Adam Knauff. (The Canadian Press)

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Twenty-three B.C. mayors have asked Premier John Horgan to enshrine five pillars of action that give natural resource development a key role in B.C.’s post-pandemic economic recovery plan. (Williams Lake Tribune file photo)
Castlegar mayor joins group asking for key role for resource development in pandemic recovery plan

23 leaders pen letter to premier, asking for inclusion in new policy discussions

Trail's Silver City Days is cancelled this year
Guy Bertrand photo
Silver City Days – cancelled

With pandemic uncertainty still looming, Trail council scuttled plans for 2021 Silver City Days

Teacher Casey Stowe and Principal Wendy Cutler from Twin Rivers Elementary with the donation. Photo: submitted
Castlegar school receives $2000 donation

Twin Rivers Elementary School will use the donation to enhance the school community.

Regional and local governments will eventually be required by the province to follow the BC Energy Step Code, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases from buildings. Some governments, now including the RDCK, have decided to phase it in voluntarily ahead of provincial deadlines. File photo
VIDEO: RDCK adopts Step 1 of provincial home energy efficiency plan

New buildings must comply with first level of the BC Energy Step Code

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 70 new cases overnight

The total number of cases in the region is now at 1,426

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

FILE – A paramedic holds a test tube containing a blood sample during an antibody testing program at the Hollymore Ambulance Hub, in Birmingham, England, on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Pool via AP)
Want to know if you’ve had COVID-19? LifeLabs is offering an antibody test

Test costs $75 and is available in B.C. and Ontario

The grey region of this chart shows the growth of untraced infection, due to lack of information on potential sources. With added staff and reorganization, the gap is stabilized, Dr. Bonnie Henry says. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 tracing to keep up with surging cases

People now notified of test results by text message

COVID-19 signage outside the Queen Victoria Hospital in Revelstoke. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)
UPDATE: 22 COVID cases in 14 days in Revelstoke

Interior Health is calling the increasing number of cases a community cluster

People wear face masks as they pose next to a Christmas display in Montreal, Sunday, November 22, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
How to tell family their Christmas gathering is too risky and you’re not going

Dr. Hurst says it’s best to frame the conversation from a place of care, stressing safety precautions.

Most Read