Written by Alex Ciccone*
In a recent blog post, Executive Director Camille Labchuk explained how a recent policy issued by the Ontario Human Rights Commission could protect vegans from facing discrimination because of their beliefs about animal use and abuse. The Ontario Human Rights Code protects people from discrimination because of creed, which is distinct from religion. Although the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s policy used to conflate religion with creed, the new policy clarifies that non-religious belief systems (of which ethical veganism is one example) may qualify as creeds.
British Columbia’s Human Rights Code does not protect “creed” like Ontario’s. Thus, what worked in Ontario will not work in BC. There are three ways that ethical veganism may be protected in BC: as a political belief, as a religion, or with amendments to the Code.
Political belief is a protected ground for discrimination under some provisions of the Code. Political belief is not defined in the Code, and has rarely been considered by the Human Rights Tribunal. However, the Tribunal has offered some guidance. For example, political belief is protected if it relates to: a system of social cooperation, a legislative initiative, or the organization or governance of First Nations communities (1). The tribunal has also stated that “political belief” is not limited to partisan political belief, and held that “political belief” should be given a liberal definition and broad interpretation (2).
Politics—from the Greek of or relating to citizens—includes acting to influence others. Many non-religious vegans very much consider their ethical veganism to be a political act, and their belief system to be a political one. At its core, veganism is a boycott of industries that harm and exploit animals. Boycotts are inherently political. Accordingly, the protected ground political belief holds a significant amount of promise for ensuring vegans are protected from discrimination in certain protected spheres.
Vegans are already protected under the Code if they are vegan for religious reasons. For example, if you are a Buddhist or Jain who is vegan, you will have a right to be accommodated because of your religion. Anything you do in the name of that religion is also protected, including veganism. However, ethical veganism (veganism for ethical reasons unrelated to religion) is not currently protected because it is not a religion. To receive protection under the existing Code in BC, it must be argued that veganism is a religion.
Some people have tried to make this argument already. David Sztybel argues that veganism shares many elements with the religions that are protected under the Code. For example, religion requires changing your daily behaviour based on a greater purpose, as does veganism. Many religions also recognize the sanctity of life in a similar way that veganism does.
To gain protection as a religion, a decision must be released by the BC Human Rights Tribunal: first, someone who is vegan would need to be discriminated against because of their veganism. Second, they would need to lodge a complaint with the Tribunal. Third, they would need to succeed with that complaint on the grounds that veganism qualifies as a religion. This would set a precedent that would be persuasive, if not binding, in future claims. This has never been tried at the Tribunal. In fact, very few cases relating to veganism have been heard at the Tribunal at all.
Amendments to the Code
Though there are similarities between veganism and religion, as Ms. Labchuk has pointed out, the notion that the Code protects religion but not secular beliefs is antiquated. It is reasonable to question whether veganism should be protected as a religion. Perhaps it’s time that BC changes its Code to include protection based on philosophical beliefs, or a broadly defined “creed” as Ontario now does.
The purpose of BC’s Code is to “promote a climate of understanding and mutual respect where all are equal in dignity and rights”. Protecting conscience or creed seems to be consistent with the purpose of the Code.
Changing the Code requires Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to pass a Bill amending the Code. If this is an issue you’re concerned about, you can write your local MLA and ask them to consider advocating for an amendment in our Human Rights Code to include protection of conscience or creed. Additionally, you can encourage others to do the same. Many people benefit from the Code protecting creed or conscience, not just ethical vegans.
Other Provinces & Territories
Some other provinces already protect creed in their human rights legislation. The Ontario Human Rights Commission provides a table comparing provinces (Figure 3). Provinces that protect “creed” without requiring “creed” be religious include: MB, ON, NS, PEI, YT, NU. All provinces other than Nunavut, Ontario and Manitoba protect political belief.
* Alex Ciccone grew up in Northern Ontario where he launched a successful podcast discussing veganism and sustainability. He is currently pursuing a law degree in Victoria in order to contribute to the work done by animal advocates in Canada.
(1) Jameson v. Victoria Native Friendship Centre,  BCCHRD No 42
(2) Prokopetz v. Burnaby Fireghters’ Union, Local 323 2006 BCHRT 462
If you are facing discrimination because of your beliefs about animals (for example, if you are required to experiment on animals to pass a course, avoid networking opportunities at zoos or aquariums, or wear leather or wool as part of a uniform) you may be entitled to accommodation. Animal Justice may be able to assist you in filing a claim. Please contact us for more information.
This blog and the contents herein are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Readers are advised to seek legal counsel prior to acting on any matters discussed herein. The opinions expressed are those of the author.