On October 4, 2017 Bill 164, The Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2017 was introduced into the Ontario Legislative Assembly and passed First Reading the same day. If enacted, it would expand the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) to include immigration status; genetic characteristics; police records; and social conditions. These new grounds would be in addition to the prohibited grounds already covered in the Code, with one notable exception, as explained below.
Bill 164 is a private member’s bill brought by Nathalie Des Rosiers, Liberal MPP for Ottawa – Vanier. She stated that she introduced it to ensure that the Code “counters new forms of discrimination that some Ontarians face” and empowers the Human Rights Commission “to ensure a more equal society, free of all forms of discrimination.”
What does this mean for employers and employees? Private members’ bills do not always make it through the legislative process. However, if the proposed amendments in Bill 164 were eventually enacted, all employees would be guaranteed equal treatment in employment without discrimination and free from workplace harassment based not only on the existing grounds, but also on their immigration status, genetic characteristics, police records and social conditions.
The right to equal treatment without discrimination because of “genetic characteristics” would include equal treatment where a person refuses to undergo a genetic test, disclose the test’s results, or authorize the disclosure of the test’s results.
The new ground of “social conditions” is defined broadly to mean social or economic disadvantage from (a) employment status; (b) source or level of income; (c) housing status, including homelessness; (d) level of education, or “any other circumstance similar to those mentioned in clauses (a), (b), (c) and (d). Ontario would not be the first Canadian jurisdiction to recognize social condition as a protected ground, however. Human rights legislation in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Northwest Territories all recognize social condition or social origin.
Bill 164 also defines “police records” expansively, to include charges and convictions, with or without a record suspension, and any police records including those of a person’s contact with police. This new ground would replace the present “record of offences” in the Code, which is more narrowly interpreted.
“Immigration status” is simply defined as status according to Canadian immigration law and would supplement the current protected ground of “citizenship”.
We will continue to monitor and report on the progress of Bill 164. Stay tuned.
Written in collaboration with Justine Smith, articling student.