The Ontario Human Rights Code

Written by: Jonathan Thibert LL.B., Partner

The following paper is for academic use only and is not intended to be used or interpreted as legal advice.

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In Ontario, the Ontario Human Rights Code supersedes contracts, or even other laws, and governs the dealings between individuals and employers, contract and service providers, landlords, and associations. With these particular relationships, individuals are protected from discrimination where it is based on one of the following protected grounds:

Age

For example, a sixty-year-old employee is refused a promotion because the employer is “looking for someone with more opportunity for growth.” This could be a sign that the employer is discriminating based on age in the area of employment.

Ancestry, colour, race

•For example, a landlord says to a prospective tenant that they do not rent to single black men. This could be a case of discrimination based on race, but also family status and gender in the area of accommodation.

Citizenship

For example, a prospective employee is told that they were denied a job because the position “requires someone with roots in Canada.” When asked for clarification, the employer explains that they don’t hire people unless they are Canadian citizens, as they can’t trust “a recent immigrant to stick around.” This could be discrimination based on citizenship in the area of employment.

Ethnic origin or place of origin

For example, person applies for a job online and gets an interview. At the interview, the employer says they are surprised to hear “an Asian” accent and says they don’t need to proceed with the interview. This could be discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, or place of origin.

Creed

For example, an employee is required to participate in a morning prayer session against their will. The employee tells the employer they do not wish to participate in the prayer. The employer tells the employee they have a choice, quit or pray. This could be discrimination based on creed in the area of employment.

Disability

For example, an employer decides to hold morning briefings to help the employees boost their sales and commissions. Unfortunately, this meeting is held on the second-floor lunchroom, which has no wheelchair access. Peter complains that he is not able to attend and the employer says it is not a big deal and that he “shouldn’t complain so much and should be happy to have a job.” When the employee complains to HR, he is terminated and told he was “not a good fit.” This could be discrimination based on disability in the area of employment.

Family status

For example, after seeing a couple of smaller apartments in a building, a prospective tenant asks the landlord if they have any larger units available, as they are planning to start a family. Surprised and agitated, the landlord says, “don’t you think you are a little old to start having children? Either way, that is none of my business…but you should have told me you were going to have children before you wasted my time. I don’t rent to people with children, especially if they are unmarried.” This could be discrimination based on family status or marital status in the area of accommodation.

Marital status (including single status)

For example, the owner of a car dealership announces that they are looking to promote someone to senior manager, but they are looking for someone with “family values”. During an interview, a week later, Peter is asked if he plans to start a family or get married. Peter explains that he doesn’t see himself “hitching his wagon to a single horse” any time soon. At that point, the boss awkwardly tells Peter he will get an email if he is needed for another interview, but they will likely go in another direction. This could be a case of discrimination based on marital status in the area of employment.

Gender identity, gender expression

For example, an employee notifies their boss that they do not want to be referred to as “he or him” and would prefer non-binary pronouns. The employer says they are “not into that sort of thing” and continues to call he employee he and him and, since the request, is now calling the employee her or she. When they complain to HR, the employee is told the only option is to request a transfer. This could be discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression in the area of employment.

Receipt of public assistance (in housing only)

For example, a prospective tenant is told they by the landlord that they can take possession of an apartment as soon as they provide proof of income. When the prospective tenant gives the landlord a statement for her receipt of Ontario Disability Support Plan income, the landlord says they require “real income” and tells the prospective tenant to check with the “welfare office” to see if they can help. This could be a case of discrimination based on receipt of public assistance in the area of housing. Note, this form of discrimination is only actionable if done in the area of housing and does not apply in other areas, such as provision of contracts or in employment.

Record of offences (in employment only)

For example, a person is denied a position working with the public because they were once convicted with assault. This could be discrimination based on record of offences in the area of employment.

Sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding) 

For example, an employer tells a newly hired waitress that she will have great opportunities with the company, provided she doesn’t “go and get knocked up.” When the employee explains that she is actually three months pregnant, the employer tells her the job isn’t appropriate and tells her she can come back after she has the baby or she can sit on a chair by the door and greet customers. This could be discrimination based on sex in the area of employment.

Sexual orientation.

For example, a travel agent put out an announcement that they are offering a discount to anyone getting married who wants to buy their “honeymoon package”. When Trish goes to sign the papers to order the “honeymoon package”, she says that her spouse is another woman. At that point the travel agent tells Trish she would be happy to sell her the package, but she cannot give her the discount because a “gay wedding isn’t a real wedding and the discount is “not for everyone.” This could be a case of discrimination based on sexual orientation in the area of goods and services.

If you feel as though you have been discriminated against in a manner similar to any of those listed above, you may be entitled to compensation or other remedies and should speak with a Human Rights representative.

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