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Human Rights Law in Canada

Human Rights Law in Canada

Canada is a country that provides its citizens with a wide range of rights and freedoms.  In 1977, the Parliament of Canada passed the Canadian Human Rights Act that intends to define rights and freedoms that apply equally to all its citizens regardless of their personal identities.  In other words, no matter your sex, sexual orientation, gender (including gender identity and gender expression), race, marital status, creed, age, ethnicity, ability, and political or religious belief, you should be afforded equal opportunity under the law.

If ever you have felt discrimination, it is the Canadian Human Rights Act that would outline which protections you are afforded.  That being said, this Act is under federal jurisdiction, and there are also provincial and territorial laws that apply to human rights in Canada.  While the Canadian Human Rights Act protects individuals for federally regulated activities, each of the provinces and territories would have their own set of anti-discrimination laws that protect individuals at that level.  For example, with respect to employment protections, the Canadian Human Rights Act protects those Canadians that are employed by the federal government, First Nations governments, and private companies that are federally regulated (i.e. banks, trucking companies, broadcasters, and telecommunications companies).

Additionally, the Canadian Human Rights Act not only protects against discrimination, but harassment as well.  Whereas discrimination may be defined as unjust or prejudicial treatment of an individual based on factors such as race, religion, sex, or gender, harassment constitutes a form of discrimination that includes any physical or verbal behaviour that you deem offensive or humiliating.  Harassment is typically considered behaviour that persists over a period of time, particularly if you have identified the behaviour as harassing and attempted to communicate to the perpetrator how their behaviour negatively affects you.

There are a wide range of behaviours that are considered harassment according to the Canadian Human Rights Act.  Unwelcome comments or jokes about aspects of your identity, threats or intimidation related to your identity, or unwelcome physical content such as touching or pinching are all examples of behaviour that may be defined as harassment.

Ultimately, the Canadian Human Rights Act sets out to provide all Canadians with a safe space in which they can be employed, conduct business, and engage in society without the risk of harassment or discrimination.  Should you feel that you have been treated unjustly because of aspects of your identity that include but are not limited to your sex, sexual orientation, gender (including gender identity and gender expression), race, marital status, creed, age, ethnicity, ability, and political or religious belief, you should speak with a lawyer about your rights as a Canadian.  None of us should feel oppressed or ostracized as citizens of this country.

What Is the Canadian Human Rights Act?

Human Rights Act Canada

Passed in 1977 by the Parliament of Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Act is a piece of legislation that outlines legal protections for all citizens of Canada.  The goal of the act is to protect Canadians from discrimination based on membership to unique or marginalized groups.  The Canadian Human Rights Act protects individuals from discrimination based on sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, marital status, age, disability, or religious or political affiliations.  The Act applies to activities with federal oversight across Canada, though most provinces and territories feature their own human rights’ code to protect against discrimination.

Discrimination is often defined as any action or behaviour that results in unjust treatment of a person or group based on their membership in a particular group.  The Canadian Human Rights Act essentially makes discrimination illegal in Canada, so anybody who is victim of discrimination according to the Act is eligible for legal protection.  Should you feel you have been subject to discrimination, you can make a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Currently, the Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, or a conviction for which you have been pardoned.  So, for example, you cannot be refused a loan based on your ethnic origin and you can’t be fired because your sexual orientation is revealed.

According to the Canadian Human Rights Act, discriminatory practices include the following:

  • Denying goods or services,
  • Refusing employment,
  • Pay inequity,
  • Hate speech communicated by phone or internet, or
  • Retaliation against a person who has filed a human rights complaint.

Tasked with investigating claims of discrimination, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has a vision of promoting an equal and just country for all Canadians.  The right to live life free from discrimination is a basic human right in Canada, and by law the Canadian Human Rights Commission is required to investigate every discrimination complaint received.

It is also important to know that in Canada, the Constitution shares jurisdiction for discriminatory acts at federal and provincial or territorial levels.  Some agencies and organizations (such as airlines and financial institutions) are legislated federally, whereas businesses tend to be regulated regionally by the provincial or territorial governments.

The Canadian Human Rights Act can be difficult to navigate for anybody with out expert legal knowledge.  If you feel you have experienced discrimination, but are protected under the Act, you should contact a legal representative.  You may be eligible for compensation, but only if legal discrimination is established.  Obviously, the experience of discrimination can be highly unsettling, but if you decide to pursue a complaint remember that you are protected under the law.