Vegans in Ontario say they're protected under human rights law

vegan meal
CC BY 2.0 Marketa

An update to the Ontario Human Rights Commission's definition of the word 'creed' has made many ethical vegans excited at the prospect of protection against discrimination.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has updated its definition of the word “creed.” Released this past December, the new definition states: “Creed may also include non-religious belief systems that, like religion, substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life.”

Ethical vegans in Ontario are rejoicing. Although the update was not meant directly for them, many have interpreted it as a victory, happy that a door has opened toward recognizing ethical veganism as a creed. This would grant ethical vegans greater protection from discrimination.

To be an ethical vegan means to follow a vegan diet, but also to “extend the philosophy to the rest of their life and oppose harming animals or using any animal byproducts” (Toronto Star). They are people for whom “not doing harm is more important than anything,” says Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice.

Animal Justice is a Canadian non-profit group that has long been fighting for the humane treatment of animals. The group made a presentation to the Commission, insisting that secular beliefs such as ethical veganism deserve legal protections as a form of creed. Labchuk, who is also a lawyer, wrote a blog post explaining the update:

“The Commission policy is designed to provide guidance to employers, housing providers, and other service providers on how they can respect human rights and accommodate people who have requirements based on their creed. For example, the policy recommends that a person in a hospital facility who has a creed-based need for vegetarian food be provided with appropriate food by the facility. Other examples include:

• A university or school would have an obligation to accommodate a biology student who refuses to perform an animal dissection because of her creed.
• An employer would have an obligation to accommodate an employee who cannot wear an animal-based component of a uniform, like leather or fur, because of his creed.
• An employer must ensure corporate culture does not exclude a vegetarian or vegan employee, such as holding regular company networking events at a steakhouse, instead of providing additional inclusive opportunities.”

Not everyone agrees with the vegans’ interpretation of the change. Some see it as undermining the protections that have been put in place to combat real persecution of a person’s ethical, religious, and cultural beliefs, according to an article in the Toronto Star, while others say it’s logical, depending on the circumstances of an ethical vegan’s claim:

“If the person works in a restaurant, for example, and doesn’t have to wear leather, then that is absolutely a legitimate objection. On the other hand, if you want to work at Danier, then you can’t ask your employer not to be around leather.”

In the meantime, Animal Justice is willing to give you a hand if you think you’re facing discrimination based on your feelings toward animals.

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