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Human rights in Ontario: Facilities

Community Legal Services | Pro Bono Students Canada (UWO) | Lifestyles | March 2nd, 2015



In Canada, both provincial and federal regulations are in place to ensure that everyone has the right to equal treatment and freedom from discrimination. It is important that every person is able to access facilities without fearing discrimination. The importance of freedom from discrimination has been recognized as paramount to promoting human dignity.

While the Human Rights Act requires that federally regulated – like example banks or post offices – ensure they do not discriminate, the protection and promotion of human rights provincially falls under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

The code governs all interactions between individuals and ensures that no one is discriminated against on the basis of a protected ground. The protected grounds in Ontario are a person’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.

The code expressly provides in Part I that no one should be discriminated against based on the grounds listed above in relation to access to facilities. For example, retail plazas and schools should be equipped with wheel chair ramps and elevators so that they are accessible to individuals with mobility issues.

However, the code is not violated where an individual under the age of 19 is denied access to a facility that serves alcohol, like a nightclub. Nor is the right to equal treatment on the grounds of sex violated, if access to the facility is denied because it is restricted to the same sex on the grounds of public decency. Finally, the right to equal treatment is not violated if a recreational club restricts membership access because of age, sex and marital or family status.

In Ontario, the code creates the Human Rights Tribunal, which is responsible for investigating human rights complaints and ordering remedies when an individual has been discriminated against based one of the prohibited grounds.

For a complaint to be successful at a hearing with the tribunal, the person filing the complaint must demonstrate that:

1) They have a characteristic that is protected under the code,

2) They were denied or adversely impacted in relation to the provision of a service by a provider regulated by the code, and

3) They were denied the provision of the service as a result of the characteristic that is protected by the code.  

If you have been discriminated against in relation to the provision of services in Ontario, you may file an application with the tribunal. The application must be filed within one year of the incident occurring or, if there were multiple incidents, within one year of the last incident.

However, the tribunal may hear applications that were filed after the limitation period if they are filed in good faith and if no substantial prejudice will occur as a result of the delay. The tribunal allows all involved parties to make oral submissions in relation to the application. Further, the tribunal is enabled to conduct inquiries and investigate complaints.

If an infringement is determined, the tribunal has the power to order monetary compensation to the injured party, restitution from the offending party to the injured party or that the offending party must make alterations in order to promote compliance with the code.

For more information on human rights law in Ontario, please visit the Ontario Human Rights Commission website at ohrc.on.ca and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal website at hrto.ca.

This column is brought to you by Community Law School (Sarnia-Lambton) Inc., and Community Legal Services and Pro Bono Students Canada at Western University. It provides legal information only.  The information is accurate as of the date of publication. Laws change frequently, so we caution readers from relying on this information if some time has passed since publication. If you need specific legal advice please contact a lawyer, your community legal clinic, Justice Net at 1-866-919-3219 or the Law Society Referral Service at 1-800-268-8326.
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