What is the Canadian Human Rights Act?

The purpose of the Canadian Human Rights Act is to ensure equality of opportunity and freedom from discrimination, in areas under federal jurisdiction. The idea behind the Act is that people should not be placed at a disadvantage simply because of their age, sex, race or any other of the prohibited grounds of discrimination covered by the Act.

Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, the role of the Canadian Human Rights Commission is to try to resolve and to investigate allegations of discrimination in employment and in the provision of services within federal jurisdiction. Under the Employment Equity Act, the Commission’s role is to ensure that federally regulated employers provide equal opportunities for employment to the four designated groups:

  • Women
  • Aboriginal people
  • persons with disabilities
  • members of visible minorities

If the Commission finds there is evidence to support a complaint, it will refer the case to the Canadian Human Rights TribunalThe Tribunal operates independently of the Commission. It holds public hearings at which both sides can present their arguments and call witnesses. The Tribunal determines whether there has been discrimination based on a prohibited ground. If appropriate, the Tribunal orders a remedy.

Common complaints from our members regarding Human Rights violations fall into areas such as:

  • equality in workplace standards
  • duty to accommodate
  • undue hardship
  • issues surrounding mental health issues

What is the Duty to Accommodate?

Equality does not always mean treating everyone the same. In fact, identical treatment of all employees can produce serious inequality! Coworkers may require variable treatment in order to achieve equality of opportunity.

Employers and service providers have an obligation to adjust rules, policies or practices to enable you to participate fully. It applies to needs that are related to the grounds of discrimination which are protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act. This is called the duty to accommodate.

The duty to accommodate means that sometimes it is necessary to treat someone differently in order to prevent or reduce discrimination. For examples, asking all job applicants to pass a written test may not be fair to a person with a visual disability. In such cases, the duty to accommodate may require that alternative arrangements be made to ensure that a person or group can fully participate.

For further assistance in understanding the duty to accommodate, you can refer to the PSAC’s Duty to Accommodate Guide.

Should you file a Canadian Human Rights Complaint or a Grievance?

If you have been discriminated against based on any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination, you should file both. Most collective agreements and the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) prohibit discrimination by federally-regulated employers on any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination. If you wish to take redress action alleging discrimination based on one or more prohibited ground, we recommend the following steps:

1. File a grievance

Notify your local union representative that you would like to file a grievance against the Employer, alleging a violation of the article of the collective agreement regarding discrimination. You only have 25 business days from the last alleged incident to file a grievance so it is important to approach your local union representative in a timely manner to assist you in filling out a Grievance Form. If you are unsure who your local shop steward is, your Local President can help you with that. Wording for the grievance can be found in our Grievance Wording section.

It is important for you to be an active participant in the grievance process and ensure that you provide all facts which would include a chronology of events (date(s) and detailed descriptions of the incident(s)) and any supporting documentation.

2. Contact the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC)

You should file a complaint within 12 months of the act or treatment that you are complaining about. There is no fee to file a complaint. The ways to file a complaint are:

Canadian Human Rights Commission

344 Slater Street, 8th Floor

Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1E1

You can download a Complaint Form on the CHRC website.

It is your responsibility to draft your own complaint, however, your local union representative can help. In order to file a complaint, the Canadian Human Rights Commission will need to know:

  • The specific ground(s) of discrimination (race, sex, disability, religion, etc.)
  • A detailed description of what happened (how were you discriminated against)
  • The negative effect this act or treatment has had on you.

An Intake Officer will conduct a preliminary screening to determine if you meet the criteria for filing a complaint (standing of the complainant, jurisdiction, ground, practice & timeliness). They aim to contact you within 20 days of having received your complaint. If your complaint is accepted, you will be notified and the CHRC will send a copy of your complaint to the Employer (the respondent).

At this point the Employer will most likely request that the CHRC take no further proceedings in the complaint pending the outcome of the grievance.

If the grievance procedure has resolved the problem to your satisfaction, you may ask the CHRC to withdraw the complaint. If the grievance remains unresolved in whole or in part, you may request that the CHRC proceed with the complaint. Such a request must be made within 30 days of being advised of a final decision with respect to the grievance. Otherwise, the CHRC may decide not to deal with the complaint for timeliness reasons.

There are several avenues available at the CHRC to resolve a complaint. You can find the different stages of the complaint process on the CHRC’s website.