Ontario Human Rights Commission Issues Rare Clarification of New Policy on Creed

In late 2015, after four years of consultation and research, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) published its Policy on Preventing Discrimination on the Basis of Creed.  The new policy replaced the prior version, which had been published in 1996.  Significantly, the new policy specifically affirmed that, in the Commission’s view, the term “creed” included non-religious belief systems that “substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life”.  Non-religious beliefs had been excluded from the protection of the Human Rights Code (the “Code”) by the 1996 policy. 

Although the new policy did not list veganism or vegetarianism as creeds and, in fact, explicitly avoided lists or categories of creeds, it did refer to food restrictions and vegetarian dietary requirements as areas requiring accommodation.  Some media outlets pounced on the new language and announced that Ontario had recognized veganism as a human right.  The story was picked up in the Huffington Post and by newspapers such as the National Post and the Toronto Star. 

On February 25, 2016, the Commission published a public statement on its website affirming that the new policy does not actually recognize ethical veganism as a creed.  The Commission stated that it was not its role to determine whether any belief system qualified as a “creed” within the meaning of the Code and that it was up to the Courts and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal to do so on the basis of the facts of any particular case. 

 The Commission went on to affirm the key considerations that any employer or service provider should take into account when determining whether or not a belief may be protected under the Code:

·         Is it sincerely, freely and deeply held?

·         Is the belief integrally linked to a person’s identity, self-definition and fulfilment?

·         Is it a comprehensive and overarching system of belief that governs one’s conduct and practices?

·         Does it address ultimate questions of human existence, including ideas about life, purpose, death and the existence or non-existence of a Creator?

·         Does the system have some connection to an organization or community that professes a shared system of belief?

Several vegan and animal rights organizations have cited the new policy with excitement and have called it a victory for veganism in Ontario.  We expect to see an Ontario complaint of discrimination based on the creed of ethical veganism very soon. 

 A link to the Commission’s new policy can be found here: http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-preventing-discrimination-based-creed.  A link to the Commission’s follow up statement is here: http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/news_centre/response-claims-ethical-veganism-now-creed.