Tuesday, March 19, 2013

When Christianity is just an excuse for bigotry

A friend of mine just lost his apartment because he wasn't Christian. Read that again. Not in the Deep South, not in India, not in Egypt. In Canada. In 2013.

This level of bullshit has me personally angry - I'm writing furiously, and I might get some of the minor details incorrect. Of course, the names have been changed to protect my friend's privacy (which you will see is a big deal in a moment).

Important legal preface: In Nova Scotia, according to the Residential Tenancies Act, a verbal agreement to allow someone to rent is equivalent to having a signed piece of paper. Unless either a tenant or a landlord have issued a notice to quit, leases are automatically assumed to be re-signed. The notice to quit is four months for the landlord or three months for the tenant. When rental properties are sold, the new purchaser is required by law to honour the original lease.

My friend Morris was kicked out of his second apartment in two months. The first apartment was a clusterfuck. The old women who he was renting from decided to move to Halifax and told him to leave without appropriate notice. They then abandoned the upstairs, locked him out of his washer room, and left a letter on his car asking him to be out within a month so they could sell the property. Their justification was that Morris hadn't signed a new lease last September, even though that's actually irrelevant. In the end, what happened was illegal, and Morris could have stayed in with a fight, but after looking at his options decided to move in with his friends Gerald and Amanda, who had a spare room. This seemed to be his best, and indeed, cheaper, option.

Morris got settled in with Gerald and Amanda about a month ago, who had cleared his arrival with their landlords. Their third roommate, Luke, was never home as he essentially lives with his girlfriend, giving them all more living space than expected. Morris pretty much thought things were going great. He had a few of the usual roommate gripes about things like dishes not getting done or common spaces not getting cleaned, but over all it seemed pretty good, until things started getting weird about a week ago.

The four of them had, originally, planned to retain the location for their next year in university. However, about a week ago, Morris came over to my place pretty upset, as Gerald and Amanda had resigned their lease without Morris and Luke on it - essentially writing them out of their apartment for May 1st. Luke, at least, should have been given his notice to quit two months ago, and it came as quite the surprise. When they asked Gerald and Amanda about it, they replied that Gerald's mother and father had told them to sign the lease without their friends on it. Understandably, Luke and Morris were upset - they had to figure out a place to live for May - but they set about their task diligently.

Then, last night, Morris got a text from Luke. "You better get over to the apartment. Shit is going down." A few texts later, Morris realized that Gerald's mother and father were over - and wanted him kicked out that night. He decided to go see what was up and took me along, since I know the Residential Tenancy Act inside and out, having helped a few friends through landlord-related predicaments before. So we hopped in his car, as he was at my place, and rolled down to see what was up.

Sure enough, when we got there, Gerald's dad was outside, going inside. I noticed the brand-new lock when I entered the basement apartment. It was a narrow, cramped place, and I can't say it looked like anything other than a shithole. Walking down, we found an older man - I'd guess in his 60s - and a woman in her 40s. And that woman, Gerald's mom (who's name I do not know) had the biggest, most arrogant smirk on her face. Fuck, I was already getting angry, but I had no idea what was up.

As I stepped beside Morris, I looked into one of the other rooms. Gerald and Amanda were there. Amanda was laying on the bed, Gerald sitting on the edge, and I've never seen someone look so defeated and...browbeaten in my entire life. Hoodie with hood up, hat on and pulled down to his glasses, refusing to look up and make eye contact. Man, I immediately felt bad for that guy.

"Well, Morris, I think you should move out," said Gerald's mom. "We've had a look around, and the place isn't in a good condition." Impossible that it ever could be, I thought. "And quite frankly, we don't like the things you've brought into the apartment. It's just not working out, and you should just go."

It was smug. Smug was the word that had immediately entered my mind. Morris, of course, got pretty upset. He had been upset going in, but the reality was worse, infinitely so. "What do you mean, you don't like the things I've brought into the apartment?" he asked. An understandable question.

"Well, we took a look in your room, and the things you have in there! My goodness. You know that's not acceptable. We're not that kind of person, and you should just go. Tonight."

Immediately, Morris went from upset to fucking livid. "You mean you went into my room? Without my permission?"


"You violated my privacy?" he asked, enraged.

She smiled that little smug smile. "We don't like the things you have in there. It doesn't matter if we went into the room, because those sorts of things aren't welcome here. We're Christians - we're not that sort of people." Of course I had no idea what Morris had set up in his room. We're fantasy gamers, so I thought that a Dungeons & Dragons book might have caught the unwelcome attention of Gerald's parents - but the argument continued, and it became pretty evident that my friend had some sort of non-Christian religious altar set up in his bedroom. Of course, to me, that's no big deal. But not here.

"In the end, you should just go," she repeated. "We talked to Luke earlier. He said you can stay with him and his girlfriend."

I finally interrupted. "Morris has a legal right to stay here," I said. "He's got a verbal agreement with the landlord, and they need to provide him with a legal notice to quit to evict him through the tenancy board."

She asked if I was a lawyer. I affirmed I am not, simply a regular advocate in tenancy board cases. She laughed at me, and I just shrugged. "Look, Morris, you better go, or we'll call the RCMP," she then said.

"Go ahead," I replied. "Morris has a legal right to be here. The RCMP don't handle tenancy cases, either. The Sheriffs (of the Nova Scotia Courts) do."

"What, you think they're not buddy-buddy with the RCMP that I clean for, that I work for sometimes?"

"I don't think it matters, they all have jobs to do." That was the end of the conversation about Morris being evicted. The conversation continued, sometimes looping around. Occasionally the woman would loudly declare that "I pay the bills here, so I get a say."

After one such point, I asked her, politely, "Is your name on the lease?"


"Is Gerald's?"


"Shouldn't we be hearing this from him, that he wants Morris to leave?" It was pretty evident that while Morris could win a legal fight, he was better off leaving. Nobody wants to live in this sort of situation.

Thirty seconds of silence followed. Eventually Gerald looked at the floor and muttered, "I think you better leave, Morris."

We talked about the duration, and Morris agreed to remove his altar that night. The conversation continued several times, always, "Well, it's nothing personal. It's just that we're Christian." Near the end, I finally lost my patience.

"If we're being honest, what you're doing is pretty damn horrible. You're being bigoted. Nobody should care what my friend does in his private space."

"Well, we do," the woman explained. The man, Gerald's father, hadn't said much, but finally piped in.

"We just don't have any truck with that sort of thing. It's not that we don't like you, we just don't have any truck with it," he said.

"I still don't see why it matters," I asked. "Didn't Jesus teach to love thy neighbour and turn the other cheek? He's not hurting your kids in any way."

"Well," the woman interrupted. "We're not that Christian-y."

We left shortly thereafter. It was hard to control my rage. We met up with Luke and his girlfriend who are, of course, putting Morris up in the meantime. Luke had told Gerald and his parents that Morris couldn't crash there - so she lied to Morris's face about what Luke had said. It didn't surprise me. You'll know they're Christians by their love, as Ed Brayton often says. Morris explained that he had arranged a small altar to the concept of death that he had used to grieve during the loss of his grandfather - and Luke said that Gerald's parents had not only entered his room but taken pictures of his arrangement to send to their religious relations.

Morris and I returned to my place for our regularly scheduled Pathfinder RPG game, but we had agreed that he needs to re-evaluate his friendship with Gerald. Twice, his mother conveniently has showed up to screw Morris out of a place to live, and twice Gerald has refused to stand up to his parents. In the end, though, what really got me going was the comment, "We're not that Christian-y." They saw something they didn't understand and used their religion to persecute.

Fuck them. Fuck them with a sideways broken broomhandle.

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