TORONTO – In a novel case, a vegan firefighter is suing his employer for failing to provide him with vegan food while he was deployed out-of-province in a remote location.
Adam Knauff, an 11-year veteran of Ontario’s provincial firefighting force, was sent to Williams Lake, B.C. in 2017 to help tame the forest fires that ravaged the area that summer and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents. For ten days, Mr. Knauff worked long hours in physically demanding conditions, yet faced a severe lack of vegan food in the basecamp where he was stationed.
Mr. Knauff was frequently served meals that contained meat or dairy products, which he cannot eat; meals that were nutritionally inadequate and contained no source of protein; and was sometimes given no food at all. He repeatedly attempted to work with management to improve the situation, but it did not improve. After expressing his frustration that he could not eat, he was sent home, disciplined, and suspended without pay for a period of time.
Mr. Knauff’s application to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario raises a novel issue—whether his beliefs as an ethical vegan are protected under Ontario’s Human Rights Code as a form of “creed”. Mr. Knauff has been vegan for over 20 years to avoid causing suffering to animals. The Tribunal has not yet ruled on this important issue, so Mr. Knauff’s case could break new ground. Until recently, creed was thought to be the same as religion. But in 2015, the Ontario Human Rights Commission overhauled its creed policy, stating, “Creed may also include non-religious belief systems that, like religion, substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life.”
Ethical veganism is a belief system that seeks to avoid harming other animals, and ethical vegans typically choose not to eat animal-based foods like meat, fish dairy, and eggs; or wear clothing made with animal products like fur, leather, wool, and silk.
“I am vegan because I don’t want to harm or kill animals,” said Mr. Knauff. “For over 20 years, this belief system has influenced every aspect of my life, and has made me hyper-aware of the global epidemic of animal abuse, particularly the industrial-scale slaughter of animals for food. I know I can live healthfully and happily on this planet without hurting or killing fellow animals, so I choose not to. My beliefs should be respected, including while I am at work fighting forest fires. Veganism has incredible potential to change the world by promoting compassion and respect for others, and this should be celebrated—not punished, shunned or belittled.”
“More and more people are shunning animal products out of recognition that industrial use of animals causes unconscionable animal suffering,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “The world is changing, and it’s important for employers to respect the sincerely-held beliefs of vegans. In modern times, secular beliefs like ethical veganism can be just as important to one person as religious beliefs are to another person.”
Mr. Knauff is represented by lawyer Wade Poziomka of Ross & McBride LLP. Animal Justice will request to intervene in Mr. Knauff’s case, to provide the Tribunal with perspective on the growth of ethical veganism, the belief system behind it, and why it is important for ethical vegans to benefit from human rights protections.
Animal Justice was a driving force behind the Commission’s new creed policy, and regularly assists vegans who face discrimination in the workplace, at schools and daycares, and in other circumstances.
An article by Animal Justice explaining the importance of “creed” for ethical vegans is available here.
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