Religious & Cultural Observances
TMU’s commitment and obligation to accommodate
Toronto Metropolitan University is committed to respecting the religious, cultural and spiritual beliefs and practices of all members of the university community. This means providing students, faculty and staff with equitable treatment based on faith/creed and access to accommodation of religious/creed-based observances as needed.
These commitments are informed by the Ontario Human Rights Code and TMU’s Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy, in which everyone is entitled to be free from discrimination and harassment on a number of prohibited grounds, including creed (i.e. religion, faith or lack of religion or faith). This right also incorporates the entitlement to have one's religious/creed practices accommodated by providers of public services and facilities, such as universities.
Learn more about creed, a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The obligation to accommodate is mandatory, not discretionary. TMU’s policy also outlines accommodation for spiritual and Aboriginal observances.
What is a religious accommodation?
Religious accommodation is the right to have time away from study or work to practice the tenets of one’s creed or faith, as long as it does not cause the university undue hardship (i.e. due to inordinate cost or health and safety risk).
Calendar to support the planning of course schedules and activities
Human Rights Services offers annual calendars of religious and spiritual observances as a tool to assist the TMU community in planning course schedules and activities. The lists are not exhaustive and are frequently updated as members of the community identify observances to Human Rights Services.
If you are planning an activity, be it an event or examination in class, we encourage you to refer to the list in advance. A date on the list does not necessarily mean you should avoid the date, but it does signal that there may be individuals who may not be able to attend and/or require accommodation. All members of the community are encouraged to bear this in mind when planning activities, and to design university activities in an inclusive manner wherever possible to allow for the maximal participation of all community members.
Accommodating Indigenous observances
The spirituality and cultural observances of Indigenous Peoples (First Nations, Métis, Inuit, status and non-status) cannot be easily defined and are not reflected in the calendars. Indigenous spiritual and cultural observances may include ceremonies that are connected to the seasons or to life stages.
TMU should make every effort to recognize and accommodate Indigenous Peoples in our community so they may fulfill their spiritual and cultural responsibilities.
Faculty and supervisors: Your responsibilities
The university’s Religious, Aboriginal and Spiritual Observance Policy requires faculty and staff to accommodate students to the greatest extent possible.
Requests from students
If a student is requesting accommodation due to a religious, Aboriginal and/or spiritual observance, they must submit their complete request form via the online Academic Consideration Request (ACR) system within the first two weeks of the class or, for a final examination, within two weeks of the posting of the examination schedule. If the required absence occurs within the first two weeks of classes, or the dates are not known well in advance as they are linked to other conditions, these requests should be submitted with as much lead time as possible in advance of the required absence.
Instructors will respond to written accommodation requests in writing within five (5) business days of receiving the request.
Requests from employees
For information on religious observance accommodation for faculty and staff, please review the Accommodation of Religious Observances details on the Human Resources website.
Frequently asked questions
Undue hardship is determined on a case-by-case basis. Undue hardship is determined by considering the cost (relative to the overall budget of the university), outside sources of funding (if applicable), and health and safety requirements.
Generally speaking, to show undue hardship TMU would need to prove that accommodating a religious practice for a student, staff or faculty member would create onerous conditions for the university, such as presenting serious and substantial health or safety risks for university community members (including the person seeking accommodation), or rendering the university’s core service or operation provided untenable due to the prohibitive costs of an accommodation.
Yes. The university must ensure that it accommodates religious/creed-based, spiritual and Indigenous observance but it is not a requirement under the Ontario Human Rights Code to accommodate cultural observance.
Students or instructors who require advice on cultural observance are invited to consult with Human Rights Services for further information at 416-979-5349 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The spirituality and cultural observances of Indigenous Peoples (First Nations, Métis, Inuit, status and non-status) cannot be easily defined. They reflect a diverse collection of distinct cultures and belief systems that are both dynamic and evolving.
In general, Indigenous spiritual and cultural observances may include ceremonies that are connected to the seasons or to life stages (for example, birth, naming, coming of age, weddings, funerals, remembrances). For an Indigenous person, participation in such ceremonies may be considered a profound personal responsibility that takes precedence over other social obligations.
TMU and its faculty and staff should make every effort to recognize and accommodate Indigenous peoples in the TMU community so that they are able to fulfill their spiritual and cultural responsibilities.
Observances may restrict participation in course activities, including as may require:
- absence from class or work
- absence from scheduled exams
- absence from scheduled placement or clinical settings
- following specific dress codes
- temporary absence from class for daily prayers, fasting or breaking a fast while attending class
- absence from other required activities outlined in the course syllabus
Accommodations should prevent academic disadvantage or penalty to students. Instructors are encouraged to consult with Human Rights Services for further information at 416-979-5349 or email@example.com.
No. Under the Ontario Human Rights Code and TMU's Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy all instructors are required to accommodate religious or creed-based needs, where these are adversely impacted by a policy, practice or requirement, up to the point of undue hardship. Instructors cannot ignore obligations under human rights law.
Religious, Indigenous and spiritual observances are often highly personal and subjective. They require that instructors accept the sincerely held beliefs of students at face value and accommodate through informal or formal procedures, provided such beliefs have a basis in a creed. While the Ontario Human Rights Code does not define creed, the Ontario Human Rights Commission states, in its Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed, that the following characteristics are relevant when considering if a belief system is a creed under the Code. A creed:
- Is sincerely, freely and deeply held
- Is integrally linked to a person’s self-definition and spiritual fulfilment
- Is a particular, comprehensive and overarching system of belief that governs one’s conduct and practices
- Addresses ultimate questions of human existence, including ideas about life, purpose, death, and the existence or non-existence of a creator and/or a higher or different order of existence
- Has some “nexus” or connection to an organization or community that professes a shared system of belief
Religion is typical of the kinds of beliefs and practices that are protected under the Code ground of creed. To be recognized as a religion or creed under the Code, a belief in a God or gods or a single supreme being or deity is not required. Religion or creed includes the spiritual beliefs and practices of Indigenous cultures. Also, newer religions or creeds may be included (as assessed on a case-by-case basis considering the above factors).
Yes. Some people, such as Orthodox Jews and Seventh Day Adventists, practice their religious faith by worshipping from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. Others, like many practicing Muslims, observe a weekly Friday (“jummah”) congregational prayer, and also observe five daily time sensitive prayers. Therefore, they may be required to be away from work and study during these times. These practices may all trigger the duty to accommodate.
No. Christianity is a religion like any other, and the right to accommodation is similar to those in other faith communities.
TMU policy notes that “Religious, Aboriginal or spiritual observances are often highly personal and subjective. This requires that instructors accept the sincerely held beliefs of students at face value and accommodate and address issues, through informal or formal procedures detailed in this policy."
Members of a given faith who are more observant on some issues are not taking advantage of their religion, they simply experience or express their faith differently from other members of their faith.
Each person’s needs are unique and must be considered afresh when an accommodation request is made. What might work for one person may not work for others. Accommodations may also need to be revisited over time to make sure they continue to meet a person’s needs appropriately.
While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and a reasonable compilation of dates, we encourage you to reach out to Human Rights Services to advise of any errors or omissions of religious observances dates at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-979-5349.