You may have heard that it is generally illegal for employers, landlords or businesses to discriminate against anyone because of his or her race, sex or sexual orientation, but those are just three of a total of seventeen different characteristics that are protected by Ontario’s Human Rights Code. The Human Rights Code is a set of laws that protect people in Ontario from discrimination and harassment in five areas of life. Those areas are:
2. accommodations (such as rental housing)
3. goods, services and facilities
5. and membership in trade and vocational associations.
The Code prohibits discrimination and harassment on any of the following grounds:
• Place of origin
• Ethnic origin
• Sex, including sexual harassment and pregnancy
• Sexual orientation
• Gender identity
• Gender expression
• Family status
• Marital status
• Receiving public financial assistance in housing cases
• Having a criminal record after a person receives a formal pardon
However, not all unfair conduct or unequal treatment is protected by Ontario’s Human Rights Code. In order to be protected by the Human Rights Code, the unequal treatment that a person experiences must have happened in at least one of the five specific types of situations we mentioned before, and it must be based on one or more of the seventeen protected characteristics.
There are also some situations where something that appears to be discriminatory is actually perfectly legal. For example, although the Human Rights Code prohibits different treatment based on age, different insurance rates based on age are actually allowed.
Another example of an exception to the general rules is in housing situations. The Human Rights Code allows a landlord to refuse to rent to someone based on gender or race if:
• the owner or his or her family also lives on the premises; and,
• the owner or his or her family would be sharing a kitchen or bathroom with the tenant.
If the problem is with an employer, for example, if your employer makes unwanted sexual advances towards you or uses an offensive racial slur against you, what options are available in these types of situations? Sometimes these incidents can be handled within the company.
Many companies in Ontario have strict human rights policies, and have human resource departments to address incidents of harassment and discrimination. If you’ve been harassed or discriminated in some other situation that is not related to your job, such as at a restaurant or other place of business, then keep in mind that some larger companies have complaints departments who can help resolve your concerns. Many companies do not want to be known for discriminating against any group of persons, and they will typically do their best to resolve the complaint.
However, some situations cannot be resolved either because the victim has been fired from his or her job, or a company refuses to take appropriate action about an incident of discrimination or harassment. In those situations, a person may wish to turn to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, or H-R-T-O for short.
The HRTO resolves cases about discrimination and harassment that are covered under the Human Rights Code. The HRTO first offers people the opportunity to settle the dispute through mediation, which is a type of negotiation. If the people involved in the case do not agree to mediation, or the mediation does not resolve the dispute, then the HRTO holds a hearing. Decisions are made by people called “Adjudicators”, and these adjudicators are sometimes called “Vice-Chairs” or “Members”. HRTO adjudicators have experience, knowledge and training in human rights law and issues.
Discrimination and human rights violations at the Peel District School Board have become a matter of public discourse and public interest.
Sexual harassment is a type of discrimination based on sex. When someone is sexually harassed in school or the workplace, it can undermine their sense of personal dignity. If left unchecked, sexual harassment in school or the workplace has the potential to escalate to violent behaviour.
Are there situations where the Human Rights Code allows unequal treatment? Should I make my claim to the Canadian Human Rights Commission? What happens if a submitted application or response is not complete?
Check out our human rights FAQ and get the answers to these questions and more.