This poor man came to Canada from Nigeria 22 years ago in hopes of building a better life for his family.
After almost a quarter century of being a law-abiding, hard-working member of society, he never imagined his adopted country would label him a human rights violator and order him to pay $12,000 in compensation to his Muslim tenants.
“I was humiliated, I was made to feel I have no rights, I was made to feel that I’m not wanted in society,” says John Alabi, 52. “I feel powerless. They rented my place for only two months. Two months! It’s just not fair,”
The small landlord came forward to explain his position after the Sun told his shocking story last week: The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found he failed to accommodate the religious needs of Walid Madkour and Heba Ismail by not giving them more than the legal 24-hour notice before showing the apartment and by failing to remove his shoes when he entered the bedroom they used to pray.
Now the travel agent is on the hook for money he doesn’t have, to pay tenants who were in his home for only two months. And he doesn’t feel he did anything wrong.
For 15 years Alabi rented the in-law suite in his home to help pay his mortgage. A tenant’s religion wasn’t important to him.
“I go beyond all that. I just see everybody as human beings like me. That’s why I took them in,” he says. “We got along. And then all of a sudden I’m a racist?”
After they gave notice in February 2015, Alabi says he bent over backwards to accommodate the Egyptian-born couple in booking acceptable times to show their apartment to prospective new tenants. At first, Madkour tried to argue that the landlord couldn’t show the unit when his wife was home. Alabi explained that with 24 hours notice, the law gave him the authority to enter even if she was there.
They called the police, claiming that his shovelling snow outside their apartment was harassment. The officers confirmed that Alabi was legally allowed to show their unit when they were there. That’s when they suddenly raised the religion issue, he says, and told him he couldn’t enter during their prayer times. He agreed.
That still wasn’t enough, Alabi says.
In addition to the 24-hour notice, and the prayer times, they also wanted him to text in advance. But when he texted them, they didn’t reply - so he stopped.
And then there was the issue of removing his shoes. At the tribunal, the couple said they prayed in their bedroom and the floor had to remain clean. Yet Alabi claims the couple never had a problem before when he wore his shoes to make repairs in the apartment. And he wasn’t wearing outside shoes, but the shoes he wore in his own home. He’d come around to their apartment wearing rubbers over them and then take them off at the door. For that, he was accused of being racist.
“I have been victimized,” Alabi says. “They are using their religion to victimize me.”
The tenants waited eight months before filing their grievance with the human rights tribunal, where they receive free representation. They even searched his Facebook page and found a joke they considered offensive to bolster their case. The tribunal agreed he harassed them and failed in his duty to accommodate their religious needs - and awarded them $6,000 each - plus interest.
“What about my rights?” asks the father of three, who has since sold the house. “What about my rights to show my place so I could rent it and put food on the table for my family?”
He doesn’t know what to do.
“I don’t have the money. I work very hard. If they go into my bank account right now, I don’t have $12,000 there,” says Alabi, who lost thousands of dollars in legal fees and time off work.
“It has just shattered me. I am broken. I am broken.”
Broken and disillusioned.
“For the first time in my 20-something years in Canada, I am sorry that I came to this country.”