mask policie

Mandatory mask policies and human rights

By Andy Balaura and Maria Tassou, Pallett Valo LLP

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario recently released a decision regarding a municipal by-law requiring businesses to implement mask policies during the Covid-19 pandemic. In Sharma v Toronto (City), 2020 HRTO 949, Sharma brought an application against the City of Toronto, alleging that the City had discriminated against him contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code on the protected grounds of “creed” and “disability”, because he was denied service at several businesses due to this by-law.

Sharma disagreed with the by-law because he did not believe the effcacy of masks had been suffciently proven. The Tribunal held this did not engage creed within the meaning of the code. Creed generally involves sincerelyheld religious beliefs or practices, not political opinion. It did find that the ground of disability was engaged, since Sharma provided details about two of his medical conditions.

Sharma alleged that he had been lectured, harassed and turned away when he advised businesses of his inability to wear a mask. While the Tribunal acknowledged that those businesses may have breached the Code, Sharma failed to provide a basis to attribute that conduct to the City.

The by-law requires mask policies to provide exemptions for people with medical conditions. The City could not be blamed for the alleged conduct of businesses who incorrectly applied the by-law. Accordingly, the tribunal found that Sharma had no reasonable prospect of success in proving discrimination by the City. The Tribunal’s decision provides assurance to businesses that individuals will be unable to assert human rights claims where their refusal to wear a mask is based on a personal belief. But businesses should explore other options for providing services to those unable to wear masks for medical reasons, or they may be subject to discrimination claims by people with medical conditions who are denied service due to a company’s unwillingness to accommodate their inability to comply with the by-law.


Andy Balaura

Andy Balaura

GGI member firm
Pallett Valo LLP
Law Firm Services
Mississauga (ON), Canada
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Pallett Valo LLP is one of Ontario’s Top 10 Regional Law Firms. The firm practices in the areas of business law, commercial litigation, commercial real estate, construction, insolvency and corporate restructuring, employment and labour, and wills, estates, and trusts.

Andy Balaura is the head of Pallett Valo’s Employment & Labour and Privacy Law Practice Groups. He practices in the area of employment and labour law, representing large, mid-sized and small businesses and corporations, as well as senior-level executives, in a wide variety of industries.
Maria Tassou

Maria Tassou

GGI member firm
Pallett Valo LLP
Law Firm Services
Mississauga (ON), Canada
T: +1 905 273 30 22
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Maria Tassou is a member of the Employment and Labour Practice Group. Her practice focuses on employment law, administrative law, workplace investigations, management training, and privacy law.


Published: Employment Law Newsletter, No.11, Autumn 2021 l Photo: Wirestock - stock.adobe.com

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