During a 10-day period in July 2017, Adam Knauff was one of 1,000 Canadian firefighters who helped fight a raging wildfire in British Columbia. Now, he says that a lack of vegan meal options offered to him during the conflagration was a human rights violation.

Knauff filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario against the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry over his treatment during and suspension following a wildfire near Williams’ Lake almost two years ago, the National Post reported.

“The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry discriminated against me and failed to accommodate my sincerely held ethical beliefs (creed) when it failed to provide me with food that accommodated my personal commitment to ethical veganism,” Knauff claimed in his complaint to the tribunal, “and then disciplined me and suspended me because I attempted to assert my right to accommodation of that sincerely held ethical belief.”

Knauff’s case hinges on his assertion that veganism is more than a simple dietary choice for him, explaining that it is also a conscientious one and thereby deserving of government protection as a “creed.”

“I am an ethical vegan in that I not only follow a vegan diet, but I extend the philosophy of non-consumption of animal products to all other areas of my life,” he said.

When Knauff arrived to assist with the fire in mid-July 2017, around 10,000 nearby homes had been evacuated and the only nearby store was a Time Horton’s restaurant that was being partially operated, the complaint says.

“On some days during my deployment to Williams Lake, I was not provided with any food that was vegan or not otherwise contaminated with animal products, and therefore forced to go hungry,” even though he had filled out a food information form regarding his diet, he wrote.

Knauff went on to say that “After working 16-hour days for four days with inadequate nutrition I began to feel physically ill and mentally groggy.” He later complained that his only source of protein for one meal was a “single black bean.”

Things escalated a few days later when Knauff admitted that he swore at a cook who handled beef patties and vegan patties with the same set of gloves and got a warning from his supervisor.

“No one seemed to take my ethical beliefs seriously,” Knauff wrote in the complaint.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry responded with a denial of Knauff’s claims of human rights violations and discrimination and said the firefighter was sent home and suspended three days without pay due to his “inappropriate, insubordinate, unprofessional and aggressive behaviour,” the National Post reported.

The ministry also argued that “vegan status is a sincerely held lifestyle choice, but does not meet the legal definition of creed.”

Knauff also denied the ministry’s claim that he threw food at staff.

In 2015, the Ontario Human Rights Commission changed its policies to include non-religious beliefs in the legal definition of a “creed,” but later clarified that the updated policy “does not say one way or the other whether ethical veganism is a creed.”

Factors to determine whether or not a belief qualifies as a “creed,” the commission explained, are whether the belief is sincerely and deeply-held, “integrally linked to a person’s identity,” and addresses “ultimate questions of human existence.”

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