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Updating our understanding of creed

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As Canadian society becomes increasingly diverse, there is potential for tension and conflict as creed issues play out more and more in the public sphere. Should religious organizations be allowed to have a say on the sex lives and life choices of their employees? Are veganism, ethical humanism or pacifism creeds? Can a school tell a student he or she can’t bring a same-sex partner to the prom?

These are just a few of the questions the OHRC is looking at as we work on updating our policy on creed. This project involves wide consultation with faith leaders, diverse community members, academics, and human rights lawyers and practitioners. We will also offer opportunities for members of the general public to share their ideas with us through online surveys, interviews, focus groups and other meetings.

Overall, the project will take 2 – 3 years to complete, and we hope it will provide answers to some of the pressing questions that relate to creed, like:

  • What obligations do employers have to accommodate religious holidays for non-Christian staff? Do they have to give staff paid days off or ask them to use vacation days?
  • What obligations do hospitals have to meet patients’ food requirements because of their religion?
  • How much can co-workers talk about their faith while at work before it violates other people’s rights?
  • How does a person know if their comments on religion in the workplace, or when providing a service, have crossed a line and become harassment?
  • Can prayers be held within public schools during school hours?
  • Where does the duty to accommodate creed beliefs and practices in public space begin and end?
  • Should the definition of creed, itself, be updated and, if so, how?

In January 2012, the OHRC invited academic, legal and community partners to submit short papers for discussion at a policy dialogue session in partnership with the University of Toronto’s Religion in the Public Sphere Initiative and Faculty of Law. Presenters were also invited to submit longer versions of their papers, to expand on the key points they wished to make in the discussion on creed.

Later in 2012, in partnership with York University and Irwin Law Inc, we published the articles. They offer many insights on human rights, creed, freedom of religion and the law, and take varied positions based on different perspectives. These articles serve as a starting point as we move forward to craft a new creed policy that reflects the changing needs and realities of today’s Ontarians.

The next step is to broaden the consultation. We are finalizing a research and consultation paper to help guide the discussion and will launch an online survey later in 2013.

My father was a Holocaust survivor… And my mom, who was a small town Ontario fundamentalist Christian, for whatever reasons, had a very innate sense of justice. And she couldn’t understand many of the notions that her – even some of her family members had about race and inclusion. And she married my father, which of course at the time was fairly radical. And my father also along with his mother suffered terribly the impact of being a hidden child and losing their entire family.

- Wendy Cukier, Vice President, Research and Innovation, Ryerson University
My father was a Holocaust survivor

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