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Should "obesity" be a prohibited ground of discrimination in Canadian human rights legislation?

The National Post newspaper ran a story today ("Obese Canadians should be granted legal protection from discrimination, professor says") which discussed whether obese people should be protected from discrimination in Canadian human rights legislation.

The article noted that this could be achieved in a few different ways. First, obesity could be treated as a "disability", which is already a recognized ground in human rights legislation. As it relates to this approach, the article noted theat:

  1. in December 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of a Danish childcare worker who said he was fired because of his weight. The court held that people who are obese can be considered "disabled" and thus protected from discrimination but the court stopped short of saying at what weight a person could claim disability; and
  2. In 2008, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that disabled people - including the "morbidly" obese - have the right to two seats for the price of one on flights within Canada.

What the article didn't note in relation to this approach is that there are already reported cases in Canada in which employers have been found liable for discrimination, based on disability, related to a person's weight.

The cases are set out in a paper (Is Obesity a Disability?) written by Casey M. Dockendorff at law firm Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti. See also the more recent discussion of this issue by Michele Glassford in her post ("Recognizing obesity as a disability - Slippery slope or basic human dignity?") in the First Reference Talks blog.

What is more interesting about the National Post article is that suggests that obese people should be protected from discrimination in a way that does not treat obesity as a disability. Specifically, the article notes that human rights legislation could be amended by adding "obesity" as a new, discrete category or ground or it could be amended to ban "appearance" bias - prohibiting discrimination solely based on how a person looks.

Photo Credit: Tony Alter