Looking for a place to live in the Lower Mainland can be a strange ordeal, with would-be renters forced to navigate things like small space “luxury rentals,” rentals with bizarre requirements, or a "closet-turned-room" for hefty prices.
Among potential hurdles faced by home hunters in the region are rentals barring all but vegetarian tenants. A New Westminster Craigslist ad is typical of such listings:
The ad is among the many aimed at vegetarian tenants exclusively. But while such ads have drawn criticism on social media by those who see them as unwarranted discrimination, the practice of renting to vegetarian tenants often stems from deep cultural and religious beliefs as opposed to just dietary preferences.
According to the latest census data, 9,140 Burnaby residents self-identify as Buddhists and 7,505 as Hindus. Across B.C., 83,860 identify as Buddhists and 81,320 as Hindus. While not all adherents are practising vegetarians, Buddhism and Hinduism are the major religions most closely associated with vegetarianism.
And while many religions mention ethical eating — for example, Judaism prescribes a kosher diet, Muslims follow a halal diet — for many Hindus in India, vegetarianism is a way of life based on the concept of ahimsa (non-violence and no injury to any living creature).
In his book, The Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking, Author and cook Adiraja Dasa notes the ancient Indian code of law: "Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, let one therefore shun the use of meat." With the first bite of prepared food offered to the deity as "prasāda," many Hindus sharing this belief not only follow a vegetarian diet, they also take care to keep their household meat-free.
That is why when you travel to India, you can find separate vegetarian and non-vegetarian restaurants, kitchens and dedicated utensils. And landlords, especially of Indian descent around the world, look for vegetarian tenants to keep their environment meat-free while they rent their homes.
"[Hindu devotees feel] they should be caring towards [animals] and respect them like any another living entity," said Pratibha Goyal, secretary to the president at the ISKCON Vancouver temple in Burnaby.
She added that some landlords refrain from renting their homes out to meat eaters "as they don't want their houses to smell like [meat] and they don't want to get the feeling of killing animals."
But is it legal to refuse to rent to non-vegetarians?
For renters, protection against discrimination is addressed in Section 10 of the B.C. Human Rights Code. When shown the Craigslist ad calling for "vegetarians only," Laura Track, lawyer and BC Human Rights Clinic director, said, “I don’t think this ad would violate the Human Rights Code as it doesn’t appear to engage a protected characteristic.”
“Vegetarianism is not protected in the Human Rights Code," she explained. "A landlord can’t discriminate on the basis of religion, but I’d be hard pressed to think of any religion that contains a requirement to eat meat. And if the landlord will be sharing a kitchen, bathroom, or living space with a tenant — a situation where a 'vegetarians only' requirement might be most likely — then the Code doesn’t apply to the situation at all."
According to the rights code, landlords are prohibited from refusing to rent to potential tenants on the basis of "Indigenous identity, race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age or lawful source of income of that person or class of persons, or of any other person or class of persons."
Track noted that a non-vegetarian excluded from a rental on the basis of diet can not make a human rights complaint because meat eating is not protected under the law.
"Groups of people who consume meat generally are not a protected class for human rights purposes," she said. "Even if someone could make a human rights complaint in these circumstances, a landlord might have a bona fide and reasonable justification for their no-meat rule, including that their religion requires their home to be meat-free," Track added. "But again, I don't think a human rights complaint would reach the stage of requiring this as a defence, because a complainant would not be able to link any negative treatment to a protected characteristic in the first place. And that is the critical first step."