Language selector

Actions consistent with a human rights-based approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic

Page controls

Page content


This document sets out various actions that governments can take that are broadly consistent with a human rights-based approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic. These actions are neither comprehensive nor exhaustive. Instead, they are a compilation of possible responses that are consistent with Canada and Ontario’s human rights obligations.

These actions are drawn from Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) policies, engagement with OHRC Advisory Group members, Indigenous peoples, as well as a review of guidance from the United Nations, the European Union and leading international and Canadian human rights organizations.

This document is meant to be read together with the OHRC’s Policy statement on a human rights-based approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy statement sets out principles that provide guidance to decision-makers across a range of potential policy, legal, regulatory and enforcement-related responses. The actions below are consistent with these principles.


  1. Approach preventing and treating COVID-19 as a human rights obligation

    1. Provide all healthcare services related to COVID-19, including testing, triaging, treatment and possible vaccination, without stigma or discrimination based on the grounds of Indigenous ancestry, race, ethnic origin, place of origin, citizenship status, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, social condition, etc.
    2. Make sure healthcare systems have the resources, personnel and equipment necessary to provide equitable, non-discriminatory services to all communities and vulnerable groups, including Indigenous and racialized communities whose healthcare needs have been impoverished and neglected in the past.
    3. Provide funding and resources to support community health and mental health, with a priority focus on vulnerable groups to counter the health impacts of physical distancing, isolation, quarantine and other restrictive measures.
    4. Take steps to mitigate potential impacts on rights that are interdependent with the rights to health and life (as outlined below).


Right to an adequate standard of living (food, clothing)
  1. Take steps to ensure the right to adequate social security by providing financial assistance that prioritizes vulnerable groups, low-income households and caregivers.
  2. Implement a guaranteed universal basic income to allow people to protect their health and secure housing and food during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, and again during any future emergency.
  3. Ensure the availability and affordability of food and other critical household goods such as soap and sanitary products, especially for vulnerable groups.
  4. Make sure public transportation services offer sufficient service and implement measures to reduce overcrowding, allowing for safe physical distances between people.
Right to work
  1. Ensure the right to just and favourable working conditions for all workers by strengthening employment standards related to terminations, layoff provisions, leave benefits and unemployment insurance, especially and including for workers who must self-isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19.
  2. Provide employers with financial assistance to mitigate business reductions and closures and other economic impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on impoverished communities, vulnerable groups and precarious employment.
  3. Given ongoing gender-based discrimination, less than average earnings and disproportionate burden of family care, take steps to support women who may be forced out of the labour force to fulfill caregiving responsibilities.
  4. Make sure that measures designed to assist workers affected by the pandemic also assist workers in informal work and service industries, who are predominantly women.
  5. Adopt special measures to locate and assist foreign-temporary workers to prevent abusive labour conditions and provide assistance relating to management of COVID-19.
Right to housing
  1. Take steps to prevent the discriminatory treatment of residents who have, are perceived to have, or are associated with persons who have COVID-19, where such treatment is not consistent with public health guidance.
  2. Provide greater protection for renters’ and owners’ security, including relief, reductions or deferrals on rent, condo fees, utilities, property taxes and mortgages; and maintain these protections for a reasonable time after the pandemic.
  3. Provide further protection for, and set a moratorium on, evictions, particularly for low-income families and families with children, elderly or disabled members. Protect persons living in rooming houses who are not covered by eviction protections or suspensions.
  4. Make available vacant short- and long-term units for persons who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
  5. Purchase or reallocate distressed assets and other buildings to be used as public housing to address immediate short- and longer-term – including post pandemic – needs of people who are experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of becoming homeless.
  6. Take steps to limit transmission of COVID-19 in emergency shelters, migrant worker bunkhouses and other forms of group living, including providing access to frequent hand washing with soap and implementing physical distancing or isolation.
  7. Provide supports and avoid criminalizing vulnerable people who cannot self-isolate due to housing or living situation (e.g. people experiencing homelessness, women and youth living in abusive homes).
  8. At all levels of government, legislate and implement the right to housing, with a particular focus on housing for Indigenous peoples both in urban areas and on First Nations reserves.
Right to education
  1. Provide all students who are required to stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic with equitable and flexible distance learning options through the Internet or other means, in a way that supports and does not aggravate the already deep educational inequalities that exist for vulnerable groups.
  2. Where education is provided through the Internet, ensure access to reliable and affordable Internet services, especially for vulnerable groups, Indigenous peoples, and people in remote communities.
  3. Adopt strategies to support all students during school closures, with a focus on students at risk of dropping out and students with disabilities.
  4. Make sure that online learning tools incorporate appropriate safeguards to protect children’s rights and privacy.


  1. Respect the rights of First Nations, Métis and Inuit (Indigenous) peoples

    1. Recognize that the impact of COVID-19 will be exacerbated by the ongoing negative impact of colonialism on Indigenous communities and will have a unique, intersectional impact on Indigenous women and children, people with disabilities, people with addictions and older persons.
    2. Take extra steps and provide funding to protect Indigenous peoples’ health and human rights across the full range of social service sectors.
    3. Make sure Indigenous and other remote communities have immediate access to clean water.
    4. In cooperation with Indigenous peoples, provide assistance to repatriate Indigenous individuals who wish to return to their home communities who are homeless, released from incarceration or other institutional residences and/or are otherwise vulnerable.


  1. Set strict limits on measures that infringe rights

Right to privacy
  1. In terms of personal health information:
    • Limit any tracking or surveillance to anonymized tracking for epidemiological purposes only, and make it as transparent and time-limited as possible
    • Put measures in place to govern who receives information, for what purposes, and with what oversight; and specify how breaches will be remedied
    • Make sure that patient confidentiality is protected even as authorities take steps to identify people who may have been exposed to the virus
    • Require organizations to establish policies on how they will use data gathered in connection with COVID-19 and respect human rights and privacy
    • Support Indigenous communities to develop protocols for the handling, use and ownership of their personal health information.


  1. Protect vulnerable groups

Access to information
  1. Make sure all communities, including vulnerable groups, have timely access to vital public health and other important information related to COVID-19 in various languages and accessible formats.
  2. Ensure access to reliable and affordable Internet services, especially for vulnerable groups including Indigenous peoples and people living in remote communities.
  3. Undertake social media campaigns to inform the public that everyone has the right to access health care without discrimination, and dispel myths and stereotypes about vulnerable groups and COVID-19.


Women and children

  1. Undertake public awareness campaigns to address how survivors of gender-based violence and child abuse can access services.
  2. Ensure that services are available to all survivors of domestic violence, including people living in areas under movement restrictions or under quarantine due to COVID-19.
  3. Implement the recommendations in Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
  4. Closely monitor the impact of COVID-19 on pregnant women.


Prisoners, people in government-run or regulated institutions

  1. Provide adequate health care, and ensure continuity of care-giving support relied on by older people and people with disabilities and others living in residential institutions.
  2. Adopt a public health approach to managing prisoners and people in government-run or regulated institutions including:
    • Creating or adapting emergency plans to take a clear public health and human rights-focused approach to addressing evidence-based risks associated with COVID-19
    • Ensuring emergency plans are regularly reviewed and approved by public health officials before being finalized
    • Widely distributing emergency plans and other relevant and up-to-date public health information and facility protocols to prisoners and residents, staff and visitors, in a language they understand.
  3. House people with suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in isolated units, and proactively house vulnerable people at heightened risk of COVID-19-related consequences in separate units.
  4. Have comprehensive and transparent decision-making and policy restrictions on face-to-face or contact visits that are necessary, legitimate and proportionate to prevent or respond to COVID-19 outbreaks. Compensate for restrictions on contact visits by increased access to alternative means of communication such as email, voice or video calls.
  5. Put steps in place to ensure the right to maintain adequate personal hygiene and the right to daily access to the open air.
  6. Make all reasonable efforts to reduce overcrowding within custody or other facilities, without discrimination, by:
    • Creatively using all existing discretionary release legal or policy provisions including work releases, temporary absences, compassionate releases, medical releases
    • Releasing or managing in the community individuals who do not pose a risk to the public, including people who are in pre-trial detention for or have been convicted of non-violent or less serious offences
    • Releasing or managing in the community individuals with limited time left in their sentences
    • Issuing compassionate releases for vulnerable prisoners, including elderly people, pregnant women, people with compromised immunity, people with mental health disabilities, etc.
    • Releasing immigrant detainees who do not pose a risk to the public
    • Expanding probation resources in the community, including redeploying correctional officers (by telephone).
  7. Provide persons leaving custody with transportation to return home if they require it, especially to Indigenous or remote communities. In cases where persons are returning to Indigenous communities, appropriate arrangements must be made in consultation with community leadership.
  8. Take steps to standardize data collection related to management of COVID-19, including associated lockdowns, segregation, isolation, etc., disaggregated by human rights grounds.


Immigrants, refugees, foreign-temporary workers

  1. Take steps to assure vulnerable groups that they will not experience reprisal or deportation if they seek lifesaving care, especially testing or treatment for COVID-19.
  2. Set a general moratorium on removals from the country for all immigration- and refugee-related matters.
  3. Regularly review and mitigate the impact of new restrictions closing Canada’s borders and turning refugee claimants away.
  4. Provide supports to individuals without permanent status, including protecting the immigration and visa permit status and healthcare needs of migrant workers and international students, who have an established and lawful right to enter Canada and have strong ties to the country, and who may face considerable hardship if denied entry or denied health protection and care services while in the country.


  1. Respond to racism, ageism, ableism and other forms of discrimination

    1. In collaboration and cooperation with vulnerable groups, take system-wide action to counter false or misleading information in communities and on social media that fuels prejudice, fear and discrimination against:
      • Indigenous peoples
      • East Asian and other racialized communities
      • Older persons
      • People with disabilities, including people with COVID-19
      • Refugees, immigrants and migrant workers
      • People experiencing poverty.
    2. Combat stigma and discrimination by training health workers and the public on COVID-19, using mass media and school networks to expand public awareness of human rights.


  1. Strengthen human rights accountability and oversight

    1. Ensure that emergency planning bodies at all levels of government include representation from:
      • Human rights offices and institutions
      • Vulnerable groups
      • People most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
    2. Ensure that emergency planning bodies at all levels of government:
      • Consult with human rights experts when making decisions, taking action and allocating resources
      • Coordinate efforts across federal, provincial, territorial, regional, municipal and Indigenous jurisdictions.
    3. Provide additional resources to human rights institutions with the mandate to hold decision-makers accountable for respecting and protecting human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    4. Ensure that human rights institutions with the mandate to hold decision-makers accountable for respecting and protecting human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic are empowered to:
      • Monitor and report on government actions that limit rights
      • Access all places of detention, including places where people are kept in quarantine
      • Receive inquiries, deal with discrimination complaints and/or launch public inquiries related to the COVID-19 pandemic
      • Provide an accessible, effective public process for hearing, adjudicating and remedying human rights issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    5. Establish human rights oversight committees made up of external experts, representatives of vulnerable groups and affected communities with a mandate to provide advice to and review actions taken by governments.
    6. Collect and make publicly available health and other human rights data related to COVID-19 and response measures, disaggregated by vulnerable groups.