Coronavirus as a tool for discrimination?


What have we learned from the HIV epidemic that Covid-19 seems to want to unlearn?

As a professional passionate about helping organizations and people transforming themselves with business agility, I am thinking a lot in these times of confinement about how to redefine our human post-pandemic of coronavirus covid-19 interactions. Preparing for the first Virtual Online Agile Forum that Agile Lounge is organizing Wednesday May 6th asking the question: How can agility help us transform businesses and society in post-coronavirus society my thinking went far beyond.

Curious, I started to search. Yes, rather than wasting immense energy in responding to the publications and articles of others on social networks on the after pandemic and the hypotheses for action to be taken, I decided to contribute by offering you this reflection for the possible debate of society to come.

When I did my research to write this post, I went to the website of the Canadian Human Rights Commission to take their definition of “discrimination”. Sign of the times, like many websites in this time of crisis, I had this pop-up in my screen:

“The Commission is taking preventive measures in response to the current situation surrounding COVID-19. The Commission will continue to respond to inquiries and to receive complaints of discrimination. The quickest way to access our complaints services is through our online complaint form. Please note that the current situation may affect our ability to respond in a timely manner. We thank you for your understanding and your patience. ”

Defining discrimination

What is discrimination?

As defined by the Commission in the Canadian Federation:

“Discrimination is an action or decision that has the effect of treating a person negatively because of, for example, their race, age or disability. Such reasons are grounds of discrimination and are protected by law. ” (Sources: CCDP + L.R.C. (1985), ch. H-6. Attention – Law updated 2020-03-19; last modification 2019-07-12)

Grounds of discrimination under the law:

  • the race
  • national or ethnic origin
  • the colour
  • religion
  • the age
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity or expression
  • marital status
  • family status
  • impairment *
  • genetic characteristics *
  • a conviction that has been pardoned or suspended from the criminal record (or pardoned status).

At the time of writing my post, it was difficult for me to find sources, case law or interpretation of Canadian law on the grounds of health, physical or mental illness. The Law in its definition of discriminatory acts remains very vague and as you read in the list in the previous paragraph, there is no explicit legal mention as regards even the mental illness that I expected. see more detailed and links to harassment that stems from discrimination.

I thought that by doing research by adding the keyword AIDS or HIV with immune discrimination I would find.

Almost nothing except this, the Ontario Human Rights Commission:

“The Ontario Human Rights Code (the” Code “) recalls that Ontario has a policy of recognizing the dignity and worth of everyone and ensuring that everyone has the same rights and opportunities, without discrimination. The provisions of the Code are intended to create a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of every person, so that everyone feels part of the community and able to fully contribute to it.

The Code states that everyone has the right to equal treatment without discrimination based on disability. AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and other conditions related to infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are considered disabilities within the meaning of the Code. People who, even if they have no symptoms of illness, have AIDS or who are presumed to have it and people who have, or are suspected of having, an HIV-related condition or have been, are entitled to Code protection in the areas of employment, services, housing, contracts, and union membership.

There are few modes of HIV transmission. It is usually spread through unprotected sex or contact with infected blood or other body fluids. HIV infection can also occur through a blood transfusion or through the use of needles contaminated with the blood of an infected person. Admittedly, in North America these days, the risk of HIV transmission through a blood transfusion is minimal. Since 1985, blood banks across Canada and the United States have performed a thorough and systematic test for antibodies secreted in response to the virus.

AIDS is not just a medical-scientific phenomenon. It questions the fundamental values ​​of our society, such as compassion, justice and the fight against any discrimination that would undermine these values. ”

 * Download the full Commission report in PDF here *

It’s this “jurisprudence” and all the struggles of our communities since the 1990s that interests me to look further at how we could learn to prevent a social disaster in the current and future post-pandemic coronavirus health caste.

This in terms of the world of work, internal and international travel and access or not to a multitude of services or trips.

There are many epidemiological publications that go out with these keywords: discrimination and immune to talk about bio-cellular discrimination or another technical term in scientific epidemiology. Nothing sanitary, sociological, judicial or political. It’s up to you to prove me the opposite if your way of searching in French and in English brings you other sources and references.

During my research I came across an article from a Canadian site claiming to be a popularizer of pan-Canadian justice with specification for Quebec (Civil Code requires), stipulating a certain legitimacy of discrimination!

Is discrimination sometimes legal?

Usually, an employer or business must take the steps necessary to treat everyone fairly. But in certain situations, the measures to be taken are too expensive or represent a danger to health or safety.

In this case, the employer or the company is not obliged to take these measures, even if this causes discrimination. However, the employer or the company must have solid arguments and clearly demonstrate that the actions are difficult or impossible to take.


Sandra has just been hired by a radio station. She has limited mobility and uses a wheelchair. At work, there are only steps. The premises are not suitable for wheelchair use. To treat Inès fairly, her employer must renovate the premises. But the renovation is expensive and accounts for almost half of the radio station’s annual budget. In addition, the work must last two years. The radio station does not have the financial means to continue its normal activities during the works.


This kind of interpretation of our Laws ordering Human Rights and Charters is disturbing in my opinion.

Just as many of our colleagues in human “resources” (I hate this name) speak of “positive discrimination” as if such state of affairs could also be black and white. As defined in Oxford dictionary: discrimination subtracts rights and excluded, we should stop this rhetoric of low blue human resources please! Just like these champions of guru called business coach singing to us the virtues of “positive manipulation”. Yes, well that would be a subject for later, but the subjectivity of “reverse psychology” is made there in the West and particularly in our fear and anxiety-biased societies …

Discrimination based on our Covid-19 immunity?

Avoid any social drifts

So, I offer you an objective reflection by asking the following question: What have we learned from the HIV epidemic that Covid-19 seems to want to unlearn?

Start by re-reading the excerpt I copied / pasted from the OHRC and change the words AIDS and HIV by Coronavirus and Covid-19.

I believe that collectively in the coming months we will have to exercise our duty as citizens, the ultimate freedom of the city.

I invite us to be vigilant and to ask questions, to participate in all processes of transformation of our society at all levels. Beyond what we do in digital agility.

Whether at the level of your community, your professional environment and even more generally in a civil and non-docile manner. It will be important to hold corporations, private and especially public bodies, especially the public health “authorities” to account, who will want to take advantage of the post-pandemic period to reform the definitions of discrimination to allow restrictions.

In addition, no doubt, alas, from a long recession towards a recovery which seems to want to bring us, positively as well as negatively, to a new society, or even a two-tier economic and social system, or even three speeds where the state takes more square,

Our vigilance will have to be focused on the risks of legislative drifts and amendments to our charters or definitions of acts of discrimination. Among others those who seem to want to settle with who is immunized or not. Based on the authoritarian Chinese model in addition, here in our constitutional law society.

We have to be creative and not to fall into a delirium of exclusion by creating a class of “infected” with less right, in particular on:

  • Freedom of movement and travel
  • Access to work and social venues, including commercial places
  • Right to die accompanied by loved ones and dying with dignity
  • Ability to buy and rent a place to live

In the 1980s and 1990s people with HIV were not asked to identify themselves. We asked them to act responsibly towards their neighbor. We have collectively and autonomously made the choice of society to understand the epidemic and the transmission of AIDS and to stop discrimination based on an illness.

What is different today with positive coronaviruses?

Although transmission is not as exclusive as with HIV, how the lessons learned about discrimination against people with AIDS, much worse than SARS at covid19, should make us act with even more maturity and awareness to not to discriminate or worse still harass people sick with this new virus?

Let’s think and think for ourselves.

As a business agility consultant, helping and coaching in companies, tell me that I am not alone in seeing the risks of subjective drift in the definition of discrimination? How together can we avoid regressing to worse than the sad and discriminatory era of the AIDS epidemic and which is still, to this day, more victims than the current coronavirus disease pandemic.

It will only be up to us to demand this great national democratic gathering of all civil society if we want to take a city and be democratic and stakeholder in the choice to come. It is our civic and free will duty.

I immediately want to say no to the discrimination tooled by the virus. I’m going to say no to the certificate of immunity, for example.


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