever changing.  Religions evolve.  Personal beliefs are not set in stone.  Many individuals convert from one religion to another. Over the centuries, many religions have forced their beliefs on conquered nations.

On the other hand, some components of our human nature are essential to the very definition of our humanity.  These elements are fundamental and should always take precedence over issues of personal conviction.

Ontario courts will hopefully understand the importance of this case and reaffirm the predominance of fundamental human rights over idiosyncratic religious beliefs.

About Michel Botman

Michel Botman was born in Belgium, where visual arts have always flirted with the limits of reality. In the eighties, Michel Botman started exploring the first tools to manipulate images though computers. For about 15 years, Michel Botman worked throughout Europe in the emerging field of Computer Applications for the Graphic Arts. Extensive experience in Digital Imaging allowed Michel to move into the field of computerized systems for Diagnostic Imaging. As VP Sales & Marketing for eSys Medical and later with Eclipsys, Michel Botman always remained dedicated to the creativity and innovation that are at the heart of his career. At the present time, Michel Botman is refocusing his life towards graphic arts. “I studied photography in Europe, but never had time to practice it enough. Life took me on other paths towards computer technologies and running a business. I enjoyed it very much, but I also love art. I always keep my eyes open for exciting opportunities and people that touch my heart.” Michel Botman currently lives between Toronto, Canada and Bangkok, Thailand. Above Gravatar pictures are of Michel Botman and his son Noah Botman.
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1 Response to Hair that should not be brushed away

  1. Its about time that people understood the difference between the laws of the world and laws of a religion. Every country has its own law similarly, every religion.
    If a male hairdresser refuses to cut a woman’s hair, claiming that his faith did not allow him to do so, its his own choice! Who is anyone to tell a person what to do and what not. Its either the laws of a country or the laws of God that sets guide lines for a human. Its up to him whether he wants to follow and express his reverence towards the Country/God or become a criminal/sinner. By no means should a third party try to poke its nose in people’s personal matters. Why make a comparison between the two laws and favor only one?

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