An overview of human rights laws
Human Rights – Discrimination & Harassment Laws
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.
Human rights laws prohibit discrimination and harassment based on certain characteristics in certain situations. These characteristics are called "prohibited grounds". There are 15 prohibited grounds:
3. place of origin
5. ethnic origin
7. religion or creed
10. handicap or disability
11. sexual orientation
12. marital status
13. family status; and in some cases
14. criminal record and
15. receipt of public assistance.
The 5 main situations or social areas in which discrimination and harassment are prohibited are in
3. the provision of services, goods and facilities,
4. contracts and
5. membership in a trade union or vocational association.
Generally, discrimination and harassment can only be dealt with through the complaint mechanisms of 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.
Human rights laws are passed by both the provincial and federal levels of government. 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. The Canadian constitution requires all levels of government to pass laws and enforce them without discrimination on certain prohibited grounds.
There are other laws which deal with human rights as well. 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. The Ontario Employment Standards Act contains certain provisions prohibiting discrimination based on sex and age.
Our role is to assist you in filing or responding to a human rights complaint; negotiating legally enforceable settlements; and if the matter proceeds to investigation, we can make sure that investigative staff and the Commissioners carry out their roles appropriately.