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Spring 2012 Equity Newsletter

Accommodating Religious Beliefs

While “creed” is not defined in the Code, the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Creed and the Accommodation of Religious Observances states the following: creed is interpreted to mean “religious creed” or religion”. It is defined as a professed system and confession of faith, including both beliefs and observances or worship.

Religion includes the practices, beliefs and observances that are part of a faith or religion. It does not include personal moral, ethical or political views. Nor does it include religions that promote violence or hate towards others, or that violate criminal law.

Freedom of religion is the basic principle that informs the right to equal treatment under the Code on the ground of creed. First, this implies that the law can require measures to facilitate the practice of religious observances. Second, it also means that no person can force another to accept or comply with religious beliefs or practices.

It doesn’t matter whether or not discrimination is intentional; it is the effect of the behaviour that is important.

Typically, in the context of creed, issues arise in the areas of:

  • dress codes;
  • break policies;
  • recruitment and job applications;
  • flexible scheduling;
  • rescheduling;
  • religious leave.

The Duty to Accommodate

Where a rule conflicts with religious requirements, there is a duty to ensure that individuals are able to observe their religion unless this would cause undue hardship because of cost or health and safety reasons. Unlawful discrimination because of religion can include:

  • Refusing to make an exception to dress codes to recognize religious dress requirements;
  • Refusing to allow individuals to observe periods of prayer at particular times during the day;
  • Refusing to permit individuals to take time off to observe a religious holiday;
  • Refusing to consider a flexible work schedule when an employee’s religious beliefs do not permit him or her to work certain hours.

2012 Equity Calendar

  • March – Social Mapping Project, Membership Systems Review Phase 3, Report to the Board
  • April/May – Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Policy Procedures Review complete
  • June to August – Pride events throughout Ontario
  • July 10 to August 6 – Toronto Caribbean Carnival
  • August 9 & 10 – International Youth Day event
  • September 18 – Joint Leadership Meeting
  • November 16 to 18 – Human Rights Conference  

Recent Events

2011 Women’s Conference

The Biennial Women’s Conference took place from November 4-6th at the Delta Chelsea in downtown Toronto. It was called Taking Root: The Human Right to Food and Water and involved more than 150 participants from all of OPSEU’s regions and sectors. Guest speakers addressed the importance of a sustainable and healthy food system that can be achieved through equitable standards of trade and justice to food workers. The overall theme encouraged conference participants to examine food and water as human rights issues, both on a local and global scale. Participants were equipped with tools and information to promote food justice in their communities.

Upcoming Events

2012 Toronto Pride

As one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world, Pride Week in Toronto (June 22 – July 1) represents a celebration of the lives of the LGBTTIQQ2S (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersexed, Queer, Questioning, Two-Spirited) community in the Greater Toronto area. Pride Week features world class arts, community activities, Trans March, Dyke March, and the 32nd annual Pride Parade which will be held on Sunday, July 1st.

International Youth Day 2012

Plans are underway for International Youth Day 2012. The Provincial Young Workers Committee (PYWC) will be hosting the annual event on August 9th and 10th at the Wellesley Membership Centre in downtown Toronto. This year’s event is called “Economic Equality: Our Voice, Our Future.” The aim is to equip young workers with the knowledge and tools they need to make informed choices about their future within OPSEU, their workplace and the broader labour movement. Topics and speakers are still being finalized.

Joint Leadership Day 2012

Emerging from the 2001 Convention, this meeting was initiated to ensure that equity issues were well integrated into all aspects of our union’s business. The Joint Leadership Day (JLD) focuses on creating awareness and skills related to key human rights and equity issues for the central leadership in the Union. This year’s 11th Annual JLD will take place on September 18, 2012. Stay tuned for more information on this year’s theme.

Human Rights Conference 2012

The upcoming biennial Human Rights Conference will be held from November 16-18 at the Sheraton Parkway in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

The Planning Committee is soliciting feedback to help plan and design the conference. Interested members are asked to complete a short survey (10 minutes) to identify specific needs and opportunities. This information will be used exclusively by the Human Rights Planning Committee and the Equity Unit to ensure that the conference design and content meet participants’ needs.  Further details and the call for applications will be made available in late May. Watch the OPSEU website for more information.

Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Policy Procedures Review

In March 2009, the Executive Board approved a new Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Policy (HDPP).  The new policy called for the creation of a separate procedures manual to be developed by the Equity Unit in consultation with the Equity committee and caucus Chairs, and for the Procedures Manual to be reviewed every three years.

The Equity Unit began the review process in May 2011 by meeting with internal Advisors and Investigators and the Review Committee comprised of representatives from the Provincial Human Rights Committee and the Provincial Women’s Committee.  These meetings generated a framework and key benchmarks for the review process.

The main objectives for the HDPP review are:

  • Clarify the principles and elements of an effective complaint system;
  • Provide for a broad and balanced discussion of the issues and options;
  • Ensure a transparent process leading to changes in the HDPP procedures;
  • Assist in developing best practices with respect to the human rights complaints handling;
  • Create an opportunity to raise awareness of the Equity Unit’s activities.

The Equity Unit and Review Committee agreed that the review process would include a review of recent complaints to identify issues and problems as well as consultation and feedback with a wide variety of stakeholders including: the President’s Office, Executive Board and Local Presidents; Advisors, Investigators, Mediators and Appeal Chairs; complainants and respondents; and a selection of staff and interested members.

To date, the Equity Unit and Review Committee have completed the internal review of HDPP complaints and conducted an online questionnaire to generate feedback from many of the identified stakeholders.  From here, the Equity Unit and Review Committee will request feedback from any additional stakeholders, and produce a final report of the review process including proposed amendments for the Procedures Manual.

Equity Unit Staff


Jayme Bader (backfilling for Karen Marchesky)

Equity Officers

Libby Zeleke
Fridmar Facunda (backfilling for Archana Mathew)
Ellen Long (backfilling for Seung Chi)

The Equity Unit

We work to promote, protect and advance human rights.  Our work can be broken down into four main areas:

  1. Administration of OPSEU’s Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Policy, Non-Code-Based Harassment Policy and the Accommodation Fund.
  2. Research and advice related to human rights case law and bargaining equity issues.
  3. Assistance in the development of human rights courses, conferences and policies.
  4. Support and advice to equity committees and caucuses.

You can find a lot of helpful information on the Equity Unit website.  For instance:

  • 2012 Diversity Calendar
  • Links to relevant human rights case law and legislation
  • Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Policy – complaint forms, guides and advisor contact information.

Statement of Respect

Harassment or discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated at OPSEU functions.

Whenever OPSEU members gather, we welcome all peoples of the world. We will not accept any unwelcoming words, actions or behaviours against our sisters and brothers.

We accord respect to all persons, regardless of political affiliation, including people of colour, women, men, First Nations men and women, Métis or other Aboriginal peoples, members of ethno-racial groups, people with disabilities, gays, lesbians, bisexual, trans-gendered/ transsexual peoples, francophones and all persons whose first language is not English.

In our diversity we will build solidarity as union sisters and brothers.

Download a copy of this newsletter: Equity Newsletter Spring 2012.pdf