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Human rights laws

Region: Ontario Answer # 829

Human rights laws attempt to ensure that the dignity and worth of each person, however different, is recognized, and that decisions based on fairness and mutual respect are promoted. The Canadian constitution requires all levels of government to pass human rights laws and enforce them. Consequently, every province and territory, and the federal government have human rights laws and a commission or tribunal to oversee the administration of the legislation.

Human Rights Acts

The Ontario Human Rights Code is the main provincial anti-discrimination law. If, however, a federal entity, such as a bank or airline, is involved, the federal law called the Canadian Human Rights Act applies.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Also, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects every Canadian’s right to be treated equally. The Charter guarantees broad equality rights and other fundamental rights including: the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion. While it applies to the actions of governments, it does not apply to the behaviour of organizations, businesses or individuals. It also protects the rights of all Canadians from infringements by laws, policies or actions of governments, including authorities such as the police.

Other Acts containing human rights provisions

In addition, there are other laws which include provisions that protect our human rights. For instance, the Criminal Code makes it a crime to spread hate propaganda against an identifiable group. The Criminal Code also provides for greater penalties where a crime is motivated by hatred of a particular group. Another example is Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, which contains certain provisions prohibiting discrimination based on sex and age.


Prohibited Grounds

Both federal and provincial human rights laws prohibit discrimination and harassment based on certain characteristics in certain situations. The prohibited grounds are:

  1. Age
  2. Ancestry
  3. Colour
  4. Race
  5. Place of origin
  6. Ethnic origin
  7. Citizenship
  8. Religion or creed
  9. Gender (including identity and expression)
  10. Handicap or disability
  11. Sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding)
  12. Sexual orientation
  13. Marital status
  14. Family status
  15. Criminal record (which has not been removed by a pardon or record suspension)
  16. Record of offences (in respect of any provincial enactment)
  17. Receipt of public assistance (in housing only)

It is important to understand that the law places restrictions on these prohibited grounds only in certain situations. Otherwise, it may be lawful for restrictions based on the prohibited grounds to exist. For example, it is lawful for the use of bathrooms or change rooms to be restricted based on a person’s sex.


Protected social areas

The five main situations or social areas in which discrimination and harassment are prohibited are:

  1. Employment;
  2. Accommodation;
  3. Provision of services, goods and facilities;
  4. Contracts; and
  5. Membership in trade unions or vocational associations.

Generally, discrimination and harassment can only be dealt with through the complaint mechanisms of the human rights commissions or, in the case of unionized employees, through the grievance arbitration process. Courts do not have jurisdiction to deal with discrimination or harassment, although courts may award greater damages if such conduct can be proven in connection with another legal wrong.

For more information, visit the Ontario Human Rights Commission, or the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Rights for individuals with disabilities

Federal Accessibility Canada Act

In an effort to help create a barrier-free Canada and benefit all Canadians, especially those with disabilities, the Government of Canada passed the Accessible Canada Act in July 2019.

The Act applies to the federally regulated private sector. This includes banking, transportation and telecommunications, the Government of Canada, Crown corporations and Parliament. The Act mandates that organizations in these sectors are required to:

  • create and publish accessibility plans describing how they will identify, remove and prevent barriers to accessibility;
  • establish means for receiving and handling any feedback on accessibility from individuals who interact with their business or organization; and
  • develop regular progress reports on the implementation of their plan and how they deal with any feedback they receive.


Provincial: Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

The Accessibility for Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) sets out a process to remove barriers that individuals with disabilities face in their daily lives. The Act applies to government, businesses, non-profits and public sector organizations.

The Act sets out standards that must be met in five areas:

  1. Customer service
  2. Information and communications
  3. Transportation
  4. Employment
  5. Design of public spaces

For more information about accessibility laws in Ontario, visit ontario.ca.

Get help

Warning, for employment and housing purposes, it is legal to discriminate against someone who has a criminal record. To prevent discrimination, erase your criminal record, call toll-free 1-888-808-3628 or learn more at Pardon Partners. It’s easier than you think.

If you need help filing a human rights complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), or with other Court proceedings, contact our preferred experts, George Brown Professional Corporation or call 1-800-381-8408.

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