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Ontario Human Rights Commission released updated policy on “preventing discrimination based on Creed”

humanrightsintheworkplaceThis past December the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a new and comprehensive 173 page Updated Policy on Preventing Discrimination based on Creed (the “Policy”) to replace its earlier Policy that was first published in 1996. The Commission stated that given the significant demographic changes in Ontario, it has been working on a new policy since 2012. The aim of the policy is to highlight how discrimination on the basis of Creed can be avoided in broader Ontario society which is increasingly more diverse. A link to the Policy can be found here.

The courts and human rights tribunals have broadly defined Creed to constitute religious beliefs and practices. Creed can also include non-religious belief systems that influence a person’s identity, world view and way of life. The Commission also observed how discrimination on the basis of Creed also accompanies discrimination on the basis of other prohibited grounds such as Race, Ethnic Origin, Citizenship, Ancestry, Place of Origin and Sex.

The Commission spends time outlining the legal framework. In Ontario, Part 1 of the Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination and/or harassment on the basis of Creed in five key “social areas”:

  1. In goods, services and facilities (Section 1). “Services” is a broad category and can include privately or publicly owned or operated services such as schools, restaurants, policing, health care, shopping malls, insurance, etc. Harassment based on creed is a form of discrimination, and is therefore also prohibited in services.
  2. In housing (Section 2). This includes access to and treatment in private rental housing, co-operative housing, social housing and supportive or assisted housing.
  3. In contracting with others (Section 3). This includes entering into or ending a contract, setting prices or contract terms and discrimination during the life of a contract.
  4. In employment (Section 5). Employment includes full time work, part-time work, volunteer work, student internships, special employment programs, probationary employment and temporary or contract work.
  5. In Unions or Professional Associations (Section 6). The Human Rights Code applies to individuals when joining or belonging to a union, professional association or other vocational association. This applies to membership in trade unions and self-governing professions, including the terms and conditions of membership, treatment of members, etc.

The Commission spends time discussing what constitutes direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment, a poisoned work environment and what constitutes “racial profiling”.

The Commission then spends time on specific timely issues offering employers and the public guidance on the following:

  • Indigenous spiritual practices
  • Creed-based holidays, leaves and ritual observances
  • Dress codes and appearance rules and standards
  • Displaying religious or creed-based symbols
  • Photos and biometrics
  • Food restrictions
  • Exemptions from activities that adversely affect a person’s creed
  • Creed issues in recruitment and hiring.

The Commission’s Policy on Creed is a must read for any human resources practitioner given the wealth of information and tips for how to comply with the Code in light of an increasingly diverse workforce.

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Simon Heath

Employment Lawyer and principal at Heath Law, Employment Lawyers
Simon Heath, BA, MIR, LLB, is the Principal of Heath Law, Employment Lawyers in Mississauga, Ontario. Simon represents both public and private-sector employers and employees (unionized and non-unionized) at all stages of the employment relationship with a focus in the areas of employment law, labour law and human rights law; these representations are made at all levels of courts and all administrative tribunals. Read more
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