Evicted for smudging, First Nations woman files human rights complaint

June 15, 2017 | Josh K. Elliott | CTV News

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A First Nations woman from Burnaby, B.C. has filed a human rights complaint after she was evicted for holding a traditional smudging ceremony indoors.

The ceremony, which involves burning sage in a dish and sweeping the smoke around one’s head and body, is a traditional practice among many of Canada’s indigenous peoples.

But Crystal Smith says her landlord, Parminder Mohan, won’t let her do it in the apartment she’s renting.

“I’m being forced to move because my landlord is not allowing me to practice my spiritual ceremonies,” Smith, a single mother from Burnaby, told CTV Vancouver.

So Smith says she’s filing a complaint with the province’s Human Rights Tribunal, in hopes that this does not happen to others.

“The human rights complaint will create grounds for indigenous tenants to say, ‘You can’t evict me because there is this case,'” she said.

Smith’s landlord, Mohan, first noticed her activities from the house’s upstairs apartment in March, and mistook her activities for smoking drugs.

“He smelled it and I got a text message saying that I smell marijuana,” she said.

Smith invited Mohan into her apartment to explain what she was doing, but that didn’t change his mind.

“My upstairs suite is totally full with all the smoke,” Mohan told CTV Vancouver. “I almost passed out. I actually had to stumble out.” He added that he had fans running “24-7” at the house, and that the smell “doesn’t go away.”

Smith received a letter two days after her encounter with Mohan, informing her that she had breached the conditions of her tenancy contract.

An arbitrator at the city’s residential tenancy branch ultimately ruled in favour of Smith. However, Mohan continued to pressure her, issuing three eviction notices after the ruling was made.

“I naively thought that, after the RTB decision, that he would abide by their decision, and he hasn’t,” Smith said.

Smith is now turning her attention to her human rights complaint.

“I’m moving, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up,” she said.

With files from CTV Vancouver

Woman evicted over smudging ceremonies files human rights complaint

June 14, 2017 | Andrew Weichel | CTV Vancouver

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An aboriginal woman who claims her landlord tried to evict her for performing traditional smudging ceremonies in her Burnaby, B.C. home has filed a human rights complaint.

Crystal Smith of the Tsimshian and Haisla First Nations said she’s had problems with her landlord, Parminder Mohan, ever since he noticed her smudging at home with her children in March.

The ceremony involves burning herbs to cleanse the body and spirit; to perform it inside, Smith burns sage in a shell and uses a feather to waft the smoke.

“My landlord happened to be in the upstairs unit and he smelled it,” Smith said. “I got a text message maybe 10 minutes after we’d finished smudging saying that ‘I smelled marijuana.'”

Smith, who told CTV News she doesn’t smoke drugs or even cigarettes, assured Mohan that wasn’t the case, and even offered to demonstrate how smudging works. The landlord wasn’t satisfied, and allegedly told her to stop.

Smith said she has since been served three eviction notices, and faces continued pressure to leave despite a Residential Tenancy Branch ruling in her favour.

“Basically I’m being forced to move because my landlord doesn’t allow me to practice my spiritual ceremonies and practices,” she said.

For Smith, smudging is a crucial part of keeping her son and daughter in tune with their heritage.

Having lost her grandparents when she was a young teenager, Smith said she missed out on learning about aspects of her culture at a young age, and she doesn’t want her children to be deprived in the same way.

“I need my children to grow up in culture so they could love who they are, so that they can grow up and be proud,” Smith said.

She’s given up on remaining in their Burnaby home, however. She intends to move out this week, though she’s disappointed at having to upend her family again so soon.

They have only been living in the apartment for a few months, and previously had a brief stay at a safe house where they moved after she left an abusive relationship.

“It’s frustrating,” Smith said. “We were supposed to be in this home until December at least, and I was even hoping to stay a little longer because me and my children have been through so much.”

Mohan sees things differently. He spoke to CTV News by phone Wednesday, and said he’s actually an accommodating landlord who has become the victim of an unappreciative tenant.

Mohan said he reduced Smith’s rent and gave her a dishwasher when she moved in, but he’s concerned about how smudging might impact the property and her neighbours.

He claims the smudging ceremony he witnessed in March sent smoke wafting in the upstairs suite.

“I almost passed out. I actually had to stumble out,” he said. “I had fans running 24/7 trying to get rid of the smell, the smell doesn’t go away.”

Smith said the ceremony does create a smell, but it fades after a day or two. When their dispute was heard by the Residential Tenancy Branch, the arbitrator ruled Mohan hadn’t provided sufficient evidence the smudging had disturbed or adversely affected other tenants.

Most importantly, though, Smith feels smudging is a religious right that shouldn’t open up aboriginal people to evictions or any other form of pressure at home, which is why she has filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

“The reason I’m fighting, the reason why I’m pushing this forward is so that my children, my great grandchildren, will not have to do this,” she said.

With files from CTV Vancouver’s Shannon Paterson 

Tenant fights eviction for smudging, takes case to B.C. Human Rights Tribunal

June 7, 2017 | Tereza Verenca | Burnaby Now

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A Burnaby woman has filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal alleging her landlord is denying her the right to smudge.

Crystal Smith of the Tsimshian Haisla First Nation has smudged – the indigenous practice of burning herbs like sage for prayer or cleansing – for about 15 years.

“It’s been on and off because I really had to find my way,” says the mother of two and UBC master’s student.

Smith’s maternal grandparents died before she was born, and as she puts it, she “didn’t grow up in culture.”

“This is something I had to do on my own. Now that I have children, it’s very important to me to pass on these cultures and these spiritual practices so they can grow up and be proud of who they are.”

At the last home she rented, Smith says she had a unit on the top floor and the landlord had no issues with her smudging.

“They understood the spiritual practice, that it was meant to support me, in my growth and in my culture,” she tells the NOW, noting she received her entire damage deposit back when she left.

Smith moved into a duplex, an address she did not want to disclose for privacy reasons, on Jan. 1, 2017, and signed a one-year lease. But her landlord, Parminder Mohan, was not as understanding, she says.

Since January, Smith has been given three eviction notices, including one to end tenancy early and another one for renovation purposes.

“It’s actually really gross. He’s actually trying to say I’m smoking marijuana and that I’m covering it up with the sage,” she says. “I don’t smoke at all. I’m not doing any damage to the place. It produces white smoke, which does no damage to surrounding walls. The smell does dissipate after maybe a couple days.”

Smith adds Mohan promised her she could move from the basement to the upstairs unit on April 1.

“He won’t let me move upstairs unless I sign an agreement saying I won’t smudge,” she says.

Smith took her eviction notices to the Residential Tenancy Branch for dispute resolution. In the first meeting, the arbitrator found there was “insufficient evidence to conclude that the tenant has unreasonably disturbed or adversely affected the other tenants.”

The arbitrator dismissed Mohan’s application for an early end to tenancy.

In the meantime, Smith was referred to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre for free legal counsel.

After hearing her case, lawyers Kate Feeney and Erin Pritchard advised Smith to submit a complaint to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

“From a legal perspective, smudging’s a spiritual practice, so it’s protected under the Human Rights Code. … The landlord must justify his conduct,” says Feeney.

As far as Feeney knows, Smith’s case is the first of its kind to come before the tribunal.

“There’s been some cases that touch on similar issues in the prison context, like the right for prisoners to smudge, but not in the residential tenancy context,” she says.

When reached for comment, Mohan didn’t shy away from saying why he wants Smith out.

“What she does is she smokes up the whole place. We agreed there was no smoking or anything like that in the unit,” he tells the NOW, reiterating that he thinks Smith is smoking weed.

The first time Mohan realized Smith was smudging, he says he had to “stagger out” of the house.

“I was absolutely going to go unconscious. That’s how much smoke there was. … All of our air circulates and that’s how unaccommodating she’s trying to be. She doesn’t care. She says, ‘It’s my right,’ but she doesn’t care about anybody else,” says Mohan.

The property owner, who owns both sides of the duplex but lives with his parents down the road, notes he’s a “very, very good, fair landlord,” and has been very accommodating to Smith. He says he put a dishwasher in her two-bedroom suite and reduced her rent from $1,350 to $1,200.

“I thought I was helping her. … I try to do my best, but when tenants try to take control and be vindictive like this, it’s unacceptable,” says Mohan, adding he’ll likely file a fourth eviction notice. “I have cultural and religious practices as well, and they require a lot of incense and burning things, but we have fans; we make sure that our practices don’t disturb other people.”

© 2017 Burnaby Now