Ontario’s Human Rights code the first in Canada, was enacted in 1962.
The Code prohibits actions that discriminate against people based on a protected ground in a protected social area.
The protected grounds are:
- Age: Age is a protected ground under the Code. This means that you cannot be discriminated against because of your age, where you work or live, or go to get a service. In the Code, age is defined as being 18 years or older, or age 16 or older in housing if you have withdrawn from parental control.
Some special programs and benefits, such as seniors’ discounts or youth employment programs, exist to address genuine age-related needs. However, when you are unjustifiably treated differently because of your age, it is considered age discrimination.
Race and related grounds: Under the Code, every person has the right to be free from racial discrimination and harassment in the social areas of employment, services, goods, facilities, housing accommodation, contracts and membership in trade and vocational associations. You should not be treated differently because of your race or other related grounds, such as your ancestry, ethnicity, religion or place of origin.
Creed: Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, discrimination because of creed and religion is against the law. Everyone should have access to the same opportunities and benefits, and be treated with equal dignity and respect, regardless of their religion.
Religion includes the practices, beliefs and observances that are part of a faith or religion. It does not include personal, moral, ethical or political views. Nor does it include religions that promote violence or hate towards others, or that violate criminal law.
Disability: The Code protects people from discrimination and harassment because of past, present and perceived disabilities. “Disability” covers a broad range and degree of conditions, some visible and some not visible. A disability may have been present from birth, caused by an accident, or developed over time.
There are physical, mental and learning disabilities, mental disorders, hearing or vision disabilities, epilepsy, mental health disabilities and addictions, environmental sensitivities, and other conditions.
Family & Marital status: The Code includes two grounds that provide protections for persons in relationships: marital status and family status.
“Marital status” is defined in section 10 of the Code as “the status of being married, single, widowed, divorced or separated and includes the status of living with a person in a conjugal relationship outside marriage”, including both same-sex and opposite sex relationships.
“Family status” is defined as “the status of being in a parent and child relationship.” This can also mean a parent and child “type” of relationship, embracing a range of circumstances without blood or adoptive ties but with similar relationships of care, responsibility and commitment.
The grounds of marital and family status intersect to cover a range of family forms, including lone parent and blended families, as well as families where the parents are in a ‘common law’ relationship.
Gender identity, gender expression: Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, discrimination and harassment because of gender identity or gender expression is against the law. Everyone should be able to have the same opportunities and benefits, and be treated with equal dignity and respect including transgender, transsexual and intersex persons, cross-dressers, and other people whose gender identity or expression is, or is seen to be, different from their birth sex.
Receipt of public assistance: In housing, the Code protects tenants against discrimination based on receipt of public assistance. “Public assistance” – more commonly referred to as social assistance – includes Ontario Works, OSAP, ODSP, Old Age Security, Employment Insurance, etc.
Record of offences: In employment, a person cannot be discriminated against in employment because of a “record of offences.” Employment decisions cannot be based on whether a person has been convicted and pardoned for an offence under a federal law, such as the Criminal Code, or convicted under a provincial law, such as the Highway Traffic Act. This provision applies to convictions only and not to situations where charges only have been laid.
Employers must look at a person’s record of offences and consider whether the offence would have a real effect on the person’s ability to do the job and risk associated with them doing it. Employers can refuse to hire someone based on a record of offences only if they can show this is a reasonable and bona fide qualification.
Sex: The Code does not specifically define the ground of “sex,” but the OHRC considers it to be related to a person’s biological sex, male or female. Men and women receive equal protection under this ground. The ground of “sex” also includes a broader notion of “gender,” which can be described as the social characteristics attributed to each sex.
The Code protects men and women from harassment and discrimination, including assumptions about their abilities that result from stereotypes about how men and women ”should” behave, dress or interact. The right to equal treatment without discrimination because of sex also applies to pregnancy.
Sexual orientation: “Sexual orientation” is a personal characteristic that forms part of who you are. It covers the range of human sexuality from lesbian and gay, to bisexual and heterosexual. Sexual orientation is different from gender identity, which is protected under the ground of “sex.” The Code makes it against the law to discriminate against someone or to harass them because of their sexual orientation.
This right to be free from discrimination and harassment applies to employment, services and facilities, accommodation and housing, contracts and membership in unions, trade or professional associations. Homophobic conduct and comment are prohibited as part of the Code’s protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation, no matter what the target’s sexual orientation is, or is perceived to be.