Adam Knauff. (The Canadian Press)

Is vegan food a human right? Ontario firefighter battling B.C. blaze argues it is

Adam Knauff says he had to go hungry some days because there was no vegan food

An Ontario firefighter alleges his human rights were violated when he was not provided sufficient vegan food while battling a massive blaze in British Columbia.

Adam Knauff has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario against his employer, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, over his treatment and subsequent suspension while fighting a fire near Williams Lake, B.C., in 2017.

“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, and then disciplined me and suspended me because I attempted to assert my right to accommodation of that sincerely held ethical belief,” he wrote in his application to the tribunal.

The ministry, in its response, denied Knauff’s allegations of discrimination and human rights violations.

The case centres on whether veganism is a form of creed — the definition of which was expanded by the Human Rights Tribunal in 2015 to include non-secular beliefs.

Knauff, based in Kenora, Ont., has worked with the ministry since 2008 and is often dispatched outside the province. He filed the complaint based on the grounds that his creed was not accommodated.

“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 wrote. “I do not think that humans have the moral right to oppress other beings, or to cause them pain and suffering.”

Knauff, now 40, arrived in northern B.C. on July 15, 2017, and was one of about 1,000 firefighters battling a massive forest fire — working 14 to 16 hours per day.

About 10,000 homes were evacuated in Williams Lake, and the only store open was a Tim Hortons that police were helping run, he wrote in his complaint. He said the ministry had long known about his dietary constraints, and he had also filled out a standard food information form for the trip.

“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,” he wrote.

On July 16, he ate salad and side dishes. The next day, he wrote, there were no vegan meals, so he ate plain bagels and coffee from Tim Hortons. The day after that he was given “beans, oatmeal and fruits.”

“After working 16-hour days for four days with inadequate nutrition I began to feel physically ill and mentally groggy,” Knauff wrote. “Until that point I had been trying to push through my hunger and exhaustion, sustaining myself on nuts and fruits.”

He complained to the supervisor who said he’d “work on it,” the documents say.

READ MORE: Growing wildfire prompts evacuation of High Level, Alta

On July 20, he wrote: “The only source of protein in my dinner was a single black bean.” The next two days he had “inadequate dinners.”

He asked for personnel to buy tofu during one of their service runs. He got three blocks of tofu, gave it to the camp’s chef, but never saw it again, he wrote.

Things came to a head on July 23 when he was looking forward to a big barbecue dinner, where vegan burgers would be served.

But, he wrote, the chef handled beef patties before touching the vegan patties with the same gloved hands.

Knauff said he swore at the chef, who swore back. His supervisor gave him a warning, he wrote.

“No one seemed to take my ethical beliefs seriously,” he wrote.

The next night at dinner, he was served stir-fry with no protein. He was promised beans the following day, he wrote.

He took his plate to his supervisor and asked him if he could see any protein on his plate. The supervisor offered him protein bars.

“I was upset and told him ‘no,’” and then he told him — with a curse word — to fix the problem.

“I know that I should not have sworn … but I was starving, exhausted, humiliated and defeated,” he wrote. “I had reached my breaking point.”

But the real breaking point came the next day when he picked up his lunch, where, he alleged, half of the food was non-vegan.

He poured it out in front of food staff and said, repeatedly, “this isn’t vegan.”

That’s when his supervisor sent him home.

The ministry says Knauff was sent home and suspended three days without pay due to his “inappropriate, insubordinate, unprofessional and aggressive behaviour.” He was also banned from fighting fires outside the province for the remainder of 2017 and all of 2018. The ministry also alleges Knauff threw the non-vegan food at staff, which Knauff denies.

Base camp was difficult for all involved, as was trying to feed 1,000 firefighters with the closest towns with open stores hours away, the ministry says.

It also argues that Knauff’s “vegan status is a sincerely held lifestyle choice, but does not meet the legal definition of creed.” It further argues that it “supported the employee and accommodated his food restrictions as if it were a component of his health needs or part of a recognized creed.”

Camille Labchuk, the executive director of the advocacy group Animal Justice, said it hopes to intervene in the case because veganism in the workplace isn’t limited to Knauff.

“Ethical veganism has never been ruled a form of creed,” Labchuk said.

“This is a test case, but it’s important to have a clear statement from the tribunal.”

READ MORE: B.C. sends 267 firefighters to help battle Alberta wildfires

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

South Okanagan-West Kootenay candidates talk climate change and environment at recent forum

Forum on Tuesday grilled candidates about plan to bring about low carbon emission economy

Ellis Creek restoration comes with $30 million price tag for Penticton

Residents are able to provide feedback on the restoration plan until Nov. 1

City of Penticton weighs need for a manager of social development

Members of council are divided on whether the position is necessary

South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation close to attaining $20M fundraising goal

The medical foundation is $75,000 short of its goal to expand the Penticton Regional Hospital

Souperbowl Sunday is back for fifth year this weekend

Organizers say they are looking for a fourth chef to compete in round 2 on Oct. 27

Election 2019: Tara Howse – Green Party candidate for South Okanagan–West Kootenay

Tara Howse is running for the Green Party in the South Okanagan–West Kootenay riding

West Kelowna Warriors being sold back to BC Hockey League

Current owner Kim Dobranski said the sale back to the BCHL should be completed by the end of October

Police standoff ends peacefully in West Kelowna

A distraught man was taken into custody Wednesday afternoon

First case of ‘probable’ vaping-related illness found in B.C.

Health officials warn this could be the first of many

Fire response at Trans Mountain Burnaby tank farm could take six hours: audit

Site doesn’t have mutual aid response agreement with Burnaby fire department

A year after pot legalization in Canada, it’s a slow roll

It’s one year into Canada’s experiment in legal marijuana, and hundreds of legal pot shops have opened

ELECTION 2019: Climate strikes push environment to top of mind for federal leaders

Black Press Media presents a three-part series on three big election issues

ICBC willing to loosen grip on driver claim data, David Eby says

Private insurers say claims record monopoly keeps them out

Sad time for City of Salmon Arm gardeners as more than 300 hanging baskets come down

Municipal crews busy preparing for change of season as flowers die off

Most Read