A firefighter who was denied vegan food while tackling wildfires in Canada has lost his lawsuit to protect ethical vegans from discrimination.
Three months after hearing vegan firefighter Adam Knauff’s discrimination claim against the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario decided on Tuesday that ethical veganism is not an acceptable belief worthy of protection.
Employers can refuse to provide ethical vegans appropriate food, and courts will not consider it discrimination.
Knauff, an ethical vegan since 1998, was isolated at a firefighter’s camp for 14 days at Williams Lake in British Colombia while fighting wildfires. During these long days of fighting fires, Knauff received little or no vegan protein in the meals prepared at the firefighter campsite.
The closest town had been evacuated, and the food stores were closed, so Knauff relied on meals prepared for him at camp. Despite personally giving basecamp chefs three blocks of tofu, none was prepared for him. On July 20th, 2017, Knauff was given a single black bean.
Knauff tried to survive on fruit and protein bars but felt mentally and physically sluggish for want of protein. After ten days, he used foul language, was returned home to Ontario, and was suspended.
Ethical veganism and discrimination
In May 2018, Knauff filed a discrimination claim. This was the first time an Ontario Tribunal considered if ethical veganism is a “creed” deserving protection under anti-discrimination laws.
Ontario’s Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination based on a person’s belief. In 2015, a commission reviewing Ontario’s creed policy stated that the word “creed” can include “non-religious belief systems that, like religion, substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life.”
However, not every belief system qualifies as a creed. One test tribunals apply to determine if a plaintiff’s belief system qualifies as a creed is if that belief system “addresses ultimate questions of human existence, including ideas about life, purpose, death and the existence or non-existence of a Creator and/or a higher or different order of existence.”
Here, it seems, ethical veganism fell short.
Knauff may appeal the decision with a judicial review in Ontario’s Divisional Court. Until then, Jordi Casamitjana’s 2020 victory before the Norwich Employment Tribunal in the United Kingdom is the only example of ethical veganism being recognized as a belief system worthy of protection from discrimination.
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