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New process launched to help reconcile competing human rights

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April 25, 2012

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For immediate publication

Toronto – The Ontario Human Rights Commission today launches a new Policy on competing human rights. The policy is designed to help organizations and individuals deal with everyday situations of competing rights, and try to avoid the time and expense of bringing a legal challenge before a court or human rights tribunal.

Conflicts sometimes arise when an individual or group tries to enjoy or exercise a legally-protected right that conflicts with another’s human right. For example, how do you resolve a situation where a marriage commissioner refuses to perform a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple because it is contrary to her religious beliefs? Or where a woman wants to testify at a criminal trial wearing a niqab but the accused argues that this would interfere with his Charter right to make a full defence? Or, where a professor’s guide dog could cause a student to have a severe allergic reaction?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Ontario Human Rights Code and the courts state that no right is absolute and no one right is more important than another. The law also recognizes that rights have limits in some situations where they substantially interfere with the rights of others. The Charter and the Code require we give all rights equal consideration, on a case-by-case basis.

“Reconciling human rights can be extremely challenging,” commented Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall. “Searching for solutions can be controversial and sometimes dissatisfying to one side or the other. But it is a shared responsibility made easier when we try to understand each other’s rights and obligations and demonstrate mutual respect during the process.”

“York University is honoured to host the launch of this policy because as a university with a large and diverse community, we are committed to fostering an environment that adheres to the fundamental principles of human dignity through understanding and respect of differences,” said Noël Badiou, Director of York’s Centre for Human Rights. “The policy promotes the importance of constructive dialogue and provides step-by-step guidance to help organizations address challenging situations in which human rights appear to be in conflict.”


The OHRC has taken a number of steps over the years to advance understanding of competing human rights issues, including:

  • Releasing a research paper, Balancing Conflicting Rights: Towards an analytical framework in 2005.
  • Conducting an extensive literature review in 2007-08.
  • Partnering with York University and holding a policy dialogue on competing human rights in March 2010.
  • Testing a process for addressing competing rights at a workshop held in December 2010.
  • Developing an extensive case-law review in 2011, The Shadow of the Law: Surveying the case-law dealing with competing rights claims.
  • Intervening in relevant legal cases to propose a framework to help courts examine competing human rights questions.


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Afroze Edwards
Sr. Communications Officer
Communications and Issues Management
(416) 314-4528