Is Christmas a discriminatory holiday?

Canadian Human Rights Commission's controversial stance examined

Is Christmas a discriminatory holiday?

Is Christmas a discriminatory holiday? This startling question is at the heart of a recent discussion paper released by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). With a bold claim that casts Christmas celebrations in a dubious light, the CHRC has ignited a fiery debate. Critics are questioning the CHRC's stance, labelling it as an overreach into the festivities that many Canadians hold dear.

The CHRC's paper puts forth a perspective that Christmas, as a traditional Christian holiday, could be seen as a vehicle for religious intolerance. At the same time, the CHRC discussion paper brings to light the challenges within employment law, especially in accommodating non-Christian religious observances. It reminds us that "employers are legally required to accommodate religious practices to the point of undue hardship," a mandate stemming from the Canadian Human Rights Act and provincial/territorial human rights codes. However, this begs the question of whether the CHRC's viewpoint is not only misguided but also dismissive of the inclusive nature that Christmas has come to embody in a multicultural society like Canada.

The paper suggests that by celebrating Christmas, an implicit form of discrimination may be at play, overshadowing other religious observances. However, this perspective is challenged by the fact that Christmas in Canada has largely transcended its religious origins, becoming a mosaic of various cultural expressions. Findings from a 2019 Angus Reid Institute poll suggest that Christmas is increasingly seen not just as a religious holiday but as a "cultural event - a time for communal festivities, shared goodwill, and an inclusive spirit."

No longer a religious holiday in a multicultural society

In Canada, Christmas has evolved from its religious roots to embrace a wider spectrum of cultural traditions, reflecting the country's diversity. The CHRC's failure to recognize this evolution is striking and, instead, addresses the broader historical context of discrimination, "particularly against Indigenous spiritual practices," and highlights the continuing issue of "intolerance entwined with racial prejudice."

The moral and legal obligation to accommodate religious practices in employment is indeed a cornerstone of Canadian values. Yet, the CHRC's focus on Christmas as potentially exclusionary is at odds with the lived experiences of many Canadians who see the holiday season as a time of universal goodwill and inclusivity.

While the CHRC's intentions in promoting dialogue on religious tolerance are commendable, their approach of religious tolerance is most certainly overly broad and should be re-examined and re-stated so that it aligns with Canadian religious and cultural expressions.

Christmas, discriminatory? The assertions made by the CHRC stand on shaky ground, as they fail to account for the contemporary Canadian ethos where Christmas has become a symbol of inclusivity, not intolerance. The CHRC's discussion paper, while aiming to promote a dialogue on tolerance, may have inadvertently stirred a pot that was already well and beautifully mixed with the spices of diversity and respect. It is essential to maintain a balanced perspective and recognize the holiday season for what it truly is - a time everyone of all faiths and cultural backgrounds can enjoy some rest, relaxation and family/friend time together.

Ronald S. Minken is the founding lawyer and managing principal at Minken Employment lawyers, an employment law boutique in the Greater Toronto Area.

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