Ontario Human Rights Code

Human rights affect everyone, protect everyone, and apply to everyone. Human rights are everyone’s responsibility. In Ontario, we have the Human Rights Code.

The Code
We refer to Ontario’s Human Rights Code as “the Code”.
In 1962,
The Code became first human rights law in Canada.

The Code recognizes that we are all entitled to equal rights and opportunities without discrimination or harassment based on 17 protected grounds, known as "Code grounds".

17 Protected Code Grounds

Age is defined as being 18 years or older, or 16 years or older in housing if you have withdrawn from parental control.

The term 'ageism' refers to two concepts:

1. A socially constructed way of thinking about older persons based on negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging; and

2. The tendency to structure society based on an assumption that everyone is young, thereby failing to respond appropriately to the needs of older persons.

Ancestry refers the lineage from whom a person is descended. A person's ancestry may originate from more than one cultural group. It is determined through the lineage of our parents through their parents, and so on.

Citizenship is defined as being a member of a particular country and having rights because of such membership.

People can either be Canadian citizens “by birth” or “by naturalization” (i.e., immigrated to Canada and has become a Canadian citizen). Canadian born and naturalized citizens are equally entitled to the rights of a citizen, and subject to the duties of a citizen.

Colour refers to skin colour of a person, and is usually associated with race.

Creed refers to religious beliefs or faith practices.

It may also include non-religious belief systems that substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life. Creed protections are based on a person's sincerely held and personal understanding of their creed. A person does not need to show that their belief is an essential element of their creed, or that it is recognized by others of the same creed.

Creed does not include secular, moral or ethical beliefs or political convictions. It also does not include religions that incite hatred or violence against other individuals or groups.

Disability refers to the interaction between persons with a health condition and barriers within society. Barriers to accessibility include attitudinal, physical and communication barriers.

A disability may be present at birth, caused by an accident, or developed over time. Disability can also be permanent, temporary, situational or episodic. Disability should be understood as diverse abilities or different ways in which a person experiences the world.

Ethnic origin includes a wide range of social, cultural or religious practices drawn from a common heritage or a shared historical past. A person's ethnic origin encompasses a wider range of characteristics than their ancestry.

Family status refers to a parent-child relationship. Employers cannot discriminate in the workplace against an employee who is caring for a child or parent.

Gender expression is how a person publicly presents their gender. This can include behaviour and outward appearance such as dress, hair, make-up, body language and voice. A person’s chosen name and pronoun are also ways of expressing gender.

Gender identity is each person’s individual sense of self as it relates to being a female, male, both, neither (gender non-conforming), or anywhere along the gender spectrum. A person’s gender identity can be separate and distinct from their biological sex.

Marital status is defined as the status of being single, married, separated, divorced, widowed and cohabitating (a couple who are living together but are unmarried).This includes same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.

Place or origin refers to the country or region where a person was born. A person’s place of origin is often related to other Code grounds such as ethnic origin or race.

Race is a socially constructed way of categorizing people with common ancestry and shared physical characteristics, such as skin tone, facial features, eye shape, hair colour or texture.

'Racial discrimination' is legally prohibited under the Code and involves negative treatment of a person based on their race. Racial discrimination is different than racism.

'Racism' is a broader term that refers to negative attitudes and beliefs about people based on race, ancestry and/or ethnicity. Racism is connected to power and the ability to act on personal beliefs or formal policies that directly or indirectly favour one race over another.

Receipt of public assistance refers only to the social area of housing*. It is the rights of tenants to receive assistance from public programs and services such as Ontario Works (OW), Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), Old Age Security (OAS), etc.

Housing is a human right. Landlords are responsible for ensuring that housing environments are free from discrimination and harassment.

*Note: This Code ground does not apply to YRDSB and is included as general information.

Record of offences refers only to the social area of employment*. Employment decisions cannot be based on whether an employee or applicant has been convicted of a provincial offences or pardoned for a federal offences. This provision applies to convictions only, and not to situations where only charges have been laid.

*Note: This Code ground does not apply to YRDSB and is included as general information.

Sex is related to a person’s biological sex (male or female). It also includes a broader notion of 'gender'.

This Code ground protects a person from sexual harassment and/or discrimination that is sexual in nature, or because of pregnancy. This includes the right to breastfeed in public areas or in the workplace.

Sexual orientation is a personal characteristic that forms part of each individual. It covers the range of human sexuality including lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, two-spirited and questioning orientations, among others. Sexual orientation is different from Code ground of gender identity.

The terms 'homophobia' and 'heterosexism' are used to describe prejudice relating to sexual orientation. They refer to the assumption that heterosexuality is superior and the normal or moral expression of sexuality.


A person may experience discrimination based on multiple Code grounds at the same time. This is known as "intersectionality", and is the understanding that we can experience discrimination and adverse impact based on multiple social identities that overlap or intersect.

Five Protected Social Areas

The Code grounds must fall within one of five social areas in order to prove discrimination under the Code.

Every person has the right to receive goods, services, or use facilities without discrimination based on any Code ground. YRDSB is considered an educational service under the Code.

This social area also includes the following goods, services and facilities:

  • public, private and not-for profit businesses,
  • hospitals and health services,
  • public places such as malls, parks, recreation centres and public washrooms,
  • stores, restaurants and bars,
  • schools, universities and colleges, and
  • other services and programs provided by municipal and provincial governments, including public transit and policing

Every person has the right to equal treatment in housing without discrimination based on any Code ground. This relates to buying, selling, renting or leasing any form of accommodation including apartments, condominiums, houses, or even hotels.

The right to housing without discrimination also includes access to common areas (e.g., laundry rooms, swimming pools) as well as repairs and maintenance.

Every person has the right to enter into a contract on equal terms without discrimination based on any Code ground. A contract is a legal written or verbal agreement. The Code applies to all types of contracts (e.g., related to housing, business or employment).

Every person has the right to equal treatment in employment without discrimination based on any Code ground. Employment is used very broadly in the Code and applies to employees, independent contractors, and volunteers.

The right employment without discrimination relates to recruitment, redeployment (transfers), promotions and termination. It also includes the application process for potential employees.

Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to membership in any union, vocational or other professional association without discrimination based on any Code ground. This applies to union membership for employee, employer and/or manager groups.

Key Features of the Code

Three key features about the Code are that it has “primacy”, it is “remedial”, and it consider “effect not intent”.

Primacy means that if there is a conflict between the Code and another Ontario law, the Code would prevail unless there is a specific exemption.

For example, the Code, the AODA and the Education Act are separate provincial laws. However, when there is a conflict, the Code has a higher status than the AODA and the Education Act.

The Code is remedial. This means it is meant to fix or remedy the situation for the person or group who has been discriminated against, and also prevent any further discrimination.

The Code is not meant to punish the individual or group that has discriminated. The Code promotes educating or working with organizations to make positive changes.

The Code considers the effect of the action that discriminates or harasses, not the intent of the action.

The focus is on the adverse impact experienced by a person, and not on whether the action and adverse impact was on purpose or intentional.