Discrimination Media Release
Updated: November 5, 2020
The following media release contains information about British Columbia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that was current at the time of its publication. Provincial health orders and guidelines may have since changed, and B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner encourages individuals and organizations to take precautions based on the most current advice from public health officials and to seek legal advice if necessary. For up-to-date information on COVID-19 in B.C., please visit the BC Centre for Disease Control website. Our Office also regularly updates our pandemic-related material, including our FAQ and mask-wearing guidance.
Vancouver B.C. – The Human Rights Commissioner is calling on employers, landlords and service providers across B.C. to ensure their COVID-19 masking policies accommodate people who cannot wear a mask based on grounds protected by the B.C. Human Rights Code.
In a statement released today, Commissioner Kasari Govender provides guidelines that detail how masking requirements must accommodate people with disabilities or medical conditions that prevent them from using non-medical masks.
Since the outset of the pandemic people have reportedly been refused services because they were not wearing masks or face coverings. In some cases, people cannot wear masks due to a medical condition or disability—and discrimination on the basis of disability is prohibited under B.C.’s Human Rights Code. The guidance released today explains that those developing mask wearing policies must take every step possible to accommodate people protected by the Code, short of undue hardship.
“Following public health guidance, including wearing a mask in many circumstances, is an important way to protect the most marginalized and medically vulnerable people among us,” Commissioner Govender said. “But when we require people to wear masks, it’s important to ensure that those who cannot wear them do not face automatic negative consequences like losing their job or being denied key services.”
Govender clarified that personal preference is not a good reason for non-compliance with masking policies.
“No one should have to be exposed to the virus—or excluded from public spaces—because others refuse to follow public health guidance merely as a matter of personal choice,” Govender added. “Human rights principles must be at the core of our response to the pandemic: the surest way to guard against inequality and injustice during the pandemic is to ensure that all of our actions are evidence-based and follow current public health advice.”
B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer has stated that non-medical masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting the spread of droplets from the wearer’s mouth and nose. The PHO has not required masks to be worn in indoor public spaces, but some service providers have made masks mandatory for individuals receiving services and employees performing their work duties. The PHO has now recommended that people wear non-medical masks in all indoor public spaces.
“Health and safety guidelines are put in place to keep people safe while allowing them to live their lives. If a person who should be protected by B.C.’s Human Rights Code experiences harassment or other discrimination as a result of those guidelines, it means our response to COVID-19 is missing the mark.”
Commissioner Govender’s statement, A human rights approach to mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic, is available for download at: bchumanrights.ca/mask
Resource: BCOHRC’s response to COVID-19
BCOHRC has been responding to the human rights issues that have arisen as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
- Video: Message from Commissioner Govender on human rights during COVID-19 (March 2020)
- Commissioner Govender’s full policy statement on human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic
- COVID-19 frequently asked questions from BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner
Commissioner Govender is not available to speak to the media. If you are a member of the media with questions about this release, please contact Elaine O’Connor, Acting Director, Communications, at Elaine.OConnor@bchumanrights.ca or 1-250-216-4534.
Download our media kit for new images of Commissioner Kasari Govender.
Quotes from Commissioner Kasari Govender
- “We must be vigilant about how ableism factors into how people are treated during the pandemic. Whether or not it is intended, we do a disservice to our communities when mask-wearing policies fail to consider the needs of people with disabilities and other protected groups. While it might seem like mask-wearing separates us from each other further, it’s actually a collective action that can bring us together in spirit to protect our health and uphold human rights for all”
- “In the face of a continuing global pandemic, the actions of service providers, landlords, employers, and organizations have a profound collective impact on the state of human rights in B.C. As we navigate these uncertain times, we must all ensure we are doing our part to advance human dignity and respect in our society while keeping each other safe.”