When she wandered past the flowery terrace of Bar Le Stud one afternoon last week, 20-year-old Audrey Vachon thought the sunny spot was the perfect place to enjoy a beer with her father.
What she failed to anticipate was that her presence violated the gay bar's male-only rule. She was turfed out by a waiter who said the bar was reserved for men - and promptly landed in the middle of a debate about whether it's okay for minorities to discriminate.
Ms. Vachon, who begins studying administration at junior college this year, filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission, saying she'd been the victim of discrimination.
She invoked the same section of the provincial Charter that was created to defend the rights of homosexuals in 1977, when Quebec became the first jurisdiction in Canada to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
"If I respect the rights of gays, then they should respect my rights, too," Ms. Vachon said in an interview yesterday.
Bar Le Stud might seem like an unlikely spot to lure many women.
It unabashedly promotes itself as a "truly manly meat market" where "men love men." Ms. Vachon had chosen its awning-covered patio in the heart of the Gay Village after meeting with her father, a psychologist and television commentator who was at the CBC/Radio-Canada building nearby.
"I knew we were in the Gay Village but it never dawned on me that in 2007, a woman could be thrown out of a bar," she said, adding that the waiter addressed himself to her father and didn't look at her. "I was raised to respect the rights of others. In my head, women, blacks or gays are all equal.
"When this happened, I was shocked."
Her complaint set off a vivid discussion amid the bars, barbers and bistros of Montreal's Gay Village. Patrons say most gay bars accept women, while others have designated "women's nights" - including Le Stud on Wednesdays, which may be why the patrons grudgingly allowed a female reporter inside its dimly lit premises yesterday.
Bernard Plante, director-general of the Gay Village's economic development agency, said Le Stud's treatment of Ms. Vachon was "an error" and Montreal's Gay Village is known internationally as a tolerant and inclusive place open to everyone.
"If a woman absolutely wants to go to a place where she'll be surrounded by men who are only interested in other men, she should be allowed in," Mr. Plante said.
Still, Ms. Vachon's case has raised questions about the limits of openness, and whether gays shouldn't be given a place to call their own.
There are gyms reserved for women, retirement homes for gay men only and residential enclaves restricted to retired couples without children.
Club 281, a male strip bar catering to women in Montreal, says on its website that men are allowed only if they're accompanied by a woman.
Montreal lawyer Julius Grey, a Charter expert and veteran on discrimination and civil rights cases, says that while the Le Stud incident clearly violates Sections 10 and 12 of the Quebec Charter, he considers the case "borderline."
"The bar's refusal in no way affected the girl's dignity or devalues her as a person. It doesn't seriously affect her status in society, whereas gays face constant discrimination," he said.
"Equality is a guiding principle and not a straightjacket."
Just last week, an Australian tribunal allowed a gay bar in Melbourne the right to ban heterosexual males and women under the country's equal opportunity act.
Michel Gadoury, owner of Le Stud, told Radio-Canada he's not discriminating against women because they're allowed into his establishment sometimes, and he's merely catering to his clientele's wishes.
The Quebec Human Rights Commission said it has received Ms. Vachon's complaint and will study its admissibility.