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

Ontario human rights chief calls for race-based stats for kids in care

More on the need for a diversity lens:

“Systemic and persistent discrimination” is likely involved in a disproportionate number of aboriginal and black children being taken from their families and placed into care, Ontario’s Chief Human Rights Commissioner says.

Ending the trend, Renu Mandhane added, begins with the provincial government collecting race-based data to gauge the full extent of the problem — something it does not currently do.

How can the government and children’s aid societies understand the needs of the children and families they serve — and the discrimination they might be facing — if they don’t know the race and culture of those families, Mandhane asked in an interview with the Star.

“We wouldn’t get involved unless we thought there were elements of systemic and persistent discrimination at play,” Mandhane said, describing her commission’s decision to examine the over-representation of aboriginal and black children in foster homes or group homes.

The human rights commission is the latest in a long list of agencies and community groups to call on the Ministry of Children and Youth Services to collect and make public race-based data. The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto took the step in the summer of 2015 after the Toronto Star revealed that 41.8 per cent of children in its care are black. The city’s under-18 black population, meanwhile, is 8.2 per cent.

Source: Ontario human rights chief calls for race-based stats for kids in care | Toronto Star

New Ontario Human Rights commissioner Renu Mandhane vows aggressive approach

Good profile on the background and values of the incoming commissioner:

The story underscores the empathy and compassion friends, colleagues and family say 38-year-old Mandhane — academic, lawyer, High Park-Junction resident, mother of two young boys, front line international human rights advocate — brings to her new job as the province’s top domestic rights watchdog, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

“It was that moment where I realized, wow, I’m hard-wired to really think about the underdog and the perspective of people who are less privileged than I am.”

Her brother, Piush Mandhane, an Edmonton pediatrician and medical researcher, says Renu “always had a sense of ethics and what is right and wrong. And she’s always been willing to stand up for what she believes in.

“I think Ontario couldn’t have got a better person,” he says. “That position comes with a lot of carrots, and then some sticks. I think she will know when to use which.”

Mandhane leaves her old job as executive director of the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program to take on her new role, beginning Monday.

During her time at the program, Mandhane edited a 2015 research paper on migrants to Canada with mental health issues who are subject to arbitrary imprisonment. It is a bleak assessment of how the country deals with these newcomers, and prompted calls for more humane treatment and an end to indefinite detention.

She also works with PEN International, and through the U of T rights program helped produce a 2015 research paper on freedom-of-speech challenges in India.

With her new role comes a public profile and the power to make change.

Source: New Ontario Human Rights commissioner Renu Mandhane vows aggressive approach | Toronto Star