I believe it's more complicated than that, and this actually goes to a similar place as the ser/estar distinction of Spanish.
It's not that French "refers to humans the same as it does objects", but rather that in French, it's borderline invalid syntax to say il est un + noun (when you see it, it's usually in a literary context or feel odd and dated), you have to say Il est + noun, but that construction cannot be used with noun phrases that express inherent qualities. It's prototypically used for occupations (Il est étudiant, by extension il est papa(1), but not, interestingly enough, *il est oncle), implying a degree of temporariness.
Otherwise you have to use either adjectives (il est blond, il est canadien...) or shift to the demonstrative construction (c'est is somewhat parallel to il y a IMO). That construction allows you more flexibility since il est blond, grand et a les yeux bleus is good grammar, but is awkward (you don't get that problem in English, where you can say blue-eyed as an adjective). C'est lumps it all in a convenient noun phrase.
(1) Yes I do find this headline to be improperly worded.