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Last week the Vancouver Sun reported on an upcoming series of yoga classes and lectures taking place in Vancouver, BC, which will be promoted on social media as “Boss is back!”.
“The Boss” is Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Hot Yoga and a defendant in half a dozen civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct.
In 2013, Sarah Baughn was the first to publicly accuse Choudhury of sexual assault. Next, Larissa Anderson stepped forward. Then Jill Lawler. A total of seven women – including six former Bikram yoga students – have filed civil lawsuits against Choudhury for sexual assault, harassment, creating a hostile work environment, wrongful termination or rape. The Los Angeles district attorney’s office decided not to press charges against Choudhury.
The only lawsuit that went to court was brought by Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, Choudhury’s former legal adviser. In 2011, Jafa-Bodden launched an internal investigation into allegations of rape and sexual assault by several Choudhury students. She says he initially dismissed her concerns and forced her to quit when she didn’t back down.
In his case, the Los Angeles jury deliberated for about a day before unanimously ruling against Choudhury, awarding Jafa-Bodden more than $7.4 million in damages in January 2016.
Sixteen months later, Choudhury’s non-payment resulted in a warrant for his arrest. He filed for bankruptcy and continued to run yoga teacher training courses in India, Thailand and Mexico, with dozens of students paying over $10,000 in tuition. Photos of Choudhury with dozens of students during the training sessions appeared on his Instagram page.
So far, at least three of the lawsuits have been settled out of court. The remainder remained unpaid after Choudhury left the country.
Choudhury denied any wrongdoing. In a statement shared via email, Richard Hillgrove, spokesperson for Choudhury, said: “Mr. Choudhury is innocent and was framed by a hate campaign orchestrated by a former paralegal and yoga enthusiast [sic].”
In a 2014 video interview with ABC News Nightline’s David Wright, Choudhury said, “I’ve never hurt another spirit. I am the most spiritual man David you have ever met in your life.
It is unclear whether Choudhury’s legal history in the United States will influence his Canadian seminar. The United States and Canada share criminal databases, which gives the Canada Border Services Agency efficient access to all criminal records in the United States, including arrest warrants.
Whether the California warrant remains active will largely determine whether Choudhury can legally enter Canada. If someone tries to enter Canada with an outstanding U.S. warrant, they risk being arrested, questioned, and allowed to board a flight back to their home country, says Robert Russo, PhD, associate professor of programs graduate studies at the Peter A Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia. Multiple petitions filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office did not provide any information about the warrant.
According to Russo, if a warrant is valid, it is possible for lawyers to arrange waivers that would allow individuals to circumvent standard rules for entering Canada.
The Vancouver event, which will take place February 20-24, is sponsored by the Canada Yoga Sports Federation, also known as Canada Yoga. During the coverage of this article, more than a third of replies to Choudhury’s latest Facebook post were “angry” emojis. At the time of publication, Canada Yoga limited comments on the post.
According to its website, Canada Yoga “promotes the discipline of yoga asana and encourages yoga practitioners of all bloodlines, ages, genders and cultural backgrounds to compete.” It is an affiliate of the International Yoga Sports Federation (IYSF), which is eligible for the inclusion of yoga in the Olympics. The IYSF was founded in 2003 by Rajashree Choudhury, then wife of Bikram. A spokesperson for Canada Yoga declined to comment unless, contrary to journalistic standards, the interview could be streamed live on social media.
The IYSF and Marriott International, owners of the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver, where the seminar will be held, did not respond to requests for comment.
Additional reporting by Tamara Y. Jeffries.
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