Human Rights Legal Support Centre

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How-to Guides and FAQs

Common Legal Terms

This is general information only. It is not legal advice about your situation. This publication is not a substitute for a lawyer’s research, analysis and judgment.


In any legal proceeding, you will encounter words, terms and phrases that you may not be familiar with and that can be hard to understand. This applies to the human rights application process under the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code).

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (Tribunal) uses some very particular language to describe its processes. The Tribunal has its own Rules of Procedure (Rules) that govern its practice and procedure. Many useful terms and phrases are defined in the Rules which will help you navigate through the Tribunal’s process. The Tribunal process is intended to be accessible and understandable to people who file their own applications (“self-represented” Applicants).

This information sheet is designed to assist Applicants to become familiar with the common legal terms used by the Tribunal and parties appearing before it. Knowing these terms will help you work your way through the Tribunal’s process.

Selected common legal words, terms and phrases used at the Tribunal

Affected Person: A person, organization, trade union, or other occupational or professional association identified by one of the parties or the Tribunal as being affected by a proceeding and entitled to notice of the proceeding.

Applicant: The person who files the human rights application and who believes that their rights under the Code have been violated.

Application: The document that begins a human rights claim under the Code. The application asks you to explain what happened to you, why you believe it is discrimination, and what you want the Tribunal to order against the person and/or organization who you claim is responsible for the discrimination. See Rule 6.1 of the Tribunal’s Rules.

Application Filed on Behalf of Another Person: An application that is filed for a person who is entitled to bring an application and who consents to the bringing of that application by another person (or organization). For example, a friend, spouse or other family member may bring an application on behalf of another person, if that person consents. See Section 34(5) of the Code.

Area of Discrimination: The “social areas” that are covered by the Code which include services, goods and facilities, accommodation (housing), employment, contracts and vocational associations. These are the only areas of life where discrimination is prohibited.

Case Assessment: A procedure where the Tribunal requests that the parties respond to any issues identified by the Tribunal that will enable the proper management of the proceeding. The Tribunal may issue a case assessment direction . See Rule 18.

Case Conference: A telephone conference call or other meeting of all the parties to an application, as convened by the Tribunal. See Rule 1.4.

Confirmation of Hearing: The notice sent out by the Tribunal to the Applicant and Respondent(s) (the parties) setting out dates for the hearing and telling the parties when they have to share their documents and witness information with the other parties and the Tribunal. See Rule 1.4.

Contravention of Settlement: Where a party, usually a Respondent, does not honour the terms of a settlement reached to resolve an application. Where the settlement was in writing and signed by the parties an application can be brought to the Tribunal if there is a contravention (breach). See Rule 24.

Damages: A type of remedy that may be ordered by the Tribunal if a breach of the Code is found. Damages are monetary awards granted by the Tribunal to compensate the Applicant for the impact of the discrimination. Damages may be special damages or general damages (see below).

Decision (or Order): The Tribunal’s ruling on the application or an aspect of an application. Decisions and orders may be final orders or interim orders (see below).

Disclosure: The process whereby all parties are required, before the hearing, to provide to the other party their lists of documents and witness statements. See Rules 16 and 17.

Discrimination: under the Code occurs when someone is treating you unfairly because of race, colour, ancestry, place of origin (where you were born), ethnic background, citizenship, creed (religion), sex, disability, sexual orientation, age, marital or family status, pregnancy, receipt of public assistance (in housing only) or record of offences (in employment only). Discrimination can occur if a policy, practice or program fails to accommodate the special needs of an individual that are related to one of the grounds of discrimination listed above, including disability, age, religion or family status.

Expedited Proceeding: A proceeding that is scheduled for an early hearing date by the Tribunal because of circumstances requiring an urgent resolution of the issues raised in an application. See Rule 21.

Final Order: An order of the Tribunal that brings an end to the application, either by deciding the overall merits or by finding that it should not proceed for other reasons (for example where it is decided that the issues were already decided in another proceeding, or that the case was brought too late).

General Damages: A financial remedy intended to compensate an Applicant for the experience of discrimination. It recognizes an Applicant’s right to be free from discrimination and compensates an Applicant for injury to his or her dignity, feelings, and self-respect as a result of the discrimination.

Grounds of Discrimination: The Code prohibits discrimination and harassment on any of the following grounds: race, colour, ancestry, place of origin (i.e., where you were born), ethnic background, citizenship, creed (religion), sex, disability, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status, receipt of public assistance (in housing only) or record of offences (in employment only).

Harassment: under the Code means to engage in a course of vexatious comments or conduct that is known or reasonably known to be unwelcome. A single incident of harassment can infringe the Code if it has the effect of creating a poisoned atmosphere for an individual because of their race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, ethnic background, citizenship, creed (religion), sex, disability, sexual orientation, age, marital or family status, pregnancy, receipt of public assistance (in housing only) or record of offences (in employment only).

Hearing: The legal proceeding in which the Applicant presents their case in front of a Tribunal adjudicator (the decision-maker) who will decide, based on the evidence presented, whether the Code was breached and, if so, what remedies to award.

Human Rights Legal Support Centre (Centre): An independent agency established under the Code and funded by the Ontario government to support and provide legal services to eligible Applicants and potential Applicants claiming discrimination under the Code.

Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (Tribunal): An independent adjudicative body established under the Code with a mandate to resolve applications brought under the Code. The Tribunal has part time and full time members who are appointed by the provincial government on the basis of their experience and expertise in human rights law. Full time members are called Vice Chairs. Both full time and part time members conduct mediations and hearings.

Inquiry: The Tribunal has the power to conduct an inquiry to obtain evidence that it believes is necessary in order to come to a fair, just and expeditious decision in the hearing of an application. See Rule 20.

Interim Order: Interim orders are usually procedural decisions that deal with how your application will be handled by the Tribunal. For example, a Tribunal decision to defer your application – perhaps because you have filed a grievance based on the same facts - is an interim decision.

Interim Remedy: An interim remedy is an order made requiring that the Respondent do (or not do) something even though the case has not yet been decided. For example, they could order a company to provide accommodation to the Applicant, even though the Applicant’s right to that remedy has not yet been finally determined. See Rule 23.

Judicial Review: An application under the Judicial Review Procedure Act (JRPA) in which a court determines whether the Tribunal has acted appropriately in the way that it handled a case. The court does not decide whether the Tribunal’s decision was right or wrong, but focuses on determining whether the Tribunal had the authority to make a particular decision and whether the Tribunal exercised that authority based on proper legal principles.

Jurisdiction: The scope of the Tribunal’s authority to hear and decide applications. Jurisdiction can refer to the Tribunal’s ability to hear particular subjects and/or to consider applications against particular Respondents. An important aspect of jurisdiction concerns whether a claim is properly brought under the Code, the human rights legislation of another province or the federal Human Rights Code. See Rule 13.

Limitation Period: The time limit within which an application must be made to the Tribunal to enforce a right under the Code. A person must apply within one (1) year after the incident occurred or, if there was a series of incidents, within one (1) year after the last incident in the series. Late applications may be accepted by the Tribunal under exceptional circumstances.

Mediation: An opportunity for the parties to meet with a Tribunal member to try to resolve their dispute before it goes to a hearing. It is voluntary. Any settlement must be accepted by both parties. If the mediation is successful, the parties will sign an agreement and the Tribunal will issue an order saying the matter has been resolved and will close the file. See Rule 15.

Mediation-Adjudication: A Tribunal member hearing an application as adjudicator may also act as a mediator with the agreement of the parties. If the parties agree to do so, the Tribunal may also continue to hear the application as an adjudicator if the mediation fails. Where the parties agree to mediation-adjudication, they must sign an agreement before the mediation starts. See Rule 15A.

Minutes of Settlement: A document that sets out the specific terms and conditions on which the parties have agreed to settle an application. Minutes of settlement are often reached during a mediation held at the Tribunal.

Ontario Human Rights Code (Code): The law in Ontario which provides protection from discrimination and harassment at work, in housing, in the receipt and delivery of services, goods and facilities, contracts, and respecting membership in unions, trade or vocational associations.

Ontario Human Rights Commission (Commission): The Commission, established by Part III of the Code, is an independent statutory body which provides leadership for the promotion, protection and advancement of human rights, and builds partnerships across the human rights system. The Commission was first established in 1961. The Commission can initiate or intervene in an application before the Tribunal in some circumstances, and can conduct independent inquiries.

Party: Any person or organization entitled to participate in a proceeding. The primary parties are the Applicant and the Respondent(s). Sometimes the Tribunal allows other parties to participate in the hearing, such as the Commission, your union, or any other person or organization that is added as a party by the Tribunal.

Public Interest Remedy: A remedy that may be ordered by the Tribunal which does not involve financial compensation or other benefit specifically for the Applicant but is meant to have an impact on more people than just the person making the human rights application and the person or corporation responding to it. Examples include ordering the Respondent to take part in an educational program, to change hiring practices, to develop non-discriminatory policies and procedures or to develop internal human rights complaint procedures.

Record of Offences: A record of offences is defined under the Code to mean a conviction for a criminal offence for which a pardon has been granted (and not revoked) or an offence under any provincial enactment.

Remedy: A remedy is ordered by the Tribunal at the conclusion of a hearing if the Tribunal finds that the Applicant’s rights under the Code have been violated. The remedy can be an order enforcing the Applicant’s rights or can be redress or compensation for the violation. Remedies may be financial, or non-financial. Examples of remedies include monetary damages, public interest remedies, and interim remedies.

Reply: The Applicant’s answer to the Respondent’s response to the application. The reply is intended to deal only with new matters that are raised in the response. A reply must be filed at the Tribunal within fourteen (14) days after the date of the letter from the Tribunal by which the response was sent to the Applicant. See Rule 3.

Reprisal: Reprisals or threats of reprisal are acts or threats that are intended to punish an individual who has reported discrimination or harassment or who has refused to infringe the rights of another person.

Request for an Order During Proceedings: A party may request that the Tribunal make an order about the application process or an order requiring another party to take a step during the process, up to and including at the hearing. For example, an Applicant may request that the Tribunal allow the application to be amended; an employer may ask that a manager’s name be dropped from the application; or a party can ask the Tribunal to order the other party to produce certain documents (such as medical information). See Rule 19.

Request to Amend Clerical Errors: A request to correct a clerical error, such as a typographical error, error of calculation, or other similar error in a Tribunal decision or order. See Rule 25.

Request to Defer Consideration: A request to defer the Tribunal’s consideration of a human rights application, usually because another legal proceeding is dealing with the same facts that form the subject matter of the application. Where an application is deferred, a party can request the deferral be set aside. See Rule 14.

Request for Reconsideration: A request made to the Tribunal asking it to reconsider its decision. It is available only for final orders, not interim ones. The Tribunal may also initiate its own reconsideration where it considers it appropriate to do so. See Rule 26.

Request to Intervene: A request by a person or organization to participate in the Tribunal’s process in respect of an application. The Tribunal determines whether to allow an intervention and on what terms and to what extent an intervenor will be allowed to participate in a proceeding. See Rule 11.

Response: The Respondent’s answer to the application. A response must be filed within thirty-five (35) days after a copy of the application has been sent to the Respondent by the Tribunal. See Rule 8.

Respondent: The party who the Applicant alleges has breached the Code and who must therefore respond to the application. Respondents can be both corporate entities and individuals. Many applications have more than one Respondent.

Rules of Procedure: The Tribunal rules that govern all new applications under Part IV of the Code. The purpose of the rules is to provide a fair, open process and to allow for fair and just proceedings.

Substance of Application has been Dealt with in Another Proceeding: The Tribunal may refuse to hear an application if they are of the opinion that the substance of the application has already been dealt with in another proceeding, such as, for example, a decision or settlement of an arbitration of a union grievance. See Rule 22.

Settlements: Where an application is resolved by the parties themselves and not decided by the Tribunal at a hearing. Most settlements occur before the hearing begins and as a result of parties participating in the Tribunal’s mediation process.

Special Damages: A financial remedy that is intended to compensate an Applicant for money they have lost or been forced to spend because of the discrimination. It is meant to put an Applicant back in the financial position that they would have been in if the discrimination had not occurred in the first place. Examples include lost income/wages, loss of long term disability or health/drug benefits and lost pay bonuses that would have been earned if the discrimination did not occur.

Stated Case: Under the Code, the Commission can request that the Tribunal refer a case to the Divisional Court in order to obtain an opinion from the Divisional Court on a question of law. See Rule 27.

Statement of Delivery: A statement that verifies that documents have been delivered to other parties or other persons. A party responsible for delivering a document under the Rules must file a Statement of Delivery (Form 23) with the Tribunal. See Rule 1.23.

Summary Hearings: A hearing in which the Tribunal will decide whether to dismiss the application, or part of an application, on the basis that it has no reasonable prospect of success. A summary hearing may be initiated by the Tribunal or requested by a Respondent, See Rule 19A.

Summons to Witness: A document that requires the attendance of a witness or that documents be produced at a hearing. Delivery of a summons to a witness is the responsibility of the party who obtained the summons. Summons documents can be obtained from the Tribunal. See Rule 3.

Withdrawal of Application: Where an Applicant decides they no longer wish to proceed with their application. See Rule 10.