Is being a vegan a human right? Advocates claim protection under new Ontario policy, but that wasn’t the point

Interesting how different groups tend to stretch definitions:

It’s a question the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal may soon tackle after an update to the provincial definition of “creed”. Animal-rights and vegan advocates are calling the new policy, released in December, an important recognition of their right to express their beliefs. The 179-page policy, the first update from the provincial human rights commission since 1996, offers guidelines for what defines “creed,” historically treated as religious beliefs and practices, in the more secular 21st century. That opens the door for vegans, atheists and other groups to claim similar protections under the law.

“This is nothing new. For decades we’ve accommodated people who have beliefs about wearing leather or eating certain foods based on their religious beliefs,” said Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. In a blog post last month, the charity said the new policy offers human rights protections to ethical vegans (people who don’t consume or wear any animal or fish byproducts for reasons of conscience). “This is a recognition that we are becoming an increasingly secular society and people have other reasons behind their beliefs now that aren’t necessarily religious in nature.”

What we were really trying to capture are things like atheism, belief systems that might not have a religious basis

But according to Ontario Human Rights Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane, that was never the precise intent of the review of the definition of “creed.”

“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.”

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. “Creed” is now much broader than the more strictly religious interpretation intended when the Code was first drafted and is intended to capture more modern belief systems.

That doesn’t mean any belief system can qualify, however. The updated policy uses a five-pronged approach to determining whether a belief system qualifies as a legally protected creed:

  • Is it a sincerely, freely and deeply held belief?
  • Is tied to personal identity and spiritual fulfillment?
  • Is it “a comprehensive and overarching system of belief that governs one’s conduct and practices?
  • Does it address ultimate question of human existence, including ones about life, death and purpose?
  • Is there an organization or community that practices the same belief system?

“What we were really trying to capture are things like atheism, belief systems that might not have a religious basis but are sort of about that ultimate question of our existence and our identity,” Mandhane said, since “we’ve become a more secular society.”

Source: Is being a vegan a human right? Advocates claim protection under new Ontario policy, but that wasn’t the point

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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