What is the Human Rights Code?

If you believe that you have been discriminated against, it’s important to know your rights and responsibilities. You can file an application (complaint) with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

The OHRC is an arm’s length agency of the government and is one of the three pillars of the system of human rights protection in Ontario. It has a broad statutory mandate to prevent discrimination through public education, research and policy development.

Social areas

The Code prohibits discrimination in five areas of society called social areas, including employment, services, housing and accommodations. It also prohibits discrimination on the basis of 17 different personal attributes – or grounds – including citizenship, race, place of origin, colour, ancestry, disability, age, creed, sex (including pregnancy), gender identity and gender expression, family status, receipt of public assistance and record of offences.

If you believe that your human rights have been violated, you can file a complaint – or application – with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. You can ask the Tribunal to decide whether your rights have been violated and if so, what should happen to the person or organization that did it.

The OHRC works to make sure the high standards in the Code are a reality for everyone in Canada. It does this by identifying and monitoring problems, developing policies and conducting human rights public inquiries. It also initiates its own applications and intervenes in cases before the Tribunal on matters of broad public interest.

Grounds of discrimination

The Code lists 17 “protected grounds” that people cannot be discriminated against on. These include: race and related grounds (ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin), creed, sex (including pregnancy, male or female) and record of offences, disability, age and family status. The Code also prohibits discrimination based on membership in trade or vocational associations.

The OHRC’s work focuses on preventing and remedying discrimination. We investigate individual complaints, carry out research and analysis, and conduct public interest inquiries.

The OHRC also works to bring about broad changes in society. This may mean changing laws, developing policies and education programs or bringing human rights cases before the Human Rights Tribunal. The Tribunal is the final arbiter of whether or not human rights have been violated. It does not judge whether or not a person intended to discriminate; it looks at what actually happened. The Tribunal’s decisions are binding on all parties. They are not subject to appeal.

Guide to your rights and responsibilities under the Human Rights Code

The Code is the cornerstone of Canada’s human rights system. It gives everybody equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in areas like jobs, housing, services and contracts. The Code prevents discrimination based on things called “protected grounds” such as race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, religion, citizenship, sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding), age, sexual orientation, family status, record of offences, and disability.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission website has a lot of information about each of these protected grounds.

People have a right to make a complaint, or file an application at the Tribunal, about discrimination they’ve experienced. They also have a duty to not be treated negatively because they’ve complained or been involved in a complaint. Practices should consider developing a human rights policy and seeking legal advice on accommodation questions. The OHRC’s guide to workplace accommodations provides useful tips. Also, the Code and Occupational Health and Safety Act prohibit reprisals for raising human rights or safety issues.


The OHRC is the body that administers and enforces Ontario’s Human Rights Code. It ensures that everybody is treated fairly and equally in areas like work, housing and services.

The Code prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, age and creed. It also prohibits discrimination based on disability.

Several laws previously existed that dealt with different types of discrimination, but the Human Rights Code brought them together in one law and added new protections. The Preamble of the Code is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an international statement agreed to by many of the world’s countries.

The OHRC is an arm’s length government agency that has four main functions: promoting a culture of human rights; conducting public inquiries; investigating complaints (formerly known as applications) and intervening in cases before the HRTO; and developing policies using research, education and consultation. The OHRC takes a holistic approach to human rights, considering the effect of what happens rather than the intent of the person doing it.

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