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4. Human rights organizational change: key terms

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Effective human rights organizational change requires a solid understanding of the legal and ethical requirements of human rights in Ontario, and the elements of effective organizational change.

4.1 Human rights

Human rights recognize the dignity and worth of everyone, and uphold the freedom and equality of each person. They apply to all individuals. Human rights values are established legally in Ontario through commitments made by Canada by signing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and in federal and provincial human rights legislation, such as the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code).

The Supreme Court of Canada has said that human rights legislation such as the Code is “quasi-constitutional.” You must comply with it before other laws, unless there is a specific exception. In terms of police activity, the Code supersedes the Police Services Act. When there is a conflict between the Code and the Police Services Act, the Code will prevail.

The Code applies to police organizations as employers of both civilians and officers, as providers of police services, and as contractors with businesses or purchasers of services. The Code also applies to unions and professional associations within police organizations, and to contracted services and service providers. The Code protects people from discrimination based on 15 grounds (see Table 1).

4.2 Grounds of the Code

Table 1: Human Rights Code grounds in Ontario

  • Race
  • Ancestry
  • Place of origin
  • Colour
  • Ethnic origin
  • Citizenship
  • Creed (religion)
  • Sex (includes pregnancy, gender identity and breastfeeding)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age (18 years or older)
  • Record of offences (only in employment)
  • Marital status
  • Family status
  • Disability (includes perceived disabilities and mental disabilities)
  • Receipt of public assistance (only in housing).

Serving With Pride fully supports Human rights and policing: Creating and sustaining organizational change. We feel this is a great step forward to ensure assistance is available for services in relation to human rights.

– PC Robert Dunford, Ontario Provincial Police, Secretary, Serving With Pride

4.3 Discrimination

The Code does not define discrimination, but tribunals and courts have stated that it includes:

  • not individually assessing a person’s unique merits, capacities and circumstances
  • making stereotypical assumptions based on a person’s presumed traits
  • excluding persons, denying benefits or imposing burdens.

The OHRC offers a plain language definition of discrimination as follows:

Discrimination is treating someone unfairly by either imposing a burden on them, or denying them a privilege, benefit or opportunity enjoyed by others, simply because of their race, citizenship, family status, disability, sex or other personal characteristics.

Many people think that discrimination does not happen if it was not intended, or if there are other factors that could explain a certain event. However, discrimination can take place without any intent to do harm. For instance, an organization could advertise employment opportunities by word of mouth. This could unfairly exclude certain people from employment opportunities and as such constitute discrimination, even if this was not the intention.

Discrimination takes many forms and may be direct or indirect. It can be based on perceived or real characteristics of individuals. Harassment is one type of direct discrimination that many can recognize. Profiling based on race or other grounds is another type of direct discrimination, whether intentional or not.

Systemic discrimination happens when rules, standards, practices or requirements appear to be neutral but, in fact, have a discriminatory impact on people identified by the Code. Systemic discrimination is often unconscious and built into an organization’s administrative structures. Organizations are often unaware of its presence. Human rights organizational change targets systemic discrimination. Organizations that design inclusive systems and explore ways of accommodating individuals are less likely to have systemic discrimination issues. Inclusive design signals to everyone that discrimination will not be tolerated.


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