Manitoba

Vaccination requirements aren't discrimination, head of Canadian Museum for Human Rights says

When people started criticizing the Canadian Museum for Human Rights for following Manitoba's public health order requiring full vaccination for entry, its CEO saw an opportunity for an important conversation about what is — and isn't — discrimination.

CEO penned statement after Winnipeg museum came under fire for following public health orders

After coming under fire for following public health orders requiring visitors to be fully vaccinated, the head of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights penned a statement outlining what discrimination actually is. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

When people started criticizing the Canadian Museum for Human Rights for following Manitoba's public health order requiring full vaccination for entry, its CEO saw an opportunity for an important conversation about what is — and isn't — discrimination.

Under the current public health orders, museums in the province can only admit visitors who have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks before their visit. Visitors must provide proof of that vaccination before entry. 

"The public health laws are a perfect example that there are restrictions on our freedoms, and as long as they're temporary and there's some justification behind them, we're probably not venturing into the world of discrimination," Canadian Museum for Human Rights CEO Isha Khan said in a Wednesday interview with CBC Radio's Up To Speed.

Though the Winnipeg-based national museum was simply following the law, it started fielding criticism from those who thought the admissions policy meant unvaccinated people were being discriminated against by an institution that is supposed to uphold human rights. 

So on Tuesday, when the museum was reopening, Khan  — whose background is in human rights law — issued a detailed statement in response.

"Discrimination is defined in law as treating a person differently on the basis of some characteristic that goes to the root of who they are as a human being (where there is no reasonable cause to do so)," she wrote in the statement, which was posted on the museum's Facebook page.

Those characteristics include age, ancestry, ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, religious belief, gender identity and disability, she wrote.

"We have to be careful about equating a choice not to get vaccinated with these protected characteristics when looking at what can be considered discriminatory."

Isha Khan, the CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, said she saw the criticism as an opportunity for a conversation about what discrimination and human rights are. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The "reasonable" part of that definition is crucially important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, she told CBC, and "there are times where you will have reasonable restrictions."

She also noted there are very real human rights issues at play related to vaccines, such as lack of access to doses in some countries and higher rates of COVID-19 infection among marginalized groups. 

"There are real human rights issues, but we don't want to conflate just treating groups differently … under the current restrictions as discrimination in the way that I think some want to."

LISTEN | Head of Canadian Museum for Human Rights on definition of discrimination:

Khan said she understands that people have been going through an incredibly difficult time, and have seen their choices limited by the government in a way they likely never have before. 

That said, she thinks it's important for people to stay grounded and be aware of what human rights and discrimination actually are.

With files from Janice Grant

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