Human Rights 101

CANADIAN HUMAN RIGHTS LEGISLATION

Canada and its various provinces each have human rights legislation that is designed to protect residents from unfair harassment and discrimination. The behaviour that is prohibited is specifically defined, so we should all be aware of what it is so that we can avoid being either a victim of it-or guilty of it.

Generally, we are all entitled to equal access to goods, services and facilities, including accommodation, which means having an equal opportunity to enter into contracts with people who provide those things. We are all entitled to equal access to employment opportunities, and to membership in trade unions and similar organizations. No one can legally be discriminated against in these areas because of race, ancestry, origin, current or past citizenship, colour, creed, gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation, marital or family status, age, disability, record of offences or receipt of social assistance. Likewise, no one may be subjected to harassment with respect to any of the above matters; and it's worth noting that harassment can sometimes arise more easily than discrimination.

As I said, it's wise for everyone to be aware of what constitutes illegal harassment or discrimination. However, it's especially important to refresh your knowledge if you are going to be in a position of deciding who has access to goods, services, facilities, accommodation or employment. On the other hand, if you feel that you are a victim of harassment or discrimination, it is important to inform yourself of what is or is not illegal before making any accusations, so you don't put yourself in a position where you could be accused of defamation.

The first thing to do in either case is to contact the Ontario Human Rights Commission, because most situations that arise in Ontario are governed by it. Certain situations are governed by the federal legislation, the Canada Human Rights Act, for example if they pertain to industries regulated by the federal government. The Ontario Human Rights Commission will tell you if this is the case.

Either the federal or provincial Commission will require that you put your complaint in writing and submit initially to a mediation process. However, if the Commission agrees that you are being discriminated against, it may eventually take over the matter and pay a lawyer to pursue it on your behalf, and all you will have to do is be a witness. On the other hand, if the Commission feels that you are not being subjected to harassment or discrimination, you may still talk to a lawyer or other advocate, however you may have to pay that person. You would still probably be wise not to make any public statements before your case is resolved.

Contact: RSU main office | (416) 979-5255, ext. 2325

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