Vegan firefighter Adam Knauff—an 11-year veteran of Ontario’s provincial firefighting force—is suing his employer for violating his right to have access to vegan food while deployed out of province for work. In 2017, Knauff was sent to Williams Lake, BC to help battle the record-breaking wildfires that forced the evacuation of thousands of residents. For 10 days, while Knauff worked up to 16 hours per day in physically demanding conditions, he faced a lack of vegan food in the basecamp where he was stationed. Knauff said he repeatedly attempted to work with management to obtain vegan food, but the situation did not improve—leaving him hungry and physically drained. After expressing his frustration, Knauff was sent home, disciplined, and suspended without pay for a period of time. “I am vegan because I don’t want to harm or kill animals,” Knauff said. “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. 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.” In a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the 40-year-old claims that his employer failed to pay heed to his dietary requirements, and that he was discriminated against when his supervisors made it impossible to abide by his vegan principles. In 2016, Ontario’s Human Rights Code was modified to include non-religious beliefs such as ethical veganism after Canadian animal-law organization Animal Justice successfully petitioned the Ontario Human Rights Commission to include secular belief systems and ideologies in the definition of “creed.” “More and more people are shunning animal products out of recognition that industrial use of animals causes unconscionable animal suffering,” Camille Labchuk, Executive Director of Animal Justice, said. “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.” Knauff’s case will be the first to test the validity of the update as to whether ethical veganism should be protected from discrimination as a form of creed and, if successful, will set an important legal precedent.
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