Dissection or vivisection of animals in schools

Region: Ontario Answer # 4039

If a student is being forced to perform dissections or vivisections, the student may have the right to refuse to participate. First, the student should try to speak with the teacher responsible for the assignment and ask for an alternative assignment. If the teacher is unwilling to provide one, the student should contact the head of the department or the principal. Many schools provide alternative experiments.

If the exploitation of the animals is a violation of the student’s sincerely held beliefs, and no alternative experiment is provided, she or he may be able to rely on the rights enshrined in our Constitution or in Human Rights legislation.

Students’ rights under the Charter

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, referred to as the “Charter,” protects people from certain ‘government actions.’ It provides constitutional rights to people, including the right to freedom of conscience and religion, as well as the right to freedom of opinion, belief, and expression.

If the school is considered to be an agent of the government, and it will not provide the student with an alternative experiment, the student might be able to rely on these charter rights and assert that the school has an obligation to provide an alternative experiment or procedure that does not violate the student’s conscience and beliefs.

To assess whether the school is sufficiently connected with the government so as to fall within the Charter, the student should consult a lawyer. If it is determined that the school is sufficiently connected with the government to make a Charter claim possible, then the student and his or her lawyer will have to decide what approach to take.

Human Rights claims

If the school is not sufficiently connected with the government to be considered an agent of government, the Charter rights protecting people from certain government actions will not apply. However, the student might be able to rely on the Canadian Human Rights Act, if a federal entity is involved, or on the Ontario Human Rights Code. Both of these acts provide, among other things, that one has the right not to be discriminated against or harassed on the basis of religion or creed. Complaints of this kind are generally made through human rights commissions, as opposed to the courts.

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