Skip to main content

Political Beliefs, Creed, and Preferences: A Breakdown

David M. Brown

Co-Founder + Partner
April 11, 2022

If you’ve seen the news at all in the last few months, you’ve probably been aware of the “Freedom Convoy”. Despite police action to break up larger gatherings in Ottawa and elsewhere, protests continued to take place in smaller, more informal gatherings across Canada. 

We’re already seeing the legal repercussions of these protests, as some employers have taken actions to discipline or terminate employees who have been seen taking part in the convoy. Are these terminations legal? How far do human rights protections go in cases like these?

To discuss this, it’s important to understand the legal difference between political beliefs, creed, and preferences, and how these three items are covered (or not covered) under current human rights legislation and employment law.

 

Political Beliefs

In British Columbia, human rights legislation provides protection for political beliefs insofar as you cannot be terminated or otherwise disciplined at work for expressing or holding any political belief.

Historically, this protection was designed to cover party affiliation. For example, in the 1960s, it protected workers from being fired or disciplined for being members of a socialist party or holding socialist or communist beliefs.

Today, being fired for supporting a particular party is less of a concern. But a question we’re seeing come up a lot lately is less about party affiliation, and more about whether your beliefs in relation to government policy constitute political beliefs in and of themselves. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of authority on this, because that specific question hasn’t come up a lot before now. Opinions in support of (and opposition to) vaccine mandates, for example, aren’t held exclusively within any particular party, but they are inherently political.

In a decision that was issued in summer 2021, the BC Human Rights Tribunal left the door open for the possibility that anti-vaccine opinions could be protected political beliefs. At the same time, it stressed that holding these beliefs does not exempt a person from abiding by public health guidelines:

“I accept that a genuinely held belief opposing government rules regarding vaccination could be a political belief within the meaning of the Code. In saying this, however, I stress that protection from discrimination based on political belief does not exempt a person from following provincial health orders or rules. Rather, it protects a person from adverse impacts in their employment based on their beliefs.” – (Complainant obo Class of Persons v. John Horgan, 2021 BCHRT 120)

It’s one thing to face termination over the beliefs you hold. It’s another thing to face termination over actions that are illegal or otherwise contrary to public health orders, even if those actions were an expression of your political beliefs.

What the tribunal is saying in this case is that an individual may hold anti-vaccine beliefs, and they may choose not to get vaccinated. But in making those choices and holding those beliefs, they are still beholden to public health orders. Ergo, if you are choosing to remain unvaccinated due to a political belief, that is your right. But as a consequence of that choice, you also forfeit your right to enter certain spaces or attend certain events while these public health orders are in place. That consequence is not an infringement on your protected rights, because you are still required to uphold the law.

If you were to respect the health guidelines of your office, but protest against wider regulations (for example by being vaccinated but protesting against vaccine mandates), then your participation in protests like the convoy could potentially still be protected. The tribunal left that door open, and did not provide a firm answer either way.

One thing that we need to recognize is that COVID-19 has brought up a number of questions that we don’t have answers for, because we’ve simply never had to consider them. 

Unfortunately, our court and judicial system moves slowly, and these questions remain open. It can take months or years to get conclusive answers on issues like these. It’s possible that in the future, the Tribunal’s language will be updated to provide clearer guidelines for these types of cases. But where we’re at now is that arguments can be made for both sides.

 

Creed

Creed has a definition that’s a bit more broad. A creed is a deeply held belief. It’s not just an opinion or a preference, and it’s not necessarily political, though there is often overlap into political contexts.

In a legal sense, a creed is comparable to a religious belief in some ways, however, a creed is not necessarily religious or spiritual in nature. It can be a secular, moral, or philosophical belief that nonetheless comprises an element of a person’s self-image and internal compass.

In BC law, there is no language specifically protecting creed. Ontario’s human rights code, however, does protect creed.

A few years ago, we saw a case involving a worker in a remote camp in northern Ontario. This worker was vegan, and his veganism was a creed in that he was very strict about it and treated it as an aspect of his identity.

The remote sites where he was working were not providing him with vegan meal options. This worker submitted a complaint on the basis that this was discrimination against his creed. He was successful.

This case helps to illustrate how creed is approached by the human rights tribunal in Ontario, however, it also goes to show that the idea of creed can be a little bit slippery when it comes to the law. If veganism can be interpreted as a creed, what else can? It may be difficult to prove something is a creed, but it can be equally difficult to argue against. 

As previously stated, BC does not include creed in human rights language. It is possible that BC’s “religion” clause could be used to cover the same ground as Ontario’s “creed”. Legal opinions on this are split, however, and to date there have been no examples of actual cases to back this up.

 

Preference

Preferences are not protected by human rights law, except insofar as each individual is allowed to hold and express preference. A preference cannot be used as grounds for refusing to abide by rules and regulations. 

A person has the right to say, for example, that they don’t want to wear a mask, or they don’t wish to be vaccinated. Their ability to hold and express those preferences is protected in BC. Regardless of preference, however, they will still be required to abide by public health orders, which means either wearing a mask and being vaccinated, or staying out of spaces where those measures are required. 

Political beliefs, creed, and preferences are separate, but what we’re seeing now with recent protests is that it can be hard to untangle them when it comes to issues to do with COVID. When someone says they are against vaccines, that may be a preference. But when someone protests against government-enforced vaccine mandates, that becomes political. 

 

Protests and Convoys

Protesting is an inherently political act. If you’re protesting, it’s because you’re trying to influence public opinion, shape government policy, or both. People don’t generally protest for personal preferences – they protest because they believe an issue needs widespread attention and political action. The right to protest is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

To speak to recent events, it’s important to also understand that there has been a long line of decisions in Canadian case law demonstrating that employers have the right to discipline and in some cases terminate employees for participating in activities that may bring disrepute to the organization.

With recent “freedom convoy” protests, we’re seeing individuals showing up to the convoy in company vehicles, in some cases having altercations with police or otherwise disrupting the peace. Companies are then seeing photos, which have made their way onto many provincial and national news programs in addition to social media, and making the decision to terminate the individuals involved, because the actions of these individuals will very likely have a negative impact on public perception of that company. 

In cases like these, were the employees discriminated against? Were they fired for holding a political belief, or were they fired for breaking the law and bringing their company into disrepute? Unfortunately, it’s tough to say for certain, because the two are so intrinsically linked in this situation. 

We expect to see more of these cases in the next year, and perhaps as the judicial system processes more of them, clearer answers will surface. But for now, arguments can be made for both sides. 

 

Key Takeaways

There isn’t an easy answer to this one. The pandemic has brought a lot of new issues to light, and these issues aren’t all easily covered by the current letter of the law, simply because we’ve never had to think about them before. 

This does not mean that the law doesn’t apply, but rather that there are elements of these issues that can only be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. 

Do you have questions about your rights as an employee or an employer? Book a consultation with one of our lawyers. We can help you evaluate your individual situation, determine whether legal action is something you can pursue, and if so, assist with next steps.