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Count me in! Collecting human rights-based data

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Approved by the OHRC: November 26, 2009
Available in other accessible formats on request

1. Introduction

Many people think that collecting and analyzing data that identifies people on the basis of race, disability, sexual orientation and other Ontario Human Rights Code[1] (the Code) grounds is not allowed. But collecting data on Code grounds for a Code-consistent purpose is permitted, and is in accordance with Canada’s human rights legislative framework, including the Code, the Canadian Human Rights Act[2], the federal Employment Equity Act[3], and section 15(2) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms[4]. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (the OHRC) has found that data collection can play a useful and often essential role in creating strong human rights and human resources strategies for organizations in the public, private and non-profit sectors.

Code grounds

Ontario’s Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination based on the following grounds:

  • race
  • ancestry
  • place of origin
  • colour
  • ethnic origin
  • citizenship
  • creed (religion)
  • sex (includes gender identity, pregnancy and breastfeeding)
  • sexual orientation
  • age (18 years or more)
  • marital status
  • family status
  • disability
  • record of offences (only in employment)
  • receipt of public assistance (only in accommodation).

People are also protected from discrimination based on intersecting grounds, when they are associated with someone who identifies with a Code ground, or when they are perceived to be a member of a group identified by a Code ground.

Non-Code grounds

From the OHRC’s perspective, information can be gathered based on Code grounds and non-Code grounds (a category of data that is not listed as a Code ground), such as education. The main consideration is to make sure that any data collected is done in a way that follows accepted data collection techniques, privacy and other applicable legislation, and is collected for a purpose that is consistent with the Code. Examples could be to:

  • monitor and evaluate potential discrimination
  • identify and remove systemic barriers
  • lessen or prevent disadvantage
  • promote substantive equality for people identified by Code grounds.

Note: The sidebar examples and summaries found in Appendices A to F are largely based on in-depth interviews with representatives from organizations about their respective data collection experiences. The terminology used in these sections reflects the terminology used by each organization, and may not be consistent with terms the OHRC uses.

The OHRC interprets the term “data collection” broadly to include gathering information using both quantitative research methods such as surveys, and qualitative research methods such as focus groups.

The data collection experiences of the organizations featured in this guide show how regularly collecting, tracking and reporting data can help organizations to:

  • verify, monitor, measure and address gaps, trends, progress and perceptions
  • proactively identify opportunities for improvement and growth
  • attract, retain and motivate diverse, well-qualified people
  • improve the quality of decision-making, service delivery and programming
  • enhance perceptions of being progressive leaders in their sector or industry
  • achieve organizational goals and strategic objectives.

This guide is intended to be a practical resource for human resources professionals, human rights and equity advisors, managers and supervisors, unions, and any other people or groups considering a data collection project, or seeking support to do so. This guide may be particularly helpful to readers with little or no knowledge of data collection.

The guide will discuss the benefits of data collection, and will highlight key concepts and practical considerations for organizations thinking of gathering data on Code and non-Code grounds. Appendices A to F offer concrete examples of how non-profit, private and public-sector organizations have successfully developed and implemented data collection projects.

While this guide focuses mainly on collecting data in employment and services, the principles and approaches identified can also apply to other social areas where the Code prohibits discrimination – accommodation (housing), contracts, and membership in vocational associations (including trade unions).

Definitions used in this guide

Aboriginal peoples

A collective name for the original people of North America and their descendants.[5] According to Section 35(2) of The Constitution Act, 1982, Aboriginal peoples of Canada are identified as Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. They are recognized as three separate peoples with unique heritages, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.[6] The OHRC recognizes that there is no single or “correct” definition of Aboriginal populations. The choice of a definition depends on how the information will be used. Different definitions are used depending on who developed the definition and the focus and requirements of the user. Each question will yield Aboriginal populations with different counts and characteristics.[7]


Section 10 (1) of the Code defines “disability.” “Disability” should be interpreted in broad terms. It includes both present and past conditions, as well as a subjective component based on perception of disability. Although sections 10(a) to (e) of the Code set out various types of conditions, they are meant to be examples not an exhaustive list. Protection for persons with disabilities under this subsection explicitly includes mental illness, developmental and learning disabilities. Even minor illnesses can be “disabilities” if a person can show they were treated unfairly because of the perception of a disability.

At the same time, people with an ailment who cannot show they were treated unequally because of a perceived or actual disability will be unable to meet the test for discrimination. It will always be critical to look at why someone is being treated differently, to learn whether discrimination under the ground of disability has taken place.[8]


Diversity refers to the presence of a wide range of human qualities and characteristics. The dimensions of diversity may include (but are not limited to) ethnicity, race, colour, religion, age, gender and sexual orientation.[9]

Diversity initiatives

Diversity initiatives commonly refer to policies, programs and initiatives designed to promote representative diversity throughout organizations and communities. The OHRC sees measures like mentoring programs, human rights and equity training, anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-sexism and bilingualism policies as also being part of diversity initiatives. Such steps can promote diversity by attracting people from different backgrounds, abilities and orientations, and by fostering an organizational culture that is open, welcoming and that respects people with different backgrounds, abilities and orientations.

Employment equity

A program designed to identify and eliminate discriminatory policies and practices that act as barriers to fair employment. Networks, friendships and favouritism have shaped employment practices to exclude people who would otherwise merit the job. Employment equity promotes fair hiring and personnel practices to make sure that employees are hired for only one reason - their qualifications to do the job.[10]


The rights of people to have equal access to goods, services and opportunities in society. To ensure equality of opportunity, equity programs may treat some persons or groups differently when the situation in society precludes equal treatment.[11]

Human rights

For this guide, human rights refers to rights legally enshrined in international human rights conventions and Canada’s human rights laws, including the Canadian Human Rights Act, the federal Employment Equity Act, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, provincial human rights codes and, in particular, the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Special programs

Section 14 of the Code allows special programs in employment that would otherwise infringe the Code. Special programs help people who experience discrimination, economic hardship or disadvantage to achieve equality. Collecting data to monitor and evaluate special programs is allowed by the Code. Data can also be collected for special programs if the information is used to show that groups are under-represented or face other forms of hardship or disadvantage.

Visible minority

This term was adopted as a Statistics Canada departmental standard on July 15, 1998. It refers to whether or not a person, under criteria established by the Employment Equity Act, is non-Caucasian in race or non-White in colour. Under the Act, an Aboriginal person is not considered to be a visible minority.[12]

When collecting data, there are some benefits to using pre-determined categories, like those developed by Statistics Canada above. There are, however, challenges in finding ways to best describe people. Terminology is fluid and what is considered most appropriate will likely evolve over time. As well, people within a group may disagree on preference and may choose to use different terms to describe themselves. It is therefore useful to provide some general guidelines on terminology that the OHRC considers most inclusive at the present time. Using a broad category such as “racialized” could mask important differences between racialized groups, since racialized groups are not subject to exactly the same experiences, racial stereotypes and types of discrimination.[13] When it is necessary to describe people collectively, however, the term “racialized person” or “racialized group” is preferred over terms like “racial minority,” “visible minority,” “person of colour” or “non-White” as it expresses race as a social construct rather than as a description based on perceived biological traits. As well, these other terms treat “White” as the norm racialized persons are to be compared to, and have a tendency to group all racialized persons in one category, as if they are all the same.[14]

[1]Human Rights Code, S.O. 2006, c. 35.
[2]Canadian Human Rights Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. H-6. See section 16.
[3]Employment Equity Act, S.C. 1995, c. 44.
[4]Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, s.15(2), Part 1 of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (U.K.), 1982, c. 11.
[5] Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, Glossary, online:
[6] Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Aboriginal Place Names, online:
[7] Statistics Canada, How Statistics Canada Identifies Aboriginal Peoples, online:
[8] Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy and guidelines on disability and the duty to accommodate (2000), online:
[9]The Conference Board of Canada Report, The Value of Diverse Leadership Prepared for: DiverseCity: The Greater Toronto Leadership Project (2008), online: [Value of Diverse Leadership].
[10] Tina Lopez and Barb Thomas, “Dancing on Live Embers” (Between the Lines Press, Toronto, 2006) at 267. 
[12] Statistics Canada, Visible minority, online:
[13] S. Wortley, The Collection of Race-Based Statistics Within the Criminal Justice and Educational Systems: A Report for the Ontario Human Rights Commission (Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto) [unpublished], online:
[14] Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy and guidelines on racism and racial discrimination (2005), online:


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