Ethical vegans are looking to take advantage of new legal guidelines regarding the definition of the word ‘creed’ to make their lifestyle choice a protected human right.
According to recent guidance from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), a creed is not merely a religious belief or practice but “may also include non-religious belief systems that, like religion, substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life.” Using this definition vegans claim their dietary preference constitutes a creed, something which brings with it human rights protections.
Ontario’s Human Rights Code dictates that creed rights give adherents protection in five ‘social areas’: housing, services, employment, contracts, and unions and professional associations. Vegans now want to use those protections so they are not required to do things conflicting with their beliefs, reports The Toronto Star.
Lawyer and political campaigner Nick Wright — the founder of the Animal Justice group which advocates for the humane treatment of animals — explains:
“In modern times, more and more people have ethical systems and practices that aren’t rooted in a traditional organised religion.
“This change is important for ethical vegans, because in instances where accommodation is required they’ll have a legal right to enforce it.”
OHRC policy is intended to guide employers and service providers in accommodating people based on their creed. Animal Justice believes the new definition may help vegan students refuse to dissect animals, workers object to wearing uniforms including components such as leather belts or shoes, and ensure vegans do not find themselves excluded from work events held at unsympathetic venues such as steakhouses.
Establishing ethical veganism — opposition to harming animals or using any animal by-products — as a creed may not be plain sailing for Animal Justice supporters. Some other campaigners say extending the protections to vegans may cheapen the very nature of human rights protection. Amanda Hohmann, of B’Nai Brith’s League For Human Rights told The Toronto Star:
“The Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Code were put into place to combat real persecution based on a person’s cultural, ethnic or religious affiliation. Should the interpretation of what constitutes creed be broadened to the point where any meaningful protection becomes difficult, this would weaken the effectiveness of existing legislative protections.”
Nevertheless, another Animal Justice activist, lawyer Camille Labchuk, said the new guidelines are “a really big step forward for human rights in Ontario”. She told Yahoo Canada News:
“As a society we’re becoming increasingly secular, and for many people ethical beliefs are replacing religious ones.”
The final decision as to whether ethical veganism constitutes a creed will be made by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. University of Alberta sociology professor Dominique Clement said he suspects the tribunal will never recognise veganism as a creed saying the idea “sounds crazy”, but concluded:
“…keep in mind there was a time when the idea that gay people and lesbians have a right to not be discriminated against was equally absurd.”