The survey was open from September 5, 2013 and closed October 16th, 2013. A total of 1,719 persons responded to the survey.
Survey questions related primarily to (1) the definition and scope of creed rights under the Code; (2) experiences of discrimination based on creed; and (3) accommodation issues and challenges faced by both accommodation seekers and providers.
Survey respondent demographics
Of survey respondents self-identifying with a religion or creed (40% or 686 of all respondents), the majority identified as being either Christian (50% or 346) or “no religion” (40% or 272), followed by Muslim (7% or 45). The largest single group broken down by denomination or sub-group was atheist (28% or 101), followed by Born again Christian (70 or 10%) and Roman Catholic (66 or 10%). Some 20% of survey respondents (or 231) considered themselves to be members of a non-religious community affiliated by creed.
Some 33 or 2% of respondents identified as Aboriginal (18 Métis, 14 First Nations and 2 Inuit). Most respondents self-identified as White (50%), followed by South Asian (25%), Arab (9%) and Black (4%).
The majority of respondents were from the Central Region of Ontario (34%), and Toronto (30%), followed by the Western (17%), Eastern (13%) and Northern regions (3%) of Ontario. A majority of respondents were under 35 years of age (40%) and female (53% versus 45% male).
Definition and scope of creed rights
Most respondents described “creed” as a “belief system” that significantly informs how a person conducts their day-to-day lives. While respondents differed over whether the content of those beliefs need be religious or not, 48% held that “yes” creed could include non-religious belief systems (versus 27% who said “no” it could not, and another 26% who said maybe).
Many respondents said that for a “belief” to fall within the meaning of “creed” under the Human Rights Code (the Code), it should be sincerely and deeply-held, comprehensive, explicitly articulated (i.e. you can point to its existence), and be core to a person’s identity and sense of dignity, meaning or purpose in life. Some also argued that a creed necessarily implies a set of beliefs that are held in common by a community or group.
When asked if or how creed may differ from religion, most thought that “creed” as a term was broader than religion, since it could refer to a wider range of beliefs (including non-religious beliefs). Among those who viewed creed as exclusively referring to religious creeds, most held it to be narrower than religion, referring to a smaller part of religion having to do with articles of faith. In this respect, some drew attention to the Christian history and dominant meaning of the term.
A majority of survey respondents (721 or 68%) thought that matters of “individual conscience” that may or may not be connected to religion should receive human rights protection under the Code ground of “creed.” However, many people raised concerns about the potential for frivolous and vexatious claims to be advanced under a broadened definition of creed. Concerns were also raised about the significant potential social and business costs and practical challenges associated with potentially having to accommodate an infinite variety of hard-to-assess individual beliefs, including “beliefs of one” that had not existed before.
Most survey respondents reported having experienced discrimination (688 or 64%), primarily (71%) based on creed. Muslim and Aboriginal respondents were most likely to report an experience of discrimination based on creed. Non-religious respondents reported proportionately fewer incidents of discrimination based on creed.
Most creed-based discrimination situations reported took place in employment settings, and involved claims of:
- Harassment and stereotyping by co-workers and bosses
- A failure to accommodate religious observances
- Differential treatment and denial of employment opportunities based on creed.
Some people said they were afraid of being identified in the workplace or elsewhere as a member of a religious faith, or of asking for an accommodation, due to fears of how this may be perceived (e.g. stigma, asking for “special privileges,” etc.) and potential negative employment consequences. There were many incidents of harassment in public spaces reported (e.g. in shopping malls, on the street, at the library, park, community centre, etc.), mostly verbal but in a few instances physical. A disproportionate number of the reported experiences involved Muslims, and/or people visibly identified as such (in particular, Muslim women wearing the headscarf). Various forms of racism and xenophobia were also interwoven in reported experiences of creed discrimination and harassment. A recurring issue raised was racial profiling of Muslims by security personnel.
After employment, education was the next area where discriminatory experiences were reported. Many survey respondents reported being stereotyped by teachers and instructors as persons of faith. There were also quite a few comments about either the secular-atheist bias of education institutions, or about the privileging of Christian holidays, norms and themes in primary and secondary public schools. Some raised concerns that schools did not exempt their children from curriculum that contravenes their creed beliefs, while others drew attention to inequities in funding of religious schools. Most survey respondents attributed creed discrimination to fear and ignorance and a general lack of understanding of peoples’ religious and cultural differences. The media was also often cited as a major source of misunderstanding about religious diversity.
A majority of survey responses to the question about creed accommodation were related to employment. Reports of being denied religious accommodations, or appropriate ones, in the workplace were a common theme. Another common issue was how an employee was treated during the accommodation process, by the employer and/or by fellow employees. Some respondents reported holding back accommodation requests out of fear of reprisals or stigma in the workplace. The most common type of accommodation issue raised involved providing time (paid or unpaid) and space for daily and weekly prayer observances. A significant number of responses also related to perceived inequities between people who observe mainstream Christian holy days and people who don’t, and the perception of only the latter being required to use vacation days or unpaid time off. The failure to accommodate creed-based dietary requirements was also cited often, particularly in the case of ethical vegans, vegetarians, followed by Muslims and Jews.
Accommodation providers raised similar concerns as accommodation seekers (regarding expectations around accommodating religious holy days and regular prayer observances). They also commented on such things as the difficulty of:
- Dealing with employee backlash and morale when providing accommodations
- Determining whether a creed or creed practice merits accommodation (particularly where accommodation requests vary with what religious authorities deem to be required of the faith)
- Assessing if a belief is sincerely versus conveniently held (and related matters such as how much and what type of information can be requested in this regard)
- Balancing competing rights and interests.
The new OHRC policy
Many recommended concerted public outreach and education around the updated OHRC creed policy once released, due to what was reported to be widespread ignorance about the existing policy and what is required under the Code. Many respondents also requested that the policy contain real-life examples and guidelines, based on frequently arising issues. A significant number of respondents advocated for keeping religion completely out of the public sphere, and getting rid of the duty to accommodate “private beliefs” in “public” altogether. On the other side of the spectrum, some felt that the human rights system and state in general was over-reaching and pushing a secular-atheist agenda that overly impinged on the rights of religious organizations and persons (mostly Christian) to function according to their own religious principles and convictions. Survey respondents were also interested in learning more about successful accommodation practices and how to proactively design inclucive organizational measures relating to creed.
Over the next few months,The OHRC will continue to consult on policy matters requiring further clarification, as we work towards a releasing a new policy in 2014.