October 8, 2019

A recent human rights complaint brought by a firefighter alleging that he suffered discrimination based on his creed when he was not provided vegan meals has stirred debate around the question of just how far the human rights protections for creed or religion extend. The sensitive nature of discussions around religion and the uniqueness of each employee’s personal beliefs compound the difficulties faced by workplace parties in distinguishing between protected religious activities and cultural practices or personal preferences that do not enjoy the same protections. In this session, seasoned counsel will examine these tricky distinctions, addressing issues such as the following:

  • How have “religion” and “creed” been defined by courts and human rights tribunals? What characteristics do human rights tribunals examine when determining whether a belief system constitutes a “creed” under human rights legislation?
  • Must complainants demonstrate that their beliefs are consistent with established religious doctrine or the practices and beliefs of other adherents of the faith, or are they required to demonstrate only that the beliefs are sincerely held? Does the protection extend to include any practice or belief that claimants demonstrate they sincerely believe has a nexus with religion? What factors do courts and adjudicators examine when assessing whether a belief is sincerely held?
  • Is every personal manifestation of an individual’s creed or religion entitled to protection under human rights legislation, or is protection against discrimination limited to only certain significant aspects of an individual’s religious beliefs or practices? For instance, does the right to be granted leave for religious observances extend to the festivities that surround the performance of religious rites? Should decision-makers focus on whether an individual is “required” to engage in a particular practice?
  • Do religious protections supersede other enumerated rights under human rights legislation?
  • Are atheism and agnosticism covered by religious protections under human rights?
  • Can vocational activities be afforded protection if they have a religious component? Will secular cultural activities such as helping out at a cultural community centre or charitable organization be protected when those activities are motivated by religious beliefs? Does the answer depend on whether a particular religious practice is considered to be “mandatory” or not?
  • Does the protection against discrimination based on creed or religion extend to include political beliefs? Can “creed” refer to a system of political opinion?
  • What types of accommodations arise in regard to religious beliefs or practices?