Proposed amendments to Ontario’s Human Rights Code add new protected characteristics

Bill 164 seeks to protect workers and others from discrimination based on immigration status, genetic characteristics, police records, and social condition
By Ronald Minken
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 01/04/2018

On Oct. 2, 2017, Bill 164, Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2017, was introduced to Parliament. Bill 164 is a Private Member’s Bill brought by Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers, which seeks to amend the Ontario Human Rights Code to include immigration status, genetic characteristics, police records and social condition as prohibited grounds of discrimination.

In regards to employment, Bill 164 proposes changing the language of the code to:

"Employment

5 (1)  Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, immigration status, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, genetic characteristics, police records, social condition, marital status, family status or disability.

Harassment in Employment

(2)  Every person who is an employee has a right to freedom from harassment in the workplace by the employer or agent of the employer or by another employee because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, immigration status, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, genetic characteristics, police records, social condition, marital status, family status or disability. [emphasis added]"

Bill 164 defines immigration status as the “status according to Canadian immigration law.” Currently, the code only covers citizenship as a prohibited ground of discrimination.

The proposed prohibited ground of discrimination due to police records would include “charges and convictions, with or without a record suspension, and any police records, including records of a person’s contact with police.” The current prohibited ground of discrimination in the code is record of offences, which applies only to an “offence in respect of which a pardon has been granted under the Criminal Records Act and has not been revoked, or an offence in respect of any provincial enactment.” The potential ground of police records is much broader, encompassing people with both charges and convictions, without requiring a pardon.

The bill also defines the proposed ground of social condition as “social or economic disadvantage resulting from: (a)  employment status, (b)  source or level of income, (c)  housing status, including homelessness, (d)  level of education, or (e) any other circumstance similar to those mentioned in clauses (a), (b), (c) and (d).” This proposed ground would allow access to the code by many individuals that may not necessarily fall under the current categories.

Further, protection from genetic discrimination would mean “the right to equal treatment without discrimination because a person refuses to undergo a genetic test or refuses to disclose, or authorize the disclosure of, the results of a genetic test.”

If Bill 164 is passed, the protections afforded to Ontarians by the code will be expanded to include the four new categories of prohibited grounds of discrimination. Currently, the bill has passed its Second Reading and has been referred to the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills. Given the broad wording of the proposed language, it will be interesting to see whether the bill is passed, and if so, how the tribunal in the future interprets these new grounds of discrimination.

Ronald S. Minken is a senior lawyer and mediator at Minken Employment Lawyers, an employment law boutique in Markham, Ont. Ron gratefully acknowledges Aneesha Lewis for her assistance in preparation of this article. For more information please visit  www.MinkenEmploymentLawyers.ca.

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Comments (1)

Health and Safety Representative - Mike Laderoute01/9/2018 4:11:48 PMI agree with most of the changes, but the one that I have a massive problem with is the police or criminal record protection for being employed. That has such major implications in this time of workplace violence. There is no way to justify that particular clause.