Ethical Veganism is Not a Creed under the Ontario Human Rights Code:

In Knauff v. Ontario (Natural Resources and Forestry) 2023 HRTO 1729, Adjudicator Karen Dawson found that ethical veganism was not a protected ground under the Ontario Human Rights Code as it was not a Creed.

She adopted the OHRC definition of Creed as having the following definition

1.     Is sincerely, freely and deeply held

2.    Is integrally linked to a person’s identity, self-definition and fulfilment

3.    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

4.   Is a particular and comprehensive, overarching system of belief that governs one’s conduct and practices

5.     Has some nexus or connection to an organization or community that professes a shared system of belief.

Having listened to expert witnesses, she found that although ethical veganism fulfilled criteria 1 and 2 it did not pass the third criteria . This what she said :

[18]      With respect to the third part, I find the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing demonstrated that ethical veganism addresses humans’ relationships with other animals and the natural environment, but failed to demonstrate that ethical veganism addresses ultimate questions of human existence beyond this, or the existence or non-existence of a higher or different order of existence and/or a Creator.

[19]      Moreover, while Dr. Joy testified that ethical veganism calls into question the meaning of life, our place in the world and the cosmos and how a compassionate universe can allow suffering, these are very general philosophical observations and do not demonstrate how ethical veganism addresses the existence or non-existence of another order of existence and/or a Creator.

{20]      In his legal submissions, the applicant characterized ethical veganism as a non-religious belief system. While I agree with the applicant that the Policy says creed may include religious and non-religious belief systems, a non-religious belief system must still address all five parts of the test.

[21]      The applicant’s counsel also submitted that an ethical vegan’s spirit, soul, and sense of morality cannot countenance participation in the killing and consumption of animals and that by eschewing such participation, ethical vegans achieve a deep sense of spiritual fulfillment. They submitted that this spiritual fulfillment satisfies the third part of the test. However, I am unable to identify any evidence presented by the applicant or the two expert witnesses that ethical vegans derive spiritual fulfillment from their practices and beliefs.

[22] I find that on the evidence presented, ethical veganism does not address the existence or non-existence of a Creator and/or a higher or different order of existence, as required by the third part of the test. Accordingly, I find that ethical veganism does not constitute a creed within the meaning of the Code. The applicant therefore has failed to establish that he possesses this enumerated ground and the allegations of discrimination on this basis are accordingly outside the jurisdiction of the Tribunal.

My Comments:

This case emphasizes the limitation of the Creed provision in the OHRC. Not every firmly held belief fits within this protected category. Anti vaxers have tried unsuccessfully to rely on this section. People often feel passionately about certain political opinions and seek to characterize those opinions as a Creed and thus protected in the workplace. I submit that this case shows that that position would likely not be upheld.

As an aside, it would appear that atheism is a protected creed, as the third factor speaks of the belief of the “non-existence of a Creator”.

What about agnosticism ? Can it be a sincere belief when you aren’t sure one way or the other ?

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