A very cool bit of news got drowned in the kerfuffle over Québec’s Bill 62 last week. The BC Humanist Association has created a petition to include “nonreligious” in the province’s list of protected classes.
Like other provinces and the federal government, BC has a Human Rights Code, and like other provinces’ and the feds’ human rights codes, BC’s Human Rights Code contains a list of “protected classes” – basically, “things” that you cannot legally discriminate by. The precise list varies from clause to clause to cover different scenarios, but basically, BC’s Human Rights Code protects against discrimination based on
race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age of that person or that group or class of persons.
, BC passed Bill 27, the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2016, which added
gender identity or expression to the Human Rights Code. That was part of a flurry of similar bills across Canada in the last couple of years to get the “T” in LGBT covered under human rights code protections (such as the “infamous” C-16 at the federal level). The BCHA petition proposes nothing more controversial than to add “nonreligion” in the same manner.
Why is this necessary? Well, a few weeks back, the BCHA petitioned the government to get humanists recognized as marriage officiants. The problem was that the province’s marriage act recognizes religious groups for the purpose of registering marriage officiants, but not nonreligious groups. Thus, when the BCHA applied to get humanists recognized, they were denied. Unfortunately, the government response to the petition was to brush it off, saying it was too much trouble to reopen the province’s ancient marriage act for so small a thing, and that it needed a full overhaul at some unspecified later date. When the rights of an entire group of people can be ignored as just too much bother, there’s a problem that needs addressing.
Ontario’s Human Rights Code does not even mention “religion”. Instead, it talks about “creed”, and in the 2014 Erazo v Dufferin–Peel Catholic District School Board ruling, the courts affirmed that “creed” includes nonreligious beliefs. The federal Human Rights Act only mentions “religion”, but the courts have repeatedly confirmed that nonreligion is protected as well. One would have hoped that the situation would be the same in BC, but the Health Minister’s response to the marriage officiant request shows otherwise.
The petition is open until . The goal is 500 signatures, and the current tally is over 300. We can do it!
[Correction 2017-10-24 16:30 UTC]: The petition is not a Parliamentary petition; it is a BCHA petition that will be presented to Parliament.