The Ontario Human Rights Commission says merchants aren't allowed to refuse service to customers, who have (or may have) the coronavirus.

The medical officer of health for the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young Hoon, raised the issue during yesterday's media briefing. She said the health unit had received anecdotal evidence of service being refused over concerns the customer may have COVID-19. 

"In response, I can say that discriminatory action against customers who have, or are perceived to have COVID-19, is prohibited by the Ontario Human Rights Code," said Adewonuola Johnson, who is an issues and media relations officer with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. 

"Refusing to serve a customer only for the reason the person is a member of a First Nation community is also discriminatory under the Code," she added, in a prepared response. 

"Businesses should follow the requirements and advice of health authorities and apply them equally to all customers. Customers in turn should also follow the requirements and advice of health authorities including wearing masks and social distancing while accessing services or self-isolating when required," Johnson continued in her response. 

The commission says businesses should explore ways to accommodate the needs of individuals who are self-isolating, or cannot wear a mask or follow other safety-related requirement because of a disability, Johnson noted.

Accommodations could involve alternate means of service provision; for example:

  • creating online options,
  • specific operation hours for customers with special needs, 
  • home delivery or
  • curbside pickup as permitted by health authorities. 

"No one should experience harassment, or other discriminatory treatment, based on their Indigenous ancestry, an actual or perceived disability, or another prohibited ground under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. Reactions based on stereotypes or impressionistic views must not replace responsible actions based on evidence," Johnson concluded in her note. 

There have been a number of messages issued by community leaders in recent days asking area residents to be kind to one another as public health partners work to contain an outbreak in the area.

For more information:

Ontario Human Rights Commission - COVID-19 and Ontario’s Human Rights Code – Questions and Answers

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