Families in Ontario today are increasingly diverse. Almost one quarter of families with children are now lone-parent families, in most cases headed by women. As divorce has become more common, so have blended and dual-custody families. There has been more recognition of families lead by lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered (LGBT) persons. With Ontario’s growing cultural diversity has come a wider range of definitions of family, often including increased emphasis on extended family networks.
The Ontario Human Rights Code extends some protection to familial relationships through the ground of marital and family status. The Code defines “family status” as including “the status of being in a parent and child relationship”.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has interpreted the ground of family status as protecting a range of families and familial relationships from discrimination. It protects parents from being discriminated against because they have children; it also protects adult children who experience discrimination because they are caring for their aging parents. It protects non-biological parent and child relationships, such as those formed through adoption, fostering, and step-parenting, as well as lone parent families, and those headed by LGBT persons.
The ground does not, however, cover the full range of relationships that most would consider familial, including relationships with siblings or with members of the extended family, such as grandparents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. It excludes the kind of “chosen families” often adopted by LGBT persons, as well as the diverse support networks developed by persons with disabilities. Persons who experience discrimination because of these relationships do not have protection under the ground of family status.
Following its public consultation on discrimination based on family status, the Commission concluded that the Code definition of family status excludes many important familial relationships, and has a negative impact on a number of groups protected by the Code, including persons with disabilities, Aboriginal, newcomer and racialized families, and LGBT persons. The Commission concluded that the Code should be amended to protect a broader range of relationships, that is more reflective of current family and caregiving relationships in Ontario.