By Todd Humber
There is no so-called “hierarchy of human rights” in Canada. But employers could sure use one when it comes to navigating the complicated and confusing realm of competing human rights.
We’ve seen a couple examples recently of organizations fumbling and stumbling in an effort to do the right thing when it comes to accommodation.
The issue made national headlines in recent months in the wake of a decision by Toronto’s York University that a male student who didn’t want to complete group work with female students could opt out. In that case, the professor teaching the class refused to allow the student to opt out — and the student completed the work without incident.
It popped up again earlier this month when the CBC reported that Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) allowed a group of Hindu priests to avoid screening by female border guards on their arrival at Pearson International Airport in Toronto to comply with their religious beliefs.
A female officer said she was told before her shift not to switch work stations without first asking a supervisor. She said she was outraged, as were her colleagues, that such a request would be considered by CBSA management.
“The nature of the request is offensive to me as a woman,” she told the CBC. “You are a guest in my country. What do you mean you don’t want to deal with me because I’m a woman? We are considered law enforcement officers. I can’t imagine any police force entertaining something like that.”
A hierarchy? Why not?
It’s understandable why human rights commissions and legislative bodies would be loathe to create a hierarchy of human rights.
It’s a veritable minefield, but it seems like some rights should carry more weight in our society than others.
Gender, race and sexual orientation would be at the top of that list — you know, the things you have absolutely no control over. A woman didn’t choose to be a woman. A white person didn’t choose to be white. A gay person didn’t choose to be gay.
It seems that those rights should trump others, including religious beliefs. Not to disparage anyone’s beliefs — far from it. Employers bend over backwards — something they definitely should be doing — to accommodate religious beliefs.
But when someone says they don’t want to work with women, or deal with women? That’s a dealbreaker. That’s the point where courts, tribunal and legislators should draw the line. That’s where the so-called bar of undue hardship should be — your request to refuse to deal with someone, or work with someone, or accommodate someone because of gender, race or sexual orientation should be rejected every time.
We can all agree that every protected ground under human rights legislation is important. But it shouldn’t be taboo to point out that some rights carry more weight than others.
Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.hrreporter.com for more information.