Nov 28, 2017

New Ontario bill proposes new grounds of discrimination

Private member's bill aims to add 4 new grounds; province's human rights commission offers its support
By Alex Lemoine and Jacqueline Ferreira

On Oct. 4, 2017, Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers (Ottawa-Vanier) introduced a private-member's bill (Bill 164, Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2017), which is designed to expand upon the enumerated prohibited grounds under Ontario's Human Rights Code.

Bill 164, which was carried on its first reading, proposes four new grounds of discrimination under the code.

  • Immigration Status, which has been given the meaning of the "status according to Canadian immigration law"

  • Genetic Characteristics, which will include protection for individuals who refuse to undergo or disclose the results of a genetic test

  • Police Records, which will replace the current "record of offences" and will include charges and convictions, with or without a record suspension, and any police records, including records of a person’s contact with police

  • Social Condition, which is defined as any social or economic disadvantage resulting from: employment status, source or level of income, housing status, level of education, or any other similar circumstance.

Private member's bills do not always succeed in becoming law (and may be varied significantly if they do). However, if the proposed amendments were enacted, the impact on Ontario workplaces could be significant. If Bill 164 becomes law, employers will need to be prepared to re-evaluate their policies and practices. Readers should check back regularly as we will continue to monitor the status of Bill 164 and to provide updates as more clarity is gained with respect to its potential impact on the workplace.

As the code is remedial and protective legislation, its protections are given a large and liberal interpretation. As a result, the extent of these new grounds is not readily apparent. For example, application forms which question whether the applicant has been convicted of a criminal offence would seem, at first blush, to risk running afoul of the broad prohibition against discrimination on the basis of "police records."

Bill 164 supplements several of the current government initiatives aimed at addressing the negative effects of poverty, precarious work, unaffordable housing, police carding, and sex/gender-based violence. Although Bill 164 is in its early stages, it has received public support from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Alex Lemoine is an associate in the Employment and Labour Group with Stikeman Elliott in Toronto. He can be reached at (416) 869-5280 or alemoine@stikeman.com. Jacqueline Ferreira is an articling student at Stikeman Elliott in Toronto. She can be reached at (416) 869-5530 or jferreira@stikeman.com.