Wood v Vancouver Coastal Health

Byron Wood was a registered nurse in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. He disclosed to his employer that he developed a substance use disorder in 2013 and was referred to treatment. To keep his job, he was required to complete the prescribed treatment plan, which included a mandatory follow-ups with Alcoholics Anonymous.

As an atheist, Byron objected to the religious content of the program and offered to instead attend secular alternatives such as SMART Recovery. When he was unable to attend those alternate programs and refused to attend AA, he lost his job.

In 2015, he filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal against his employer, union and professional college. The BCHA, together with Centre for Inquiry Canada, submitted a letter of support.

In 2016, the Tribunal ruled that the complaint could continue despite being filed after the required deadline as:

the complaint raises a novel and important issue and that this factor weighs in favour of acceptance. The issues of the religious nature of AA and whether mandated attendance violates the Code does not appear to have been addressed by this Tribunal.

In December 2019, CBC News reported that Byron reached a settlement agreement with Vancouver Coastal Health. As part of that agreement, 12-step programs will no longer be mandatory for healthcare professionals with substance use issues.

I'm really happy about the outcome — it means that VCH employees are not required to attend 12-step rehab centres, 12-step meetings, or participate in any 12-step activities if they object for religious reasons.

At the BC Human Rights Tribunal, the BCHA and Centre for Inquiry Canada were represented by Wes McMillan.

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