Is veganism the next protected human right?
A vegan advocacy group is arguing that recent revisions to Ontario’s Human Rights legislation which expanded the definition of the protected ground "creed" to include“non-religious belief systems that… substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life” open the door to further protections for its adherents.
Critics argue that the Human Rights Code was put into place to combat real persecution based on an individual’s religion, culture or ethnic affiliation. They worry that including things such as veganism under the creed protection allow for fringe beliefs or those from less-than-respected sources to also be included. They also argue that such a broadened interpretation will eventually weaken the effectiveness of the Human Rights legislation.
What are the new revisions to the Human Rights Code?
In its first revision since 1996, the Ontario Human Rights Commission modified the definition of the protected ground "creed" in December 2015. The changes expand what falls under the definition of “creed” to include protection of secular, non-religious beliefs under certain conditions, which many believe aligns with the legal and social developments in Canada over the past two decades.
The updated policy uses a five-pronged approach to determining whether a belief system qualifies as a legally protected creed:
How are vegans affected from this revision?
A vegan is an individual who only eats food derived from plants (excluding all meat and dairy products) and who has a belief system that opposes harming animals or using any animal by-products. For animal rights advocacy groups, such as Animal Justice, this revision is a big victory. After many years of fighting for representation under the creed ground, the advocacy group sees this as an opening for protection of the rights of ethical vegans.
It is important to note that the current legislation does not explicitly include veganism or vegetarianism, but it may lead to precedent-setting decisions in the future.
If the Commission does recognize veganism under the creed protection, vegans would have a legal right to accommodation in instances where they are being excluded or discriminated against. In addition to food choices, this could include cases where employees refuse to wear a work uniform made with an animal-based component such as a leather or certain soaps and cleaning products.
The OHRC’s response:
Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner for the OHRC, was quoted in a recent National Post article: “We did hear from (vegan and animal rights groups) and I have a lot of respect for their advocacy… but in framing the definition, that is not the group that we were attempting to address. That’s not to say the tribunal might not find… in a certain instance for that to qualify as creed,” said Mandhane. “But that wasn’t where we were going.”
“Somehow this has been spun out to suggest that our policy says that ethical veganism is a creed, which it doesn’t,” she said. “The tribunal is the place to make these decisions because its decisions are made based on facts.”
"Instead, the aim was to provide an update that hedged against growing religious persecution in some areas, particularly against Muslims, and to make it more inclusive of, for example, atheists or those who practice an indigenous spirituality."
What will this mean for your workplace?
Even though the Human Rights Tribunal has yet to rule that veganism as a protected belief system under creed, this issue does raises some question about how accommodating – whether in an official or unofficial capacity – your workplace is regarding the needs of employees with non-traditional beliefs, including vegans.
This could mean altering your work uniform to avoid using any animal by-products or offering vegan options in your workplace cafeteria or restaurant. Even if this is not legally required, a benefit could be improved employee morale and the perception that you are responding to the changing needs of your workforce.
What do you do to cater to the needs of vegans or non-religious beliefs in the workplace?
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