A human rights complaint is in the process of being filed against the Trails End Farmer's Market on Dundas Street because of an ultimatum issued to a vendor to remove a transgendered employee from the premises.
The vendor in question is "True 2 You", a local company that sells candles, incense, oils, and air fresheners. Market officials were concerned transgendered individuals compromised their "family friendly atmosphere."
Karen Clarke, the owner and proprietor of True 2 You of London, says nearly two weeks ago - on September 10th - she was told she could not set up a booth the following week if she planned on having a transgendered employee running it.
After working the morning shift, she left her attendant Dani - who's transgendered - in charge so she could prepare for their work day in the Pinery the next day.
"Everything was fine when I left and it wasn't until five to 8 on Saturday night that I got a call from the management at Trails End. Basically they said if I was going to have those people there anymore I'm invited to take my business elsewhere."
The call was made by one of the market's managers, she said.
"He said it made everyone uncomfortable and it just wasn't right. This is a family place, a family market and this just isn't right. I just kept insisting what happened that was wrong and he said you walk up to the person and they're dressed like a woman and they've got big hands, a deep voice and tattoos and it's just not right. It's just not a family place he kept repeating that over and over again. And I kept trying to get from him what was wrong, what was so not right, what was it that people were complaining about and there was no details forthcoming that way. He called them 'those people' several times."
Michelle Boyce is now providing counsel to the vendor and says this is a case of blatant discrimination and a complaint will be filed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
"We're in the process of filing human rights against Trails End Market, its blatant discrimination of what they've done. I've never seen a case so obvious."
Boyce says if the commission rules in their favor, the fall out could be significant.
"There's pain and suffering, dollars that are in play and that can total up to $30,000 or $40,000, it depends on each case. Then there's the public interest piece where the public interest is at play and they're going to have to get training and develop programs that include transpeople, LGBT communities and make it a safe place for all of the public."
Ed Kikkert has owned the Trails End Farmer's Market for nearly 30 years and says he was alerted to the presence of the transgendered individuals through employees and customers. He confirms Clarke was given the opportunity to take her business elsewhere.
"She was asked if she could not look after her booth, if she was not able, then she was asked to leave it because of the people she had running it," Kikkert said. "The issue was there was three men in that booth dressed up as women."
He doesn't believe this is a case of discrimination.
"Why would I be discriminating? I'm not discriminating at all. I'm just asking which washroom would they use? How can you go into a men's washroom dressed as a lady, how can you go into ladies washroom when you're a man. That's the difficulty I have. It's not discriminating at all. The issue is at hand."
Kikkert also didn’t have much of a reaction when he was informed the human rights complaint was being filed.
"Everybody has to do what they have to do."
The employee in question, according to the business owner, is one of her best employees and has worked without issue at the Children's Festival, Rib Fest, and Food Fest this past summer. In addition to working for Clarke, Dani also lives with her as part of a rent-for-work agreement.
Clarke has had a booth at the Trails End Farmer's market for three years and says she's never had any issues.
Kikkert acknowledges there was no "inappropriate behavior" on the part of the transgendered employee, saying the individual's mere presence made customers uncomfortable.
"Basically, we run a family farmers market. I have two washrooms, a washroom for men and a washroom for women. My question would be, if they had to go to the washroom which washroom would they go to. If they go to the women's washroom, they're men so the women would get excited. If they go the men's washroom the men would get excited because they're dressed as women so which washroom would they use in my market? That's what I have difficulty with. So would I have to have a third washroom?"
The incident has left Clarke and Dani hurt.
"I've never experienced this before because frankly I'm from Oakridge. Born and raised in London and haven't had a lot of experiences with biases one way or another. To have it affect my business so directly for not being biased, I'm being punished for not being a bigot." said Clarke.
Dani says she's devastated by what's happened.
"This has destroyed me, it's pushed me back in my shell. The last couple of weeks, I've been depressed." she said, adding she feels especially bad at the situation her employer now finds herself in.
"I feel responsible for this. It hits home and for everything she's done for me, and to have this happen to her. It just rips me apart. Because of this, having me work for her has pretty much destroyed the business she had there. This is her busy time, this is her survival."
When asked if Clarke would be welcomed back to Trail's End, Kikkert said "absolutely" on the condition she "look after it."
"That's exactly what she was told on the phone that evening," Kikkert said. "It wasn't one; there were three in one small 10x10 booth. So that's an issue too. If there's one it wouldn't have stuck out that bad but there's three."
Clarke questions that, saying a campaign has already started to smear her name.
"This is hearsay but from all the other vendors that I talked to this Sunday (the 18th), now I'm being defamed. I'm apparently several months in arrears in my rent and ever since my husband left me, which is not what happened, I've fallen into a bad crowd. That I'm going downhill and this is the story that is being put out to the other vendors at Trail's End."
She says she'll never return to the Market as a vendor.
"I'm not comfortable there. If they [market officials] can turn on somebody who's been so dedicated, and I've been there through the last several years and have always run a very low-key and steady business, if they can turn on you that quickly - the trust is gone."