What does it mean to experience discrimination?

The Ontario Human Rights Code says that everyone has the right to be treated equally and not be discriminated against:

  • at work
  • in housing
  • in a or professional group
  • by a provider, like a store employee, restaurant, or school

Employers, landlords, union representatives, and service providers aren't allowed to discriminate for reasons that are against human rights laws.

This means that, in most cases, you can't be treated differently based on personal differences listed in the Human Rights Code. These include your:

  • race, colour, or ethnic background
  • citizenship or the country you are from
  • religion
  • age
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • physical or mental , including an addiction
  • marital status (for example, married, divorced, single, or living common-law)

or because you:

  • are pregnant
  • have children
  • are caring for a relative

In most cases, employers, landlords, union representatives, and service providers have a duty to you unless they can prove .

Direct discrimination

Some can be very obvious. This is sometimes called direct discrimination.

Here are some examples:

  • An employer won't hire women who wish to start a family. This is discrimination based on sex and family status.
  • A landlord won't rent an apartment to a person because they prefer to rent to someone of their own ethnic background. This is discrimination based on ethnic background.

Indirect discrimination

This is discrimination that occurs through another person or organization. For example, a landlord hires a property manager and tells them not to rent to Indigenous tenants. The landlord is using the property manager to carry-out the discrimination. 

Constructive discrimination

Sometimes a rule or practice that is applied to everyone in the same way might affect one group of people differently and can lead to unequal treatment. This is called constructive discrimination. Here are some examples:

  • A building has stairs at its entrance and this is the only way to get in or out of the building. This can be discrimination against people who use wheelchairs and need a ramp instead of stairs.
  • An employer has a dress code or uniform that requires hats. This can be discrimination against people who wear hijabs, turbans, or other religious head coverings. 
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