'You baboon, learn to speak French' Quebec woman wins human rights complaint after harassment

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MONTREAL -- A Quebec judge has denounced a man’s "offensive, racist behaviour" and ordered him to pay $6,000 in damages to his elderly neighbour who launched a human rights complaint against him after she reported harassment that escalated to punctured car tires and a violent break-in. 

The neighbourly dispute began in 2016 and ended last month with the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ruling in favour of the woman, who lives in Vaudreuil-Dorion, just west of the Island of Montreal.

She alleged the neighbour violated her rights under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, namely the right to dignity and the right to human rights without exclusion based on race.

In her written decision issued last month, Justice Doris Thibault said the man "knew very well that his remarks and behaviour of a racist nature would have the effect of hurting and humiliating [the woman]," who is of Haitian origin.

The incidents started with punctured tires and scratches on her car. On the advice of police, she installed an alarm system and surveillance cameras on her property.

The neighbour responded by buying cameras of his own, except his were fake ones from Dollarama, according to the ruling. They had a red flashing light to give the illusion of being real, and were pointed at her house.

In another incident in June 2018, the man was driving erratically behind her. When he passed her, his passenger rolled down the window and they both shouted "houba houba" to her, which, according to local slang, is a term that can be used to refer to a Neanderthal.

She contacted police again after this incident "because she was afraid." That’s when both sides got their lawyers involved to resolve their issues amicably. It didn’t last long.

The conflict escalated on Sept. 16, 2018, when the woman came home from church to find her house had been broken into and ransacked, including "marks similar to stab wounds" on her stainless steel refrigerator, the ruling stated.

After calling the police about the break-in, she went outside and was speaking Creole. According to the ruling, the man heard the woman speaking as he was leaving his home and shouted "you baboon, learn to speak French" to her.

Two months later, she lodged a formal complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal.

The man denied the allegations against him, but the court didn’t buy it. The judge found that he often gave "contradictory" and "implausible" statements to the tribunal in defending his behaviour.

The ruling states taunts from the neighbour were made to attack the woman's "integrity, her deep values, her ethnic origin, her race and her language, in fact, everything that defines her as a person."

The man was ordered to pay the woman $5,000 in moral damages and $1,000 in punitive damages.

After, the man launched a complaint of his own to the police, claiming she was guilty of animal cruelty by alleging she almost hit her pet cat with her car. The police dismissed his complaint.

In another attempt at retribution, he took her to small claims court for $15,000 for false allegations and criminal harassment.

On March 20, 2020, the court tossed that case out, too.