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International and domestic human rights framework

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Our international, national and provincial / territorial framework for human rights obligations in Canada provides a solid foundation for a Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination.


Among the goals stated in the Charter of the United Nations (1945) is to “achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion” (article 1.3).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) stipulates that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (article 1) and that “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” (article 2).

The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1963) specifies that “discrimination between human beings on the ground of race, colour or ethnic origin is an offence to human dignity and shall be condemned as a denial of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, as a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations among nations and as a fact capable of disturbing peace and security among peoples” (article 1).

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) specifies that:

“Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” (article 2.1);

“Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law” (article 20.2); and
“All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” (article 26).

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) similarly contains provisions that prohibit any form of discrimination, notably discrimination related to race, colour or national/ethnic origin.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1975) defines racial discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life” (article 1), affirms that, among other things, “any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous” and requires states to “pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and promoting understanding among all races,” and in particular to “engage in no act or practice of racial discrimination against persons, groups of persons or institutions and to ensure that all public authorities and public institutions, national and local, shall act in conformity with this obligation” and to “prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means, including legislation as required by circumstances, racial discrimination by any persons, group or organization.”

The case law of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in terms of both individual communications and final observations toward the periodic reports from states, is consistent in its fight against discrimination.

The Declaration and the Programme of Action released by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban in September 2001, appeals to the responsibility of various levels of state governments (federal and local) to combat racism and acknowledges that “the fundamental role of civil society in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, in particular in assisting States to develop regulations and strategies, in taking measures and action against such forms of discrimination and through follow-up implementation” (par. 116 of the Declaration).

The reports of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental liberties of Aboriginal peoples, which denounce and document numerous situations of racism and discrimination, are also relevant.


The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms stipulates: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability” (section 15.1).

Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, “all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.”

The Citizenship Act provides that all Canadians, whether by birth or by choice, enjoy equal status, are entitled to the same rights, powers and privileges and are subject to the same obligations, duties, and liabilities.

The Canadian Multiculturalism Act provides that the “Government of Canada recognizes the diversity of Canadians as regards race, national or ethnic origin, colour and religion as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society and is committed to a policy of multiculturalism designed to preserve and enhance the multicultural heritage of Canadians while working to achieve the equality of all Canadians in the economic, social, cultural and political life of Canada,” (Preamble), affirms that multiculturalism “reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage” (section 3(1)(a)) and that it represents “a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada’s future” (section 3(1)(b)).

The recent Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism encapsulates a six-point approach:

  1. Assist victims and groups vulnerable to racism and related forms of discrimination
  2. Develop forward-looking approaches to promote diversity and combat racism
  3. Strengthen the role of civil society
  4. Strengthen regional and international cooperation
  5. Educate children and youth on diversity and anti-racism
  6. Counter hate and bias

Under this plan, a number of departments (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Canadian Heritage, the National Secretariat on Homelessness, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Infrastructure Canada) are working with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to explore diversity and immigration needs in urban policy-making and cooperation with civil society through an initiative called “Our Diverse Cities.”

The Urban Aboriginal Strategy, introduced in 1998 under the aegis of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, addresses, in partnership with stakeholders, the serious socio-economic needs of urban Aboriginal people and the need to improve policy development and program coordination at the federal and provincial level to reduce the level of disparity that urban Aboriginal people currently face, and to offer them better government programs that meet their local needs and priorities.

Provincial / Territorial

Provincial and territorial human rights codes are premised on the principle that all human beings are equal in worth and dignity, and are entitled to equal protection of the law, as well as that every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his or her human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on some or all of the following grounds: race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origin, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil, marital or family status, age, religion, political belief, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, or disability. Discrimination exists where such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impairing such rights, and human rights codes prohibit discrimination and harassment.

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