Human Rights Legal Support Centre

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Choosing where to file your human rights claim or complaint

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. This information sheet is reliable as of the date of publication, but the law and procedures under the Human Rights Code and at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario are subject to change without notice.

  1. What is a legal forum?
  2. How do I decide where to file?
  3. Should I get legal advice?
  4. Who can I contact for legal help?

What is a legal forum?

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) is a specialized tribunal, set up to mediate and decide human rights cases. However, many different courts, tribunals, and administrative bodies can decide Human Rights Code issues. This is because of a legal concept known as “concurrent jurisdiction.” This means you often have a choice about which legal process to use to enforce your human rights case. In some cases, you may be able to choose more than one legal route or forum while, in other cases, you may be able to choose only one.

Forums other than the HRTO where human rights issues can be raised include the courts, other tribunals, agencies or boards, and labour grievance procedures. For example:

  • if you are a unionized employee who experiences discrimination, you could speak to your union about filing a grievance;
  • if you are not a unionized employee who experience discrimination, you can make a human right claim at civil court if you have another main cause of action (such as a claim of wrongful dismissal);
  • if your employer terminates your employment because you took a parental leave, you can file an Employment Standards Act claim with the Ministry of Labour;
  • if you have a complaint about discrimination you experienced when using a health care service, you can use the complaints process of the regulatory college, such as the College of Physicians or Surgeons or the College of Nurses of Ontario; or
  • if you experience sexual harassment or sexual violence at work, at school, or in your housing, you can pursue a criminal charge by contacting the police.

This is a complicated area of law. You will need to be careful in picking the forum in which you plead your human rights case. Sometimes you can proceed with your case in more than one forum. But, you will not always be able to file both a claim at the HRTO and a claim somewhere else about the same, or even related, issue. For information about how the HRTO may deal with two claims proceeding at once, see our How-To Guide on Deferral and Early Dismissal of an Application here. There is also the risk that the Tribunal may follow the factual finding of the previous proceeding in the other legal forum which made its decision first.

How do I decide where to file?

Your choice should be guided by a decision about your goals in beginning a legal claim or a complaint. Remedies differ from tribunal to court to regulator. For example, the HRTO will not award severance pay if you are let go from your job and the HRTO decides that your disability was a factor in that decision. Examples of HRTO remedies can be found here. What outcome are you looking for? What do you want to achieve with your claim or complaint? Do you want monetary compensation? Do you want a workplace policy or practice to be changed? Or other measures that would prevent further discrimination?  Answering these questions for yourself will help you decide where to file.

Should I get legal advice?

Speaking to a legal professional – a lawyer, paralegal or legal worker – is always a good idea when you are uncertain about how best to pursue your human rights claim and which remedies to pursue. Each case is unique, and the specific circumstances of your case will be very important. Together, you should consider the following questions:

  • what result do you want to achieve?
  • how strong is your claim?
  • what evidence will you need?
  • how long might it take to get a result? and
  • what are the costs associated with bringing your claim?

Who can I contact for legal help?

You can contact the Law Society of Ontario. The LSO will give you the name of a lawyer or licensed paralegal who will provide a free consultation of up to 30 minutes to help you determine your rights and options.

You can contact JusticeNet, a program for people with low or moderate incomes. It connects people with lawyers and paralegals who charge lower legal fees. You can go to their website or call them at 1-866-919-3219 to get names of lawyers or paralegals in your area.

You can contact Pro Bono Ontario, which has a legal advice hotline at 1-855-255-7256. You can get up to 30 minutes of free legal advice and help if you're representing yourself at the Small Claims Court or Superior Court of Justice.

Community legal clinics across Ontario that provide free legal services to people with low incomes. At these clinics, lawyers, community legal workers, and law students help people navigate which forum to choose. To get help from a clinic, you must live in the area the clinic serves. The first step is to find your local clinic.

Some community legal clinics help people only with workplace issues at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. The Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario and the Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic help injured workers.

The Workers’ Health & Safety Legal Clinic helps non-unionized people who are having health and safety problems at work. If you are a unionized employee, you should contact your local steward or bargaining unit representative for help.

The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic offers legal, counselling and interpretation services to marginalized populations of women who have survived violence, including sexual harassment or assault in the workplace.

If you decide that you want to file a human rights application at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), go to their web site for information about the process and to read the application form.

Contact us here at the Human Rights Legal Support Centre if you have questions about the form. We can also help you with a mediation or hearing at the HRTO.

Published in August 2019.