Christie, a black man, entered a tavern owned and operated by York Corporation in Montreal and asked to be served a glass of beer; the waiters refused him for the sole reason that they had been instructed not to serve coloured persons. The appellant persisted in demanding beer after he had been refused and went to the length of calling the police. He claimed the sum of $200 for the humiliation he suffered.
York alleged that in giving such instructions to its employees and in so refusing to serve Christie it was well within its rights; that its business is a private enterprise for gain; and that, in acting as it did, the respondent was merely protecting its business interests.
The trial court found for Christie in the amount of $25 and the Court of King's Bench for York.
- Does a business have an unlimited right to restrict service to customers?
Appeal dismissed, finding for the respondent.
The majority held that Christie is to blame for humiliation he suffered due to his continued insistance on being served and the "entirely unwarranted" calling of the police. Further more, the most important value to be protected is freedom of commerce; there is no reason to look at motives or reasons - a business is free to do as they choose. While they held that these freedoms could be limited by special legislation, if the tavern acted contrary to good morals or public order, if the tavern owner had monopoly, or was engaging in privileged enterprise none of these applied here. Dismissed the argument that refusing to serve Christie was a violation of s.33 of the Quebec License Act as Christie was neither a traveller nor asking for a meal.
The dissent held that as the government controls sale of beer in province through licensing that:
- this is a privileged enterprise,
- state intervention in this enterprise modifies old rules re: freedom of commerce.
As a result Justice Davis felt that as there were a limited number of places licensed to serve alcohol, businesses should not be able to limit access at will. There was complete agreement that discrimination was a social rather than a legal problem.
Freedom of contract allows discrimination based on race so long as the vendor is not engaged in a monopoly or in contravention of public order.