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Ontario Human Rights Commission to update its policy on creed and religious observances

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The Ontario Human Rights Commission issued a release recently to notify the public about an upcoming update to its policy on creed and accommodation of religious observances. The policy was created 15 years ago and is now due to be reviewed and amended to reflect the current demographics in Ontario. Public feedback is being collected to inform the new policy – yes, this means you.

“Creed” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary of Canadian English as “a set of principles or opinions, especially as a philosophy of life (his creed is moderation in everything)”. It is related directly to “credo”, defined similarly as “a set of principles held by a specific group, especially as a philosophy”. In Christianity, the Creed was a brief statement of Christian philosophy, for example, the Nicene Creed, or the Apostles’ Creed. The term is understood in this context to mean the religious beliefs of any recognized religious group.

The OHRC has adopted the following definition of creed for its purposes:

Creed is interpreted to mean “religious creed” or “religion.” It is defined as a professed system and confession of faith, including both beliefs and observances or worship. A belief in a God or gods, or a single supreme being or deity is not a requisite. Religion is broadly accepted by the OHRC to include, for example, non-deistic bodies of faith, such as the spiritual faiths/practices of aboriginal cultures, as well as bona fide newer religions (assessed on a case by case basis).The existence of religious beliefs and practices are both necessary and sufficient to the meaning of creed, if the beliefs and practices are sincerely held and/or observed.

However, in the French version of the policy, “creed” is expressed as “la croyance”, a term which is often translated into English as “belief”, leaving some ambiguity. The upcoming changes to the policy will include clearer parameters of the meaning of “creed” as it is understood, with the French interpretation “la croyance” in mind.

The initial policy was initiated to eliminate discrimination based on creed and religious background, and to make the duty to accommodate for the observation of faith obligatory for employers and to be carried out without causing undue hardship. Dress codes, breaks from work required for religious observance, recruitment procedures, religious leave, are covered in the policy, as well as possible exceptions to these outlines. This point of undue hardship is a point that needs clarification, and guidelines for accommodation. For example, a point that has been often discussed in the media is the integration of religious dress into the workplace – garments like the hijab, niqab, turbans, or veils, or the Sikh kirpan sword.

The forthcoming updates are of particular interest to employers as the changes in the policy will ultimately decisions made in the workplace and how they will accommodate employees in the near future. Since the policy’s inception in 1996, human rights decision in Ontario show that there is still a discriminatory attitude towards members of minority religions.

Where these changes will manifest in the policy is not yet clear, as the OHRC is still gathering feedback and consulting with scholars. Earlier this year, several papers were presented at an OHRC legal workshop for the purposes of potentially informing changes in the policy. Interestingly, two of the papers discussed the accommodation of vegans (a person who does not consume any animal products such as meat, fish, eggs or dairy with varying levels of strictness and restriction) both as part of a Buddhist practice as well as the practices of ethical vegans.  Summaries of the papers presented as well as links to the full texts can be found here, though it should be understood that the opinions expressed are those of the authors of the papers, and not necessarily the OHRC. Also, none of these opinions have yet to be integrated into the policy. Additionally, a review of pertinent case law was presented, available online here.

Employers will need to take note of many of the changes in the upcoming policy, though for now, the OHRC is interested in collecting feedback to better inform the changes. The experiences and opinions of employers are valuable, because employers are required to put the policy into practice on a daily basis. Something as simple as affecting how a policy is articulated could mean a great deal of difference province wide.

To contribute your feedback on the policy, the papers presented, or the case law, write to creed@ohrc.on.ca .

We will keep you informed as the policy evolves.

Lauren Bride,
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Lauren Bride

Writer and editor at Hudson's Bay Company
Lauren Bride, B.A. (English Literature / Philosophy) is a writer, copywriter, and editor, working in both fiction and nonfiction. She has done extensive writing and editing for commercial, private, and government clients, as well as story editing and fiction publication. Lauren also volunteers with the not for profit group NABORS (Toronto). Read more
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