Barbers in Toronto who refused to cut a woman’s hair have become the target of a human rights complaint, in a case that pits religious freedom against gender equality.

When Faith McGregor went into the Terminal Barber Shop requesting a short haircut, she was told the shop only grooms men.

The reason, co-owner Omar Mahrouk said, was that as a Muslim he could not cut the hair of a woman who was not related to him.

But for McGregor, the rejection of her patronage amounted to sexism.

“Fundamentally, my hair is the same as their male clients, so why would they have a problem with that,” she told CTV News.

“I felt like a second class citizen, like it was hard to hear that they refused and there was no discussion."

So the 35-year-old filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

Under the law, business owners aren’t supposed to discriminate based on gender, but Mahrouk felt he had religious rights.

A lawyer for the owners also says in their defence they've only ever trained to cut men's hair and that they'd bought a barbershop on the expectation they would only have to serve male clientele.

The Terminal bills itself as “the oldest standing barber shop in Toronto,” offering haircuts, massages and hot lather shaves “in a classic barber shop setting,” since 1925.

Its client list includes former prime minister Paul Martin and actor Woody Harrelson, who can be seen posing with the owners in a photograph on the shop’s website.

Some are standing behind the barbershop’s owners, pointing out that there are women-only spas and gyms.

“If I wanted to have a specialized business geared just towards men that wanted hot razor shaves and cuts, why not,” said Sean Gibson of the Ontario Barber Association.

But McGregor disagrees and is hoping to force the shop to service women too.

Her case goes to mediation in the new year.