‘I don’t feel comfortable’: Barber defends refusing haircut to woman

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An Ontario woman says she plans to file a human rights complaint against a barber who refused to cut her hair.

But Waterloo, Ont. barber Joe Cignelli says he’s never cut women’s hair and didn’t feel confident enough to properly perform the job.

“I’ve been married 43 years and I’ve never given my wife a haircut because I don’t feel comfortable,” Cignelli told CTV Kitchener.

Erica Croft, a hair stylist from Stratford, Ont., wears her hair short and walked into G & T Barbers in hopes of getting a touch-up. That’s when Cignelli told her he couldn’t take her business.

“He immediately said ‘No no, we don’t do women’s hair here. We don’t do women’s hair. I can’t cut your hair,’” she said. “I thought it was a bit of a joke.”

Cignelli’s version of the story is slightly different.

“In a very polite way I said, ‘I’m sorry, but we’re not confident enough to give haircuts to ladies,” he said.

Croft often visits barber shops for haircuts, and she says she’s never once been rejected. The experience left her feeling “a little bit angry, but more shocked and hurt.”

“It was scary and it was upsetting,” she said.

Cignelli insists the refusal was not discrimination and says he’s refused haircuts to women in the past.

“It’s a men’s cut, pretty much. I’m not making no discrimination. If she got offended, I apologize to her. It’s all I can do – apologize,” he said.

But human rights lawyer Cheronlyn Knapp says a person’s motivation has little impact on whether or not an incident can be deemed discriminatory.

“The human rights code says that intent to discriminate is not the test. The test is the effect of the conduct. The effect on the person is what’s going to be looked at,” Knapp said.

Croft was so upset by the experience, she plans to file a formal complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The commission hears complaints and uses the Ontario Human Rights Code to determine if a person’s rights were infringed upon.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to refuse people based on their gender,” Croft said.

Cignelli says he meant no harm to Croft. He says that, in the 47 years his business has been open, he’s never cut a woman’s hair, and he was simply following policy.

“And today’s society, you’ve got to be very, very careful,” he said.

With files from CTV Kitchener

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