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Calling on employers, regulatory bodies to remove the “Canadian experience” barrier

Ontario attracts highly-skilled immigrants from all over the world. But if they have to meet a requirement for Canadian work experience, they are in a very difficult position – they can’t get a job without Canadian experience and they can’t get experience without a job. In almost every case, this is discrimination under the Code.

Many newcomers turn to unpaid work such as volunteering, internships or lowskilled “survival jobs” to meet requirements for Canadian experience. They also face obstacles when trying to get professional accreditation since some regulatory bodies will not admit new members without prior work experience in Canada. As a result, they end up in jobs that do not correspond to their education, skills and experience.

That’s why we launched a new Policy on removing the “Canadian experience” barrier in July 2013, in partnership with KPMG. The new policy, along with a guide for employers and regulatory bodies, sets out the OHRC’s position that a strict requirement for “Canadian experience” is discriminatory, and can only be used in rare circumstances. Employers and regulatory bodies need to ask about all of a job applicant’s previous work – where they got their experience does not matter. The policy also shows employers and regulatory bodies how to develop practices, policies and programs that do not result in discrimination.

We took our “remove the barrier” message on the road, including launches in Ottawa and Thunder Bay, and a second Toronto launch with the Learning Enrichment Foundation. In partnership with the Maytree Foundation, we took part in a webinar on Canadian experience, and we continue to do presentations and training across Ontario.

In Spring 2014, we conducted our own webinar on the Policy on removing the Canadian experience barrier, with a French version to follow in July 2014.

Joining forces with municipalities across Canada

Since 2005, the OHRC has partnered with UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to build a coalition of municipalities that share a commitment to human rights. The Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CCMARD) now includes over 50 municipalities, with 20 from Ontario. 

Each municipality has made a series of commitments to share their experiences and the lessons they have learned, and to strengthen their policies and operations to counter all forms of discrimination.

To help spread the human rights message through CCMARD, we partner with municipalities to present one-day training events called “Taking it Local.” In September 2013, Thunder Bay welcomed this travelling training session. The day featured two plenary sessions:

  • A shared responsibility – human rights and Aboriginal Peoples (panel discussion)
  • Focus on disability – the Code and the AODA.

Taking it Local – Thunder Bay also featured six concurrent sessions:

  • In the zone: housing, human rights and municipal planning
  • Bias-free hiring practices: removing the “Canadian experience” barrier in employment
  • Disabilities and the duty to accommodate
  • Organizational approaches to prevent discrimination against Aboriginal Peoples
  • Gender identity and gender expression, sexual and gender-based harassment: what’s new under the Code
  • Room for everyone: Human rights and rental housing licensing.

Plans are underway for the next edition of Taking it Local – coming soon to a municipality near you.

Disability issues: working with CASHRA

Over the past year, we continued to collaborate across jurisdictions with fellow CASHRA members and organizations representing persons with disabilities, to look more closely at how Canada is meeting its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Expanding employment protections: McCormick v. Fasken Martineau Dumoulin LLP

We intervened in an appeal heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in December 2013. The case deals with the scope of the social area of employment and whether the protection of the British Columbia Human Rights Code extends to people who work in partnership arrangements. We argued for a broad interpretation of the social area of “employment” that covers the various ways that people carry out their work.

Focusing on family status: CN v. Seeley

In this case, a mother complained under the Canadian Human Rights Act that the work rules of her employer conflicted with her child care responsibilities, and that her employer had failed to accommodate her needs related to those obligations. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rejected the more restrictive of the two tests for prima facie discrimination in family status cases found in the case law, held that discrimination had occurred, and awarded damages. The respondent sought judicial review in the Federal Court, and we were granted leave to intervene. The Court upheld the Tribunal’s decision. CN appealed, and we were again granted intervener status. In March 2013, we made submissions to the Court.

This year in history

Council of Canadians with Disabilities v. Via Rail Canada Inc.,Canadian Transportation Agency, Canadian Human Rights Commission, Ontario Human Rights Commission, Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, Manitoba Human Rights Commission, Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, Transportation Action Now, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, Canadian Association for Community Living, Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres and Disabled Women’s Network Canada (Supreme Court of Canada)

In this case, VIA Rail had bought railway cars from Britain that were not wheelchair accessible. VIA did a major retrofit of the cars, but still did not address all of the barriers to access in their design. We intervened in an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada based on our Policy and guidelines on disability and the duty to accommodate. The Court supported our position in several key areas, including:

  • having accessible trains travelling along only some routes does not justify inaccessible trains on others
  • there is a higher obligation on service providers to not create new barriers when initiating a new structure or service.

The Court upheld that original decision of the National Transportation Agency ordering VIA to properly retrofit all of the railway cars, instead of its original intention to just have one accessible car per train. 

This year in history

Living Rights Project adds a human face to human rights 

In February 2012, the OHRC launched the Living Rights Project, a web-based living library that puts real people into the human rights discussion. The project was created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ontario’s Human Rights Code, and to be an ongoing resource for all Ontarians. Several schools, including Parkdale and Cedarbrae Collegiates in Toronto, were involved as program partners.

The OHRC invites all Ontario residents to submit short videos, essays, letters, poems, songs, or any other artistic work that tells a human rights story. Submissions can talk about what “Human rights in Ontario” means, or tell a personal story related to the grounds of the Code, such as age, colour, disability, sexual orientation, etc. Stories can be positive or negative – the project’s goal is to teach people about experiences over the past 50 years, as well as to look forward as the next generations learn about and advance human rights.

Ontarians of all ages and backgrounds are invited to add items to the virtual library. Full details are available on the OHRC website at

Anti-racism, Anti-discrimination for Municipalities

In June 2010, we launched a new reference guide, Anti-racism, Anti-discrimination for Municipalities, which offers tips and templates municipalities can apply to support human rights in communities of all sizes.

The guide includes some of the best ideas from across Canada. For example, it talks about how Saskatoon’s Race Relations Committee reviews city policies, practices, and programs to recommend changes or action relating to personnel, policing, leisure services, housing and community services, education and training, use of municipal facilities, and planning and zoning. 

It also talks about how the City of Toronto distributes posters on hate, equity and respect for diversity. This campaign is educating the public and showing support for racialized communities. Many smaller communities may not have resources that are dedicated to doing this kind of work. The guide is geared to those municipalities, and offers many approaches they can take that are within their means.

Anti-racism, Anti-discrimination for Municipalities represents the input and ideas of many players across Ontario and in some cases across Canada. We extend a special thank-you to our partners at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, York University and the City of Vaughan for their support.

Check out these Living Rights videos!

Following the Code – one card at a time

In 2013, we created new versions of the “Code card.” Many organizations use these posters to tell employees, customers and partners that they respect and support human rights. Decisions from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario often include orders to post these cards in workplaces, service locations, housing and other areas. Code cards are available in a variety of colour formats, and can be downloaded at

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