Quick Facts

Has discrimination affected you? What can you do about it? This section of the Do You Know Your Rights? website explains what discrimination is, how the law prohibits it, and what to do if someone discriminates against you. This website deals with the federal Canadian Human Rights Act(the Act)—not with provincial or territorial laws.

For a more in-depth look at human rights issues that could affect you, read Your Guide to Understanding the Canadian Human Rights Act.

What is discrimination?
Discrimination is an action or decision that treats a person or a group differently or negatively for reasons like race, age, religion or disability. Some types of discrimination are illegal under federal and provincial human rights laws. If you are the victim of discrimination under the Act, you can file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

What does the Act say about discrimination?

Grounds of discrimination
Grounds of discrimination are reasons a person may experience discrimination. There are 11 reasons, or ‘grounds’ that are protected under the Act. This means that federally regulated employers and service providers cannot discriminate against people for these reasons.

The 11 grounds of discrimination protected under the Act are:

  • race
  • national or ethnic origin
  • colour
  • religion
  • age
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • marital status
  • family status
  • disability
  • a conviction for which you have been granted a pardon

Discriminatory practices
The Act forbids the following discriminatory practices —if they are based on one of the grounds of discrimination:

  • Denying someone goods, services, facilities, or accommodation.
  • Refusing to employ or continue to employ someone or treating them unfairly in the workplace.
  • Following policies or practices that deprive people of employment opportunities.
  • Paying men and women differently when they are doing work of the same value.
  • Communicating hate messages on the telephone or through the Internet.
  • Harassing someone.
  • Retaliating against a person who has filed a complaint with the Commission or  someone who has filed a complaint for them.

To see the Act, go to http://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/H-6/index.html

Where can you get help?

Community-based and other internal dispute resolution processes
Often, a situation can be solved quickly and easily within an organization or community. You can try to solve a dispute by:

  • using a customary process, such as asking elders for guidance or using a healing circle; or
  • filing a grievance, if you have a union at your workplace.

If you file a complaint with the Commission, it will always look first to see how you have tried to solve the problem within your organization or community. If it is possible to deal with a complaint there, the Commission will, in most cases, tell you to do that before it will proceed with your complaint.

But if this does not work, you have 12 months from when the discrimination happened to file a complaint with the Commission. In some cases, such as illness, the Commission may extend the deadline.

Making a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission
If you believe you have been a victim of discrimination, you can contact the Commission in writing or by telephone. Staff will give you basic information about the Commission’s services and tell you if the Commission can deal with your complaint.

Only people who are in Canada legally—or someone acting for them—can file a complaint. You must file a complaint within 12 months of the event or situation that you are complaining about. Your complaint must describe the action or decision that you think is a discriminatory practice, the grounds of discrimination, and how the discriminatory practice affected you.

Not all unfair situations are valid human rights complaints. A complaint requires grounds of discrimination, a discriminatory practice, and a negative effect on you.

Complaint = grounds of discrimination + discriminatory practice +
negative effect on you

You can file a complaint on behalf of others as long as you have their consent. A human rights officer will encourage you to try to solve the problem by using an internal dispute resolution in your workplace or community.

To find out more, check out: Your Guide to Understanding the Canadian Human Rights Act or contact the National Aboriginal Initiative.