Human rights complaints

In Canada, human rights are protected by the Constitution and by federal, provincial and territorial laws. If an individual feels that his or her rights have been violated, they may be able to make a claim under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or bring a complaint under federal, provincial or territorial human rights laws. Depending on the nature of a complaint, it may be filed in a court or through a specialized body created to hear human rights complaints, such as a commission or tribunal.

Provincial and territorial human rights laws share many similarities with the Canadian Human Rights Act. They protect people from discrimination in areas of provincial and territorial jurisdiction, such as restaurants, stores, schools, housing and most workplaces. In many situations, individuals may need to direct complaints to their provincial or territorial human rights agency.

Individuals within Canada may also bring human rights complaints to the United Nations or the Organization of American States, but only after domestic complaint procedures have been tried and failed.

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The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been part of Canada’s Constitution since 1982. The Charter protects every Canadian’s right to be treated equally under the law. It guarantees broad equality rights and other fundamental rights such as the freedom of expression, assembly and religion.

The Charter applies to governments, but not organizations, businesses or people. It protects the rights of all Canadians from violations by laws, policies or actions of governments, including authorities such as the police. For example, if you are arrested without cause, this could be a violation of your rights under the Charter.

Generally, claims under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms must be filed in a court.

The Canadian Human Rights Act

The purpose of the Canadian Human Rights Act is to protect individuals from discrimination. Enacted in 1977, the Act states that all Canadians have the right to equality, equal opportunity, fair treatment and an environment free of discrimination.

Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, Canadians are protected from discrimination and harassment when they are employed by or receive services from:

  • the federal government;
  • First Nations governments; or
  • private companies that are regulated by the federal government, including banks, trucking companies, broadcasters and telecommunications companies.

Grounds of discrimination

Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, there are 11 grounds of discrimination:

  • race;
  • national or ethnic origin;
  • colour;
  • religion;
  • age;
  • sex;
  • sexual orientation;
  • marital status;
  • family status;
  • disability; and
  • a conviction for which a pardon has been granted or a record suspended.

If an individual feels that they have been the subject of discrimination based on one or more of the 11 grounds, he or she may file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. In some cases (for example, for federal employees), there may be other tribunals which can hear the complaint.

To find out if you have a valid complaint, you can use the complaint assessment tool or contact the Commission.

Read more about the different stages of the Commission’s dispute resolution process.

The Official Languages Act

In Canada, the Official Languages Act establishes the equality of English and French and grants language rights to all individuals. This act applies to federal institutions such as:

  • offices;
  • crown corporations; and
  • federal departments, agencies and businesses acting on their behalf. Certain private companies, like Air Canada, also have language obligations.

The Official Languages Act does not apply to municipalities, provincial government institutions or private companies.

Learn more about official languages rights or get a detailed explanation on the complaint process by downloading the document Filing a Complaint with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

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