Human Rights Legal Support Centre

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How-to Guides and FAQs

The Ontario Human Rights System

This guide is general information only. It is not legal advice about your situation. This guide is not a substitute for a lawyer’s research, analysis and judgment. This guide is reliable as of the date of publication (January 2021). You should be aware that the law and procedures under the Human Rights Code (Code) and at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) are subject to change without notice.

Your Human Rights in Ontario

Your Human Rights in Canada


Introduction

Everyone in Canada is entitled to the same fundamental human rights including the right to equality and dignity, and to live free from discrimination and harassment. In Canada, human rights are protected by federal, provincial and territorial laws. Canada’s human rights laws stem from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the newly established United Nations in December 1948.

There are two major parts to the human rights system in Ontario that you need to know about if you believe that your human rights have been violated in Ontario. Both parts of the human rights system relate to an important and fundamental legal concept known as jurisdiction.


Provincial jurisdiction:

First, there is the part of the human rights system that falls under provincial jurisdiction. Each Canadian province and territory have its own anti-discrimination law that applies to activities that are provincially regulated.

Under the provincial Ontario Human Rights Code (Code), a person who has experienced discrimination in Ontario can file an application directly at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO). Since June 30, 2008, all human rights applications have been able to be filed directly at the HRTO. Previously, applications were filed at the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).

Ontario's provincial human rights system is made up of three separate agencies. The HRTO is where human rights applications are filed and decided. The Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC) gives legal help to people who have experienced discrimination under the Code. The OHRC promotes, protects and advances human rights through research, education, targeted legal action and policy development. The OHRC can also bring applications at the HRTO and often participates, or intervenes, as a party in cases that have the potential for broader, systemic change.


Federal jurisdiction:

Second, there is the part of the human rights system that falls under federal jurisdiction. Under the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) a person who has experienced discrimination anywhere in Canada can file a complaint at the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC).

The CHRC manages the CHRA. The CHRC may conduct investigations of complaints and may refer complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) for further examination.

The CHRA only applies to activities that are federally regulated and not to those activities that are provincially regulated. A person cannot file a complaint directly at the CHRT. A complaint must be filed with the CHRC.


 

Your Human Rights in Ontario:


Ontario Human Rights Code

The Code is a provincial law that gives everybody equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in specific social areas such as employment, housing, services, goods and facilities, and contracts or agreements.

The Code was the first law of its kind in Canada in June 1962. The Code's goal is to prevent discrimination and harassment because of race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, family status, marital status, to name just some of the seventeen (17) prohibited grounds of discrimination. The Code takes precedence over other Ontario laws. All other Ontario laws must not conflict with the Code.

It is important to understand that not all unfair treatment, conduct and harassment is covered by the Code. The treatment, conduct or harassment must be based on at least one prohibited ground under the Code and must take place within one of the five (5) social areas to be protected by the Code.


Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

The HRTO is one of the eight (8) tribunals at Social Justice Tribunals Ontario (SJTO). The HRTO resolves claims of discrimination and harassment brought under the Code. The HRTO offers the opportunity to settle cases through its mediation services and conducts adjudication of cases by holding hearings.

Go to the HRTO’s website for:

HRTO contact information:
Local : (416) 326-1312
Toll Free : 1-866-598-0322
TTY (Local): (416) 326-2027
TTY (Toll Free): 1-866-607-1240
Fax: (416) 326-2199
Fax (Toll Free): 1-866-355-6099
www.sjto.gov.on.ca/hrto/contact/


Human Rights Legal Support Centre

The Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC) provides legal supports and assistance to people in communities across Ontario who have experienced discrimination contrary to the Code, and who may want to file an application to the HRTO.

The HRLSC’s intake phone line can be reached at:

Tel: (416) 597-4900
Toll Free: 1-866-625-5179
TTY: (416) 597-4903
TTY Toll Free: 1-866 612-8627

The HRLSC makes every effort to provide accommodation, including for disability, language and cultural needs.  The HRLSC also provides services in over one hundred and forty (140) languages, including American Sign Language.


Ontario Human Rights Commission

The OHRC’s primary mandate is to promote, protect and advance human rights through research, education, targeted legal action and policy development. The OHRC does not have an general intake line like the HRLSC and, since, 2008, no longer accepts Code applications.

OHRC Contact Information:

Toll Free 1-800-387-9080
TTY (Local): (416) 326-0603
TTY (Toll Free): 1-800-308-5561
www.ohrc.on.ca
info@ohrc.on.ca


 

Your Human Rights in Canada:


Canadian Human Rights Act

The CHRA is a federal statute passed by the Parliament of Canada in 1977. The CHRA ensures equal opportunity to individuals who may be victims of discriminatory practices based on a set of prohibited grounds.

There are currently fifteen (15) prohibited grounds of discrimination. They are: race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.

The CHRA applies to federally regulated organizations, which includes federal government departments and agencies, Crown corporations, as well as private sector organizations such as banks, airlines, and transportation and telecommunication companies.

The CHRA also created the CHRC which investigates claims of discrimination as well as the CHRT to decide the claims referred to it by the CHRC.


Canadian Human Rights Commission

The CHRC was also established in 1977 to manage and administer the CHRA.  

The CHRC is responsible for screening discrimination complaints. The CHRC encourages people to try to solve their disputes and, if necessary, the CHRC may investigate complaints. The CHRC can also send complaints to the CHRT for further examination.

In some instances, the CHRC appears before the CHRT. This occurs most often when the CHRC believes that the complaint deals with a matter of public interest, as is also the case with the provincial OHRC.

CHRC contact information:

www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca

Questions, requests for information or comments by e-mail may be sent to: info.com@chrc-ccdp.gc.ca.


Canadian Human Rights Tribunal

The CHRT applies the CHRA to cases that are referred to it by the CHRC.  

The CHRT conducts mediations and hearings of complaints of discrimination. At a hearing, the CHRT decides whether a person or organization has engaged in a discriminatory practice under the CHRA.

CHRT Contact information:

Tel: 613 995-1707

Toll free: 1-844-899-3604

Office of the CHRT online form at:  www.chrt-tcdp.gc.ca


Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) is part of Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982.

The Charter protects every Canadian’s right to be treated equally under the law. The Charter guarantees fundamental rights such as equality rights and freedom from discrimination (section 15), freedom of expression (section 2(b)), and freedom of religion (section 2(a)).

The Charter only applies to governments and protects Canadians from laws, policies or actions of governments, including public authorities such as the police, that violate their rights. The Charter does not apply to private individuals, businesses or other organizations.

This means that a person cannot generally bring a Charter case against a private business, a private organization, or a person who is not acting on behalf of the government.

It is important to note that the HRTO has limited powers to apply the Charter.  The HRTO does not have the same general powers as the courts do. This is a complicated area of law that concerns the HRTO’s jurisdiction under the Code.

The HRTO does not have the power to decide a stand-alone constitutional (e.g., Charter) issue unless it is necessary to the HRTO’s decision making under the Code. See Barnard v. Metrolinx, 2018 HRTO 239 (CanLII), and the other HRTO cases referred to in the decision, for a discussion of the HRTO’s limited authority to consider and apply the Charter.