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Taking a fresh look at creed

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From the very beginning 50 years ago, Ontario’s Human Rights Code included protection from discrimination because of creed. Half a century later, creed continues to be an area of discussion and sometimes conflict in communities across Ontario and across Canada.

In our 1996 Policy on creed and the accommodation of religious observances, we interpreted creed to mean “religious creed” or “religion.” Under this policy, religion was defined as a professed system and confession of faith, including both beliefs and observances or worship.

A belief in a God or gods, or a single supreme being or deity was not required. So the definition of creed included non-deistic bodies of faith, such as the spiritual faiths and practices of First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures. As well, it could include new and emerging religions, which were assessed on a case-by-case basis.

But this interpretation of what creed means in the Code may be outdated, since many things have changed in the past 15 years. That’s why we are in the early stages of drafting a new policy on creed that reflects today’s beliefs, issues, challenges and society.

In our new policy, we will take another look at defining the ground of creed in the Code, and we will offer updated ways for respecting and advancing creed rights in our increasingly complex world.

This policy project will involve a wide consultation, which we began in late 2011 by issuing a call for papers and presentations on creed. These were featured in our policy dialogue on creed rights in January 2012, which we hosted in partnership with the University of Toronto’s Multi-faith Centre and Religion in the Public Sphere Initiative, as well as its Faculty of Law. The event was well attended by a broad section of faith and other groups. Papers produced for the event will be published by the Association of Canadian Studies in a special issue of Canadian Diversity Magazine.

In March 2012, we published a case law review of creed rights, and hosted a legal workshop with our partners, York University’s Centre for Law and Public Policy, Centre for Human Rights and Osgoode Hall Law School.

We will be taking many other consultation steps over the next two years, including several options for the public to add their voices, before we have the information and input we need to design the new policy.

We also intervened at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) in Ketenci v. Yeates School of Graduate Studies at Ryerson University (March 2012).

The applicant alleged she was discriminated against based on her ethical veganism. We made submissions arguing that the HRTO should begin by determining whether the application has a reasonable prospect of success, assuming ethical veganism is a creed. If this was the case, then we recommended that the issue of whether ethical veganism is a creed should be determined. The HRTO later issued a decision dismissing the application. It found that the applicant had no reasonable prospect of establishing she was discriminated against based on creed. Because of this finding, the HRTO did not have to decide whether ethical veganism is a creed.

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