Canada’s Code of Human Rights

1820 words (7 pages) Essay in Human Rights

30/07/19 Human Rights Reference this

Last modified: 30/07/19 Author: Law student

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  1. What are rights?

Rights are not earned and are not granted by courts and government, but rather are fought for and claimed by individuals and groups. Most often, these individuals and groups are those marginalized by society.  While rights are presumed as protective, claimed rights are often not enforced by government or courts.

From the course readings, “rights are claims for entitlements that have a basis in law and justice.” (Zubick, 2018, p. 1) The most important aspect in that definition is the word ‘claims’.  Individuals claim rights, as they are not given or granted by a government, society or court.  In fact, most often they are fought for and, then, claimed.  The people that are fighting to claim these rights are typically not in a position of power.  We can look to the fight for women’s rights in Canada as a notable example.  It was not until the 1900’s before women claimed the right to vote, and that was the result of a long, tough fight.  “The women’s suffrage movement was a decades-long struggle intended to address fundamental issues of equity and justice and to improve the lives of Canadians. Women in Canada met strong resistance as they struggled for basic human rights, including suffrage.” (Strong-Boag, 2016, p. 2)

After many years of fighting for rights, even after those rights are claimed, many can remain unenforced by government or the courts.  For example, women are protected against discrimination of age and gender under the Canadian Human Rights Act, yet there is still pay inequality between men and women across Canada. (McIntyre, 2018) This suggests that the definition of ‘rights’ might seem easy to answer on the surface and something that is afforded to all citizens, but in fact, is often not only fought for, but in most cases not even enforced by government or courts once acknowledged. 

2.  How does the current economic and political structure affect human rights?

The current economic and political structure affects human rights in a negative way, as those that are wealthy and powerful are the individuals that are most able to regularly influence elected officials and dictate the drafting of laws.  

The current economic and political structure is organized such that those who have money and power, continually hold the strings to those that are leading the government.  Those that do not, are often left out of the process and fail to have any measurable influence on the law-making process.  “Governments are caught between opposing claims.  Often when their sympathies clearly lie with one side or the other, they will look for a response that will provide some, but not all the claims being made on both sides.” (Zubick, 2018, p. 3) 

Only when the government and its leaders make an actual and honest effort to address inequality will the system truly change to have much more positive impacts on human rights, but this goal proves difficult as politicians are acutely aware that they run the risk of losing votes in any upcoming elections.

Thus, when citizens without wealth try to claim their rights, those that do have power and wealth will always oppose them. (Zubick, 2018, p. 3)  This suggests that the current economic systems and political structures still cater to those with money and power, which leads to weaker politicians and weaker laws.

3. What are the defining features of:

a.) the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

The defining features of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are Section 33 and that it is part of the constitution that governs the country.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of the Constitution, and the constitution rules the Country both federally and provincially.  This arguably makes it the most important law in Canada and continues to dictate Canadian culture. (Government of Canada, 2017)

A defining feature is the notwithstanding clause. The notwithstanding clause has the ability to override power, and allows the Federal government or provincial legislatures to override portions of the Charter. (Government of Canada, 2017) This clause has recently become part of discourse in Ontario and Canadian politics with the changes made by Premier Ford to the Municipality of Toronto. (Dawson, 2018) 

These features are most defining because not only do they show the Charter’s significance in Canadian culture and laws, but also its limitations. 

b.) the Ontario Human Rights Code?

The defining features of the Ontario Human Rights Code are the jurisdictions to which it applies and when various sections have been added to the Code. 

The Ontario Human Rights Code applies to the province of Ontario, municipalities and the private sector.  This is important to note because unlike the Charter, this includes the private sector and therefore, arguably, protects more individual rights. 

The Ontario Human Rights Code has been changed many times since its inception to reflect the realities of society.  For example, it was not until 1970 that the discrimination based on sex and marital status in employment was added.  This brings up an important point of effectiveness that has been challenged by many.  While the Code appears progressive, it has not eradicated discrimination. (Zubick, 2018, pp. 1-3)  As such, the Code appears to be more of a lofty goal for employers and the government then it is a rule of law for all.

4. What is the definition of:

a.) discrimination?

Discrimination “is about devaluing those who we identify as different or ‘other’” (Zubick, 2018, p. 2) People tend to choose their own personal preferences in any given situation. As an example,  if two people go for a job interview, one being an Asian Canadian and one being Caucasian Canadian.  Both candidates have the exact same credentials and they perform equally well in the interview, but the Asian Canadian candidate was chosen and the other is not.  The one not selected was not implicitly discriminated against by not being chosen as there could be a variety of non-discriminatory, intangible reasons for that choice.  However, it becomes discrimination if that employer continually chooses ethnic minorities over Caucasian candidates. 

Therefore, the “problem lies in constructing the differences as problematic, and in so doing, assigning lesser value to individuals and groups on the basis of distinctions.” (Zubick, 2018, p. 1) Thus, constructing differences and weaponizing those differences to create divisions is the definition of discrimination.

b.) harassment?

Harassment is a form of discrimination.  It is defined in the human rights code as,  “… engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome” (Zubick, 2018, p. 6)

Harassment can come in many different forms.  “It includes any unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that offends or humiliates you. Generally, harassment is a behaviour that persists over time. Serious one-time incidents can also sometimes be considered harassment.” (Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2018, p. 1) 

An example of harassment is when a colleague continually acknowledges and makes inappropriate comments regarding an individual’s physical appearance.  It may start one day by saying something about clothing, and progress over time to more serious matters.

Harassment in simplest terms is repeatedly unwanted advances or attacks on an individual.

5. What do you believe needs to change to close the gap between the reality of ongoing oppression and discrimination and the promises held out by our human rights laws?

To close the gap that exists between the reality of ongoing oppression and discrimination and the promises made by our human rights laws is a complex problem to solve. 

With greater dedication to the rights outlined in the Canadian Human Rights Code and by providing more resources and educational tools, this would be a good starting point in helping to close the gap between the reality of ongoing oppression and discrimination.

The other, more obvious, would be to have laws that reflect the social and economic needs and rights of those that it impacts the most.  Why not change the laws to be more aggressive and easier for people to understand and utilize to help protect themselves from discrimination? (Zubick, 2018, p. 1)

As outlined in previous questions, there are many reasons why laws are not more aggressive and reflect the people they are meant to protect. Those that are wealthy and powerful will continue to be wealthy and powerful, because as the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.   When politicians can finally vote with conscience and not with party lines or with the sole goal of getting re-elected, we will truly close the gap between the reality of ongoing oppression and discrimination. 


  • Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2018). About Human Rights. Retrieved from Canadian Human Rights Commission:
  • Dawson, T. (2018, September 12). Now that Doug Ford’s used the notwithstanding clause, will other premiers be less hesitant? Retrieved from National Post:
  • Government of Canada. (2017, October 24). Your Guide to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Retrieved from Government of Canada, Part I: An Overview of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
  • Government of Canada. (2017, October 24). Your Guide to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Retrieved from Government of Canada:
  • McIntyre, C. (2018, February 8). These are the key numbers that explain the wage gap for women. Retrieved from Macleans:
  • Strong-Boag, V. (2016, August 25). Women’s Suffrage in Canada. Retrieved from The Canadian Encyclopedia:
  • Zubick, J. (2018). Canada’s Past. Retrieved from Module 1: CPPA 125: Rights, Equity and the State:
  • Zubick, J. (2018). Key Legal Concepts. Retrieved from Module 1: CPPA 125: Rights, Equity and the State:
  • Zubick, J. (2018). The Ontario Human Rights Code. Retrieved from Module 1: CPPA 125: Rights, Equity and the State:
  • Zubick, J. (2018). What are rights? Retrieved from Module 1: CPPA 125: Rights, Equity and the State:
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