Human Rights laws provide protections from discrimination. Treating someone unfairly may be discrimination if the unfair treatment is because of a specific personal characteristic(s) or a perceived personal characteristic.
Both Ontario and Canadian laws provide Human Rights protections. These anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination based on many different personal characteristics, including: race, ancestry, place of origin, ethnic origin, colour, citizenship, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status, and disability.
Human Rights laws do not apply to all unfair conduct or unequal treatment. The discrimination must be based on one of the listed personal characteristics and must be by an individual or organization covered by the law.
HIV infection is considered a disability for Human Rights purposes by both Ontario and Federal law.
Discrimination can include:
- denying someone a benefit,
- excluding someone from an opportunity, and/or
- imposing a different obligation on someone because of a characteristic listed above.
Discrimination can happen even if the individual or organization does not intend to discriminate. For example, it can also be discrimination if an organization fails to consider the special needs of an employee, tenant or customer where the needs are linked to one of the characteristics in the Code.
Many types of organizations and services are prohibited from discriminating against you based on your personal characteristics. Ontario human rights law or Canada’s human rights law might apply, depending on the type of organization or service. Please see the sections below for more information about both Ontario and Canada’s Human Rights laws.
HIV and Discrimination
Many stereotypes and myths about HIV continue in spite of efforts to raise awareness. HIV-related stigma and discrimination are a reality for people living with HIV. People with HIV may face discrimination in employment, housing, medical treatment, services and travel to other countries. Families and friends may not be supportive and may treat someone with HIV differently or even reject them. As a result, many people who are living with HIV are understandably reluctant to disclose their HIV status. We believe that people living with HIV have the right to live free of stigma and discrimination, and we work to address HIV-related stigma and discrimination on a daily basis.
The formerly Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network works with people and organizations from across Canada and around the world to ensure that the human rights of people living with, or vulnerable to, HIV/AIDS are recognized, respected and protected. You can visit the Legal Network’s website: www.aidslaw.ca/site/publicationtopics/discrimination/.
Ontario Human Rights Code
The Ontario Human Rights Code is the Ontario law that prohibits discrimination and harassment in the following “protected social areas”:
- Accommodation (housing)
- Goods, services and facilities
- Membership in unions, trade or professional associations.
The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination based on the following “protected grounds”:
- ancestry, colour, race, ethnic origin, place of origin, creed, citizenship
- family status, marital status (including single status)
- sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding)
- gender identity, gender expression
- sexual orientation.
- receipt of public assistance (in housing only)
- record of offences (in employment only, and your record must have been suspended – formerly called a pardon),
The Ontario Human Rights Code also prohibits discrimination against a person because the person has a relationship, association or other dealing with a person or persons who are identified by one of the grounds listed above. HIV infection is considered a disability for Ontario Human Rights Code purposes.
Harassment is a form of discrimination. The Ontario Human Rights Code defines harassment as a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known, or ought reasonably to be known, to be unwelcome. It includes offensive comments or actions based on one or more of the above grounds.
Here are some examples of discrimination:
- At work your boss tells you “We are going to have to let you go because your disability prevents you from doing the same tasks you were hired to do”, or “We would really like to promote you, but our customers don’t like dealing with people who are gay.”
- A restaurant manager refuses to let an AIDS Service Organization make a reservation because he thinks that other customers would be uncomfortable being around “people who are sick”.
- You are looking for an apartment and the landlord says “no, we do not allow people living with HIV here.”
- At a job interview, the employer says “You have to have this medical form filled out before we offer you a job” or “We will not be able to hire you if you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant”.
The Ontario Human Rights Code states that employers, landlords and service providers have a “duty to accommodate” human rights related needs unless doing so would cause undue hardship due to cost or health and safety concerns. For example, an employer may have a duty to accommodate an employee with a disability by allowing the employee to come in later or to adjust the work schedule to attend medical appointments. If you are asking for accommodation because of disability, you do not have to indicate what disability you have, but you will have to explain the accommodation(s) that you need. For example, if you need accommodation because of your HIV, you are not required to tell your employer that you have HIV, but you will almost certainly need a letter from your doctor to say that you have a disability and the accommodation that you need. You can ask your doctor not to indicate what your disability is. You should get legal advice before you request accommodation (see Getting legal Help below).
The three main organizations that work with Ontario’s Human Rights law are:
- Human Rights Legal Support Centre (Ontario): www.hrlsc.on.ca.
- Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario: www.sjto.gov.on.ca/hrto/.
- Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC): www.ohrc.on.ca
The Human Rights Legal Support Centre provides legal assistance to people in communities across Ontario who have experienced discrimination contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code and who may want to file an application to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The Human Rights Legal Support Centre has Ontario human rights information in many different languages.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario deals with all claims of discrimination filed under the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Tribunal resolves applications through mediation or adjudication.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission works to promote, protect and advance human rights. Its main focus is to address the root causes of discrimination. The Commission provides general information about human rights in Ontario and also education about discrimination.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has information on its website, including:
- Policy on HIV/AIDS-Related Discrimination: www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-hivaids-related-discrimination.
- Accommodating Persons with Disabilities fact sheet: www.ohrc.on.ca/en/accommodating-persons-disabilities-fact-sheet.
- Policy and guidelines on disability and the duty to accommodate: www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-and-guidelines-disability-and-duty-accommodate.
A complaint under the Ontario Human Rights Code must be made within one year of the event, or if there was more than one event, within one year of the last event. It is possible to have this time limit extended if you were unable to make your complaint in time or if you did not find out about the discrimination until after the event.
Getting legal help
If you think someone has discriminated against you or violated your human rights contrary to Ontario’s human rights laws, you can:
- contact us if you are living with HIV in Ontario
- contact the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre www.hrlsc.on.ca
- contact your local community legal clinic for information about services in your community.
Canada’s Human Rights Laws and Canadian Charter Rights
The government of Canada website provides information: www.chrc-ccdp.ca/eng/content/how-are-human-rights-protected-canada.
- Federal government departments, agencies and Crown corporations
- chartered banks
- television and radio stations
- inter-provincial communications and telephone companies
- buses and railways that travel between provinces
- First Nations, and
- other federally regulated industries, such as certain mining operations.
Canadian Human Rights Act
The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits federally regulated employers or service providers from discriminating on the basis of:
- national or ethnic origin
- sexual orientation
- marital status
- family status
- a conviction for which a pardon has been granted or a record suspended.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission is responsible for administering the Canadian Human Rights Act and ensuring compliance with the Canadian Employment Equity Act.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission works with employers, service providers, individuals, unions, governmental and non-governmental organizations to promote understanding of and commitment to human rights. The Canadian Human Rights Commission provides dispute resolution services in cases of alleged discrimination by federally regulated organizations. If the matter cannot be resolved and the inquirer wishes to file a complaint, the case may be assigned to a mediator or an investigator. It the complaint cannot be resolved, the Canadian Human Rights Commission may ask that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal hear the case.
You can find more information on the Canadian Human Rights Commission website: www.chrc-ccdp.ca.
Employment Equity Act
The Employment Equity Act ensures that federally regulated employers provide equal opportunities for employment to four designated groups: women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities.
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides rights and protections for interactions between individuals and the state (federal, provincial and territorial governments). The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter) is one part of the Canadian Constitution. The Canadian Constitution is a set of laws containing the basic rules about how our country operates. For example, it contains the powers of the federal government and those of the provincial governments in Canada.
The rights and freedoms in the Charter include:
- freedom of expression
- the right to a democratic government
- the right to live and to seek employment anywhere in Canada
- legal rights of persons accused of crimes
- Aboriginal peoples’ rights
- the right to equality, including the equality of men and women
- the right to use either of Canada’s official languages
- the right of French and English linguistic minorities to an education in their language
- the protection of Canada’s multicultural heritage.
If you believe that your Charter rights have been violated you can apply to court to ask the court to order a “legal remedy”. Examples of legal remedies include: the court stopping a criminal proceeding against you, or, the court ruling that a law violates Charter rights and therefore has no force. Making a Charter challenge in a court application is very complicated so you will need to get legal advice.
The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has eight brochures about the privacy rights and disclosure obligations of people living with HIV. The brochures are available on-line in English, French, Arabic, Chinese, Punjabi, Spanish and Tagalog: www.aidslaw.ca/site/kyr/:
- Disclosure at work (Know Your Rights 1).
- Accommodation in the workplace (Know Your Rights 2).
- Remedies for discrimination and privacy violations in the workplace (Know Your Rights 3).
- Disclosure and post-secondary education (Know Your Rights 4).
- Disclosure as a patient (Know Your Rights 5).
- Privacy and Health Records (Know Your Rights 6).
- Disclosure in School and Daycare (Know Your Rights 7).
- Disclosure, Privacy and Parenting (Know Your Rights 8).
The eight Know Your Rights brochures are also available in French Connaître ses droits: www.aidslaw.ca/site/kyr/?lang=fr.
Getting legal help
If you think someone has discriminated against you or violated your human/charter rights, you can contact us if you are living with HIV in Ontario. You can contact your local community legal clinic to find out about services in your community. You can find your local community legal clinic as well as specialty legal clinics using the Legal Aid Ontario website: https://www.legalaid.on.ca/services/legal-clinics/.
The Law Society Referral Service (LSRS) of the Law Society of Ontario is an on-line service that provides a referral to a lawyer or paralegal for an in-person or phone consultation of up to 30 minutes at no charge: https://lsrs.lso.ca/lsrs/welcome. The LSRS crisis telephone for people in custody, in crisis, in a shelter or in a remote community without internet access is 416-947-5255 or toll-free 1-855-947-5255, Monday to Friday 9 am to 5 pm. The Law Society of Ontario was formerly the Law Society of Upper Canada.
, or, you can contact a lawyer or your local local community legal clinic.