Human Rights in Canada

Legal Services


Human rights are a central part of Canadian law.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects human rights in Canada. The Charter is law and is part of the Canadian constitution.

Because the Charter is part of the constitution, the federal government cannot easily make changes to it. It is also stronger than any laws the provinces or territories create.

The Charter guarantees certain freedoms for everyone in Canadian society:

  1. freedom of conscience and religion
  2. freedom of thought, belief and expression, including freedom of the press and other media
  3. freedom of peaceful assembly (e.g. protest)
  4. freedom of association (e.g. membership in a union)

These freedoms are called fundamental freedoms because they are the basic freedoms that people in Canada share.

The Charter does allow for the restriction of these freedoms under certain circumstances. For example, Parliament might temporarily restrict freedom of assembly in a time of war.

The Charter also guarantees the equality of all persons before and under the law. It is against the Charter to discriminate based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

The Charter does allow differential treatment if it helps a disadvantaged group achieve equality.

The Charter also states that it should always be interpreted in a way that helps preserve and enhance the multicultural heritage of Canadians.

People have used the Charter to introduce human rights improvements to provincial laws, most recently in acknowledging the rights of same-sex couples. In this way, the Charter helps other parts of Canadian law evolve and respond to changes in Canadian society.

Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC)

The Canadian Human Rights Commission enforces the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Act protects people from discrimination by the following service providers:

  1. airlines
  2. buses and railways that serve more than one province
  3. Canada Post Corporation
  4. chartered banks
  5. federal departments, agencies and crown corporations (companies owned by government)
  6. interprovincial communications and telephone companies
  7. television and radio stations
  8. other federally regulated industries

If you suffer discrimination in dealing with any of the federally regulated organizations listed above, you should contact the Canadian Human Rights Commission and they can tell you how to file a complaint.

If the CHRC cannot resolve a complaint, it will refer the case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT). The CHRT operates as a less formal version of a court and only hears cases related to discrimination. Although the tribunal does have the power to impose fines, the tribunal focuses on restoring whatever was lost by the victim (e.g. a job, financial gain) and ensuring that the discrimination stops.

For more information:

  1. Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - A Guide - includes a plain-language overview of the Charter and individual descriptions of each section. A publication of the Human Rights Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage.
  2. Canadian Human Rights Act - A Guide - this guide was produced by the Canadian Human Rights Commission. It can help people understand the way the Canadian Human Rights Act protects them from discrimination. It also explains the role of the Commission and provides an introduction to the complaints process.
  3. Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) - the CHRC was established in 1978 to promote equality in Canadian society, and to address inequality where it exists. The CHRC site provides links to related legislation and to CHRC publications.
  4. Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) - a tribunal that hears cases of discrimination that are referred to it by the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The CHRT is a less formal version of a court and only hears cases that fall under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Web site includes frequently asked questions, information on cases and decisions, and a brochure on the mediation services available from the CHRT.
  5. Canadian Race Relations Foundation - the foundation was created by the federal government. It identifies and combats racism in Canadian society. The Web site includes publications on racism in the justice system and on legalized racism.
  6. Fundamentals of our Fundamental Freedoms - this booklet examines the way various freedoms are exercised in a democratic society. It focuses on the way freedoms conflict in a democracy and on the way citizens resolve these conflicts. Produced as part of the public education program of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association
  7. Human Rights and the Canadian Human Rights Commission - looks at the protection Canadians receive from the Canadian Human Rights Act. It also explains the role of the Commission in promoting equality and fighting discrimination. Produced by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
  8. International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development - this centre was created by Parliament to represent Canada's commitment to human rights and democratic development internationally. Information about the centre's advocacy work and some of the centre's publications are available online.
  9. Multilingual Information Sheets from the Canadian Human Rights Commission - these fact sheets define discrimination, list grounds for action and identify the role of the Commission. In Adobe Acrobat format (216K).

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