OHRC Asks: What is “Creed”?

Image: T. Voekler

Image: T. Voekler

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) wants to hear from Ontarians about what “creed” means to them. Results will be used as part of an ongoing effort to update the 1996 Policy on Creed and the Accommodation of Religious Observances.

OHRC is surveying individuals, members of religious and other communities, employers and other groups on what “creed” means. The Commission will gather peoples’ experiences of discrimination based on creed, its root causes, as well as challenges and success stories for accommodating creed beliefs and practices.

Responses will help to revise the policy.

“Creed” is one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Code does not define “creed,” but the OHRC defines the term broadly in its 1996 Policy.

Every Ontarian has a right to be free from “discriminatory or harassing behaviour that is based on religion or which arises because the person who is the target of the behaviour does not share the same faith,” according to the policy. Creed “does not include secular, moral or ethical beliefs or political convictions.”

No Protection for Inciting Hatred

The 1996 policy also states that creed-based human rights protections do not extend to “religions that incite hatred or violence against other individuals or groups, or to practices and observances that purport to have a religious basis but which contravene international human rights standards or criminal law.”

Courts and tribunals have increasingly had to grapple with what qualifies for human rights protection on the ground of creed, according to a background report on the issue. Several recent cases have involved non-religious belief systems, including ethical veganism, atheism and political belief. Decisions have included such belief systems as Aboriginal spiritual practices, Wiccans, Raelians and Falun Gong.

At the same time, social trends — including the significant growth of Ontarians self-identifying as having “no religion,” deriving moral direction and meaning in life from non-religious belief systems — have helped to bring the question of defining creed to the forefront.

No-Religion Rights Protected

Some court and tribunal decisions have raised the possibility that non-religious beliefs may be a creed under the Code, the Commission notes. “Overall, the courts appear to be reluctant to offer any final, authoritative, definitive or closed definition of creed. Instead, they prefer a more organic, analogical (“if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck”) case-by-case assessment.”

The courts have offered some guidelines on the “outer limits” of what they will recognize under the Code ground of creed, the OHRC says.

Organizations governed by the Code have a duty to accommodate creed, and a responsibility to design services, programs and employment systems inclusively so that all Ontarians can equally benefit and take part in them.

Further Reading:

OHRC Background Report

Two Steps Forward and One Step Back: Religious Freedom in Ontario

One comment

  1. GW Crawford · · Reply

    The issue of creed gets muddled when, like in Australia, people start defining their religious affiliation as “Jedi”.
    There is reasonable accommodation and then there is reasonable accommodation. We could end up like Gary Busey’s character in DC Cab where he demands, and gets, Elvis’ birthday off. We could make a whole cloth rule and say only established ideologies, faiths, etc. but that is, in itself, discriminatory to those who choose to walk their own path. Let alone non-centralized ethical tenets like atheism where the belief is simply a choice of non-belief.
    This becomes a greater issue when you have creeds that are actively disliked for their tenets by others.

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