Following the release of the OHRC’s new Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed , there have been much-publicized claims that the policy extends protection against discrimination on the basis of creed to cover ethical veganism. To be clear, the Policy does not say one way or the other whether ethical veganism is a creed. Indeed, it is not the OHRC’s role to determine whether or not a certain belief is a creed. Specific facts and context are needed for those kinds of determinations to be made. Ultimately, courts or a Tribunal will make those kinds of decisions. However, our policy provides guidance to those tasked with making that determination, whether it be courts and Tribunals, or employers, service providers, landlords, or others with obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
As the Policy sets out, not all belief systems will constitute a creed under the Code. The OHRC holds that five key considerations should be taken into account when considering whether or not a belief may be protected under the Human Rights Code ground of creed. This includes considering whether it is:
- sincerely, freely and deeply held
- integrally linked to a person’s identity, self-definition and fulfilment
- a particular and comprehensive, overarching system of belief that governs one’s conduct and practices
- addresses ultimate questions of human existence, including ideas about life, purpose, death, and the existence or non-existence of a Creator and/or a higher or different order of existence
- has some connection to an organization or community that professes a shared system of belief
If uncertainty still exists after considering the above criteria, the overall purpose of the Code and statutory human rights law more generally should be considered. For example, the Preamble to the Code makes clear that the purpose and intent of statutory human rights protections is to recognize the “inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”, to ensure that each person has “equal rights and opportunities without discrimination”, and to create a “climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person so that each person feels a part of the community and able to contribute fully to the development and well-being of the community and the Province.”