Legal Issues

Firefighter from Ontario claims that not being given Vegan Food violated his Human Rights

Unable to perform his physically demanding job during Wildfires due to lack of food that met his needs

Adam Knauff is an Ontario firefighter. He has filed a complaint against his employers, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, according to Canada’s National Post. the His filing is with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario citing a breach of his Human Rights whilst fighting an enormous blaze near Williams Lake, British Columbia, Canada in July 2017.

The work was physically exhausting and throughout ten days, he worked with about one thousand other firefighters “in extreme heat and exhausting conditions, working hard to save people’s homes from burning” for up to 16 hours per day. During this period he claims that he was not provided with sufficient vegan food options. 

Knauff claimed in this filing with the Tribunal that “the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry discriminated against me and failed to accommodate my sincerely held ethical beliefs (creed) when it failed to provide me with food that accommodated my personal commitment to ethical veganism, and then disciplined me and suspended me because I attempted to assert my right to accommodation of that sincerely held ethical belief.” 

Setting out his personal beliefs, Knauff stated that “I am an ethical vegan in that I not only follow a vegan diet, but I extend the philosophy of non-consumption of animal products to all other areas of my life,” he wrote. “I do not think that humans have the moral right to oppress other beings, or to cause them pain and suffering.”

Ten thousand homes were evacuated during the firefighting and the only store available to help this huge effort was a Tim Hortons cafe some considerable distance from the fire. 

It is unlikely that anybody would want for a firefighter undertaking physically demanding work attempting to save homes and the environment to be obtaining inadequate nutrition and being overly tired. But it seems that that is precisely what happened to Mr Knauff who claimed that he “began to feel physically ill and mentally groggy. Until that point I had been trying to push through my hunger and exhaustion, sustaining myself on nuts and fruits.”

Despite asking for personnel to cater for his needs, it appears that in the maelstrom of the firefighting effort that it just did not happen adequately. After several days things got to a breaking point when Mr Knauff lost his temper. 

The Ministry denies the claim arguing that the firefighter’s “vegan status is a sincerely held lifestyle choice, but does not meet the legal definition of creed.” It further argues that it “supported the employee and accommodated his food restrictions as if it were a component of his health needs or part of a recognized creed.”

The current legal position in Ontario of whether ethical veganism is a creed or not is set out by the Ontario Human Rights Commission

Under Ontario law, the whole question boils down to whether or not veganism is part of a “recognised creed”. 

The advocacy group Animal Justice is assisting Mr Knauff. Camille Labchuk, the executive director confirmed that “ethical veganism has never been ruled a form of creed. This is a test case, but it’s important to have a clear statement from the tribunal.”

Mr Knauff is crowdsourcing his legal fees with Go Fund Me

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Nicholas Orosz

Nicholas is a former City solicitor and Cambridge graduate. He has a long-standing interest in health & nutrition, the environmental movement, green politics & digital publishing. He has always loved crafting words. His transition to a vegan perspective has been gradual and an ongoing process of self-discovery. Contact: nicholas@vegansbethechange.com

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