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Case not about marijuana, it’s about a person with a disability being treated differently

By Hempology | February 7, 2008

National Post, Canada
06 Feb 2008
Linda Nguyen


Discrimination Claimed

An Ontario man who was told he was not allowed to smoke medical marijuana outside a local sports bar has been granted a hearing at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, one of the first cases of its kind in Canadian history.

Steve Gibson, a father of two, is claiming he was discriminated against because of his disability after he was barred from Gator Ted’s Tap and Grill in Burlington, Ont., in May, 2005, for smoking marijuana by the restaurant’s front door.

“The problem is that I’m not allowed to smoke where other people are allowed to smoke [cigarettes],” he said yesterday from his Burlington home, about 60 kilometres west of Toronto.

Three years ago, Mr.  Gibson was told by the owner of his local family sports bar that he had to be about 30 metres away from the eatery’s front door while smoking because the marijuana was bothering other customers, including children.

Mr.  Gibson, who is one of more than 2,000 Canadians who has a licence to use marijuana for medical purposes, regularly lights the bud to alleviate pain he has from a neck injury.

He had been a patron at the bar for 12 years, usually coming twice a week for a meal or some drinks.

In between eating, he would get up and stand outside usually within one or six feet of the front door and light up while other customers were allowed to smoke cigarettes inside the establishment.

This was before smoking inside bars and restaurants was banned provincially.

Mr.  Gibson said he never had any problems taking his medication at other restaurants in the city or in public areas like amusement parks.

“I haven’t had any problems anywhere else,” he said.

“I don’t want to be thrown out of a place, any place.  What will stop a bank from saying: ‘You can’t come in sir because you just smoked a joint?’ ”

But the owner of Gator Ted’s, a family-oriented sports bar that has been operating since 1979, said he will fight this discrimination case until the end — even if it forces him to close his doors.

“I’m fighting this because a settlement will mean that he [Gibson] can smoke in front of our restaurant,” owner Ted Kindos said.

“This case will set a precedent in Canada.  If the commission favours him, he’s going to be allowed to smoke marijuana outside your school, in your family parks, in front of churches and shopping malls.”

Jeff Poirier, a spokesman for the Ontario Human Rights Commission, who forwarded this case for a hearing, says this is a rare case.

“It’s quite a unique case,” he said yesterday.  “This case isn’t about the marijuana, it’s about a person with a disability being treated differently.”

Mr.  Poirier said that business owners are supposed to, under law, make necessary accommodations for people with disabilities.

“This person is not seeking to smoke in the restaurant,” he said.  “He’s only seeking what other patrons who smoke, seek.  He just wants to smoke in areas where other smokers are allowed.”

The Tribunal will hear the case on May 21 and set to resolve the discrimination complaint under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Mr.  Poirier says this could mean a province-wide policy change.

“Its job is to right a wrong, set things to what they should’ve been,” he said.

“This could mean a policy change where the restaurant will recognize anyone with a medical condition can smoke marijuana where they please.  This is a human-rights issue that has been raised.”

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