Housing and Human Rights in Canada

All jurisdictions in Canada provide for some protection from discrimination in the social area of housing.[53] Harassment is not explicitly addressed in all cases,[54] but may be dealt with as a form of discrimination. Please refer to the comparative chart in Appendix B, which outlines the scope of housing protections by jurisdiction.

Some human rights commissions have produced public documents addressing housing protections in more detail. Both Manitoba and New Brunswick have developed guidelines relating to housing.[55] Quebec has produced an on-line information sheet to advise housing seekers about steps to take when seeking housing, or if they are denied housing for what they believe to be discriminatory reasons.[56] The B.C Human Rights Coalition, a community-based non-governmental organization, has also developed a document outlining the scope of protections offered in British Columbia, including a section addressing rights relating to tenancy.[57]

Human rights legislation in many jurisdictions includes a general statement indicating that there may be exceptions to housing (and other) protections relating to special programs or bona fide qualifications. In addition, there are a number of explicit exceptions relating to housing protections in Canadian jurisdictions. Many of these exceptions relate to specific grounds. Some jurisdictions provide for exceptions relating to sex: a few, like Ontario, provide for exceptions where all occupants of a building are of the same sex, aside from the owner, owner’s family, or an agent of the owner.[58] Others allow for sex-related exceptions where it is a “reasonable criterion”[59] or seen to be related to privacy or decency[60] in accommodation.[61] Two jurisdictions specify that owners may give preference to members of their families: of these, the Northwest Territories further allows preference on the basis of family affiliation.[62]

There are also age-based exceptions: for example, Alberta excludes age from housing protections altogether, while in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland, exceptions allow for housing geared toward persons 55 years of age and older.[63] In New Brunswick, there are exceptions relating to those under the age of majority, if such discrimination is required by other legislation and regulations.[64] British Columbia provides explicit exceptions relating to housing geared toward persons with physical and mental disability, if it is designed to accommodate their needs.[65]

Most jurisdictions provide for exceptions to anti-discrimination protections in housing based on shared facilities. Some jurisdictions allow exceptions for choice of tenant by those who will share the residence: legislation refers variously to choice of roomers or boarders by occupants,[66] accommodation in a private residence,[67] or shared cooking, washroom, or sleeping facilities.[68] Nova Scotia and Quebec provide similar but more limited exceptions, applicable where only one room in a private house is rented, the rest of the house is occupied by the landlord, and the room is not advertised in any way.[69] In some cases, shared-facilities exceptions are not explicit, but result from the definition of housing protections as relating specifically to self-contained units,[70] or to self-contained units that are advertised in any way.[71]

Some jurisdictions also provide for exceptions relating to tenants of a duplex or other two-unit dwelling, if the owner and/or owner’s family resides in the non-rented unit.[72] In Saskatchewan, an owner who resides on a property may discriminate on the basis of sex or sexual orientation if the accommodation is made up of no more than two units.[73]


[53] For a detailed discussion of housing protections under the Ontario Human Rights Code, please see the section of this Paper entitled Rental Housing and the Ontario Human Rights Code.
[54] Legislation in Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan does not provide explicit harassment provisions. Nova Scotia’s legislation addresses sexual harassment, but does not explicitly address harassment relating to other grounds.
[55] Manitoba Human Rights Commission, Housing Guidelines (1998), online: <http://www.gov.mb.ca/hrc/english/publications/housing.html>; and New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, Guideline on Discrimination in the Housing Sector (2004), online: <http://www.gnb.ca/hrc-cdp/e/Guideline-on-Housing-Discrimination.pdf>.
[56] See <http://142.213.87.17/en/human-rights/housing.asp?noeud1=1&noeud2=3&cle=5> (date accessed January 8, 2007).
[57] B.C. Human Rights Coalition, Human Rights: Your Rights to Know (September 2003), online: <http://www.bchrcoalition.org>.
[58] The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, S.S. 1979 c. S-24.1, s. 11(2); Prince Edward Island Human Rights Act, R.S.P.E.I. 1998, c. H-12, s. 3(2).
[59] Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Code, R.S.N.L. 1990, c. H-14, s. 6(3)(c).
[60] Yukon Human Rights Act. R.S.Y. 2002, c. 116, s. 10(c); British Columbia Human Rights Code, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 210, s. 8(2)(a).
[61] In British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, “accommodation” is addressed, along with services and facilities, in a separate social area from other housing-related protections, where these exceptions do not apply (“tenancy” in British Columbia, and the right to occupy “dwelling units” in Newfoundland).
[62] Yukon Human Rights Act, supra note 60 at s. 11(2); and the Northwest Territories Human Rights Act , S.N.W.T. 2002, c. 18, s. 12(3).
[63] British Columbia Human Rights Code, supra note 60 at s. 10 (2)(b)(i), and The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, supra note 58 at s. 11(4) allow for exceptions relating to age, while Newfoundland’s exceptions relate to age and family status; Human Rights Code, supra note 59 at s. 7(4).
[64]Human Rights Code, R.S.N.B.A. 1985, c. 30, s. 4(5).
[65] British Columbia Human Rights Code, supra note 60 at s. 10(2)(c).
[66] Yukon Human Rights Act, supra note 60 at s. 11(3)(b); Nunavut Human Rights Act, S.Nu. 2003, c. 12, s. 13(2)(b); Manitoba Human Rights Code, C.C.S.M. 1987, c. H175, s. 16(2)(a).
[67] Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Code, supra note 59 at s. 6(3)(b).
[68] British Columbia Human Rights Code, supra note 60 at s. 10(2); The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, supra note 58 at s. 2(1)(i).
[69] Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, R.S.N.S. 1989, c. 214, s. 6(b); and Quebec Charter of human rights and freedoms, R.S.Q., c. C-12 , s. 14.
[70] Prince Edward Island Human Rights Act, supra note 58 at s. 3.
[71] Alberta’s Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act, R.S.A. 1980, c. H-14, s. 5(a); and the Northwest Territories Human Rights Act, supra note 62 at s. 12(1)(a).
[72] Nunavut Human Rights Act, supra note 66 at s. 13(2)(a); Manitoba Human Rights Code, supra note 66 at s. 16(2)(b).
[73]Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, supra note 58 at s. 11(3).