We provide advice and representation on a wide range of human rights matters. If you have been discriminated against or wrongly accused of a human rights violation, we can assist.

The Ontario Human Rights Code

Ontario Human Rights Code states that people have a right to be free from discrimination in their jobs, housing, services and contracts. The code prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status and disability (these are called prohibited grounds).

This means, for example, that although a landlord could refuse to rent an apartment to a person who is visually impaired, the decision must not be based on the fact that they have a disability (or any other prohibited ground).

The human rights system in Ontario consists of three pillars:
  1. Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO)
  2. Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC)
  3. Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)

The HRTO is the organization that hears and adjudicates complaints of discrimination. The HRLSC exists to assist claimants who require financial or other aid in bringing a complaint. The OHRC’s role focuses on public education and broader systemic change to prevent human rights abuses.

Human Rights in Employment

Human rights law in Ontario is based on the principle that employment decisions should be based on an individual’s ability to do the job rather than on factors that are unrelated to the job requirements, qualifications or performance.

As a result, job advertisements and applications cannot ask questions related to race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, same-sex partnership status, family status or disability. During an interview, employers may not ask questions or seek information related to these grounds. Additionally, employers may not seek information or use selection criteria at the hiring stage which indirectly discriminates against an applicant on a prohibited ground. The classic example of this is the use of a fitness test for firefighters which indirectly discriminates against women.

Job requirements must be reasonable and made in good faith. A requirement that is neutral or non-discriminatory on its face may inadvertently exclude, restrict or prefer some person because of a ground set out in the code. A good example is a rule requiring employees in a fast food restaurant to be clean-shaven. This rule may result in discrimination against Sikh men, whose religious beliefs dictate that they not shave.

In these cases, human rights law in Ontario looks at whether the requirements are reasonable and bona fide (made in good faith). This involves determining whether the requirement was designed inclusively and whether the worker could be accommodated without causing undue hardship. In the example above, the rule about employees being clean shaven could be reasonable and made in good faith (the rule is rationally connected to the job). This could be the case if the rule was made to ensure sanitary food preparation conditions. In this case, the employer would only be able to insist that Sikh men observe the rule if creating an exception will cause undue hardship to the employer. This is unlikely to be the case because Sikh men can easily be accommodated by allowing them to wear a net to cover their facial hair.

What to do if I have been Discriminated Against?

Document the incident and
consult a lawyer or the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre for further information and advice. A complaint must be made within one year of the date of the incident. If the complaint relates to a series of incidents, the complaint should be filed within one year of the last incident in the series. It’s possible to bring a complaint after the one year mark, but the applicant would have to demonstrate that the delay was incurred in good faith and no substantial prejudice will result to any person affected by the delay.


The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario can only hear complaints against provincially regulated organizations. If a complaint is against a federally regulated organization, the complaint must be taken to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which can refer the matter to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Human rights law in the federal jurisdiction is very similar to provincial human rights law.
Similar to the situation in Ontario, claimants have one year to initiate claims.

contact us for additional information and advice.