Annual Report 2011-2012 - Human rights: the next generation

June 30, 2012

The Honourable Dave Levac
Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario
Room 180
Main Legislative Building
Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON
M7A 1A2

Dear Mr. Speaker:

Under Section 31.6 (2) of the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Ontario Human Rights Commission is required to submit a report on the Commission’s activities for the previous fiscal period by June 30th of each year, to be tabled in the Legislature.

In this regard, I am pleased to provide you with the Commission’s Annual Report of its activities from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012.

Yours sincerely,

Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)
Chief Commissioner


Message from the Chief Commissioner

2011-2012 was a year of celebrations. We began the year by celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and ended it by getting ready for June 15, 2012 – the 50th anniversary of the Ontario Human Rights Code. These milestones offered a time for reflection on where we started, the progress we have made, and the work we need to do so the next generation can continue to advance human rights in Ontario.

Looking back over five decades, there have been many changes and advances in human rights in Ontario. And there have been many people who helped to change how we dealt with human rights issues, and even what those issues were. For example, I think of the many people who have experienced first-hand the pain that racism and discrimination bring. And then I think about my predecessors, such as Daniel Hill, Rosemary Brown, Tom Symons and Catherine Frazee, who have taken steps to bring about real systemic change in Ontario.

The first Human Rights Code was created to undo some of the damage that racism and religious intolerance were causing in workplaces, in services, in communities and in our homes. While we have enjoyed much progress, there are still many barriers based on race and creed, and on more recent Code grounds such as disability and sexual orientation. There is still a clear need to prevent personal experiences of discrimination, and to eliminate the systemic barriers that often lead to that discrimination.

The challenge we face today is to learn from the past, to acknowledge there is more work to be done, and to put into place the tools the next generation will need to ensure another 50 years of human rights advances. These tools are the policies, the guidebooks, the legal decisions, the consultations and above all, the education and partnerships that defined the OHRC’s work in 2011-2012.

For example, we held the largest public consultation in our history, examining discrimination faced by people with mental health disabilities. We continued our work on other disability issues, including commenting on draft standards and regulations arising from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

We put the finishing touches on a policy that will help individuals and organizations find respectful solutions when rights conflict with each other, and we have begun to revise our policy on creed and religious accommodation. These policies clarify the law and offer strategies for resolving future issues.

We held public interest inquiries, and in some cases took legal action, to advance human rights in housing – so all Ontarians can truly feel right at home. We also took this work a step further, by producing a guide to help municipalities connect human rights, planning and zoning to eliminate problems from arising in the first place.

We reached out and delivered public education and training, including online or e-learning modules, to make sure that people from across Ontario can learn about what their human rights are and how to protect them. And we reinforced partnerships with police services and education sectors to help make human rights lived realities.

We also took targeted legal action at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) and in the courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, to clarify the law and enforce the Code. We settled Commission-Initiated Applications against three municipal transit providers, and made their services more accessible to riders with visual disabilities. We intervened in applications before the HRTO involving mental health, and at higher courts on issues involving family status, competing rights, creed and freedom of expression.

There is a common thread to most of the examples I have given – that thread is partnership. The only way our small organization can make a genuine impact on the lives of more than 13 million Ontarians is by working with partners who help us expand our reach. More than ever, we are reaching out to communities, getting input, raising awareness and working with them on solutions.

We are using new technology – social media, online surveys, an improved website – while at the same time acknowledging that face to face meetings are often the best way to hear and to be heard.

All of this would be impossible without the inspired work of a dedicated, passionate and smart team of Commissioners and staff who share a commitment to building respect for the human rights of every Ontarian.

Are we ready for the next generation? I think we are. And more importantly, I think they are ready – to learn from paths already taken, to add their own experiences to the mix, and to be the new visionaries who advance human rights across Ontario. I look forward to seeing what the next 50 years will bring.


Barbara Hall
Chief Commissioner


Government Programs for Seniors

The Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments, often working in partnership, have a number of programs specifically directed at seniors. Some of these programs are highlighted here:

National Framework on Aging: The Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors established a National Framework on Aging (NFA) in 1994, to assist all levels of government in Canada in responding to the needs of this demographic. Designed as a voluntary Framework, it has as its core, a shared Vision Statement and Principles endorsed by seniors and governments across Canada.[8]

The National Advisory Council on Aging: The National Advisory Council on Aging is a national organization with a mandate to assist and advise the federal Minister of Health on all matters related to the aging of the Canadian population and the quality of life of seniors.

Seniors Policy and Programs Database: A collaborative Federal / Provincial / Territorial initiative has established a comprehensive database of policies and programs of which seniors are the primary beneficiaries. It also provides demographic data on the status of older persons in Canada including information on employment, gender issues, health, housing, income, religion, technology, volunteerism and culture, leisure and travel, and crime victimization.[9]

Income Security Programs: Almost all Canadian seniors receive income through Canada’s Public Pension Program. Basic financial support is also available to survivors and individuals who become too disabled to work and their children. These are made available through the Old Age Security (OAS) program and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).

Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat: The provincial secretariat assists the Minister responsible for Seniors to ensure other sectors of government, government-funded agencies and the public are sensitized to the needs and concerns of Ontario's 1.5 million seniors, and to the challenges to government and society posed by a rapidly aging population.

Assistive Devices Program (Ministry of Health and Long Term Care): Financially assists Ontario residents with long term physical disabilities to obtain basic, competitively priced, personalized assistive devices appropriate for the individual's needs and essential for independent living.

Day Programs for Seniors: May range from community based social activities, exercise classes and educational courses to assistance with personal care and meals. Actual activities offered vary from region to region according to the needs and interests of seniors.

Community Care Access Centres: There are 42 community care access centres in the province of Ontario. These organizations provide a simplified point of access to long-term care for seniors, for example, arranging visiting health and personal support services in peoples' homes; arrange access to long-term care homes; and, provide information and referrals to the public about other community agencies and services.

In-Home And Community Supports: For seniors with moderate care needs who wish to “age in place”, home and community support services provide flexible and practical solutions. These services are available in the home or at other locations within the community. Services can be obtained individually or in combination.

Long Term Care Facilities: In Ontario, three main types of residential settings provide both accommodation and care for seniors: supportive housing, retirement homes and long-term care homes. Each setting offers different types of accommodations and varying levels of service.


Human rights: the next generation

On June 15, 2012, Ontarians have something important to celebrate, as we mark the 50th anniversary of Ontario’s Human Rights Code. This was the first such Code in Canada, and from the very beginning positioned Ontario to be a leader in protecting, promoting and advancing human rights.

Leading up to that historic day, and over the next half-century, the rules – and our society – have changed as issues were resolved and new issues emerged. This annual report is designed to introduce some of the key points of change, and the people who through their personal experiences or their work in the human rights system helped to advance human rights to where they are today.

But human rights continue to evolve. This annual report talks about the work in progress at the Ontario Human Rights Commission – the OHRC – and about what we are doing to continue the tradition and the contributions of so many people.

And finally, it’s designed to introduce the ideas, aspirations and leadership of young Ontarians, who are the next generation of human rights advocates, community builders, and who are our hope for the future.

Activity Type: 

Minds that matter: asking questions about human rights, mental health and addictions

In late 2010 and 2011, the OHRC embarked on the largest public consultation in our history, to hear directly from people with mental health or addiction disabilities. We wanted to learn:

  • The types of discrimination that happen based on mental health disabilities and/or addictions in the areas of housing, services and employment
  • If there are laws, policies, procedures or systemic practices related to housing, employment or services that disproportionately disadvantage people with mental health issues and/or addictions
  • The kind of information housing, service providers and employers need to know to help protect the human rights of people with mental health disabilities and/or addictions
  • What the OHRC and other bodies can do to prevent and address these human rights issues, and raise public awareness.

We conducted several focus groups and interviews with people with psychiatric disabilities or addictions, and with employers, housing providers, and organizations that provide services to people with mental health issues or addictions. As well, hundreds of people attended both public and private sessions for persons with mental health disabilities and addictions, employers, service and housing providers. These were held in North Bay, Ottawa, Windsor and Toronto. We also invited individuals and organizations to complete a survey or make written submissions. In total, we received more than 1,500 verbal and written submissions.

“Being a mental health patient seems to give people the right to do whatever they wish to you because you will not be seen as a valued member of our society. My mental health issues should not define me as an individual.”

– Written submission to the OHRC consultation on mental health and addictions

We are now reviewing the enormous amount of information and will report later this year on what we have learned. That information will form the core of a new policy on human rights and mental health, which we plan to release next year.

Finding out who is doing what

There is growing awareness of the need to respond to discrimination faced by people with mental health issues or addictions. We are working with others to identify priorities and raise awareness. Finding out “who is doing what” is an important step. For example, we:

  • Made presentations about mental health and addiction issues to organizations including the Canadian Mental Health Association (various branches)
  • Attended a session hosted by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, in concert with several community organizations, on the mental health and human rights of African Canadian men in the corrections system
  • Worked with the Landlord Tenant Board and the Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators (SOAR) to deliver a one-day training workshop to adjudicators and administrators from over 15 different boards and tribunals. This training explored how tribunals can apply the Code when addressing the needs of people with mental health issues and addictions, and involved presentations from Neighbourhood Legal Services and Voices from the Street
  • Provided similar training with the Consent and Capacity Board
  • Together with the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace and other human rights commissions across Canada, held a one-day forum to discuss human rights in employment for people with mental health or addiction disabilities

The OHRC continues to meet with other groups and provide updates on our progress. We created a mental health rights theme page on our website and issued a “Top of Mind” newsletter to update individuals and groups on our activities. We also provided training to staff at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health on human rights and mental health in employment and housing.

Putting mental health on the “police records check” radar

For a long time now, and again during our consultation, people with mental health illness and their advocates have been raising serious concerns about the adverse effect of interactions with police along with related provisions of the Mental Health Act. One area of concern, among others, has been the adverse effect of police records checks.

This work resulted in a new LEARN Guideline on Police Record Checks, released by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police in July 2011. This guideline provides a human rights perspective with a focus on people with mental health issues. It shows police services how to conduct police record checks for people seeking work or volunteer opportunities.

The guideline has been endorsed by police services, mental health advocates and vulnerable sector agencies alike as a positive step forward – although all groups agree there are related issues that still need to be addressed. We will continue to look at the interactions between police and people with mental health or addictions issues, to make sure that human rights are built into decision-making.

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, are involved as program partners.

The OHRC is inviting 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. As well, special categories have been added to encourage school involvement – where the next generation of human rights pioneers will get their start.

The project will be launched online in Fall 2012, and will become an ongoing, regularly updated resource that will continue to tell the human rights story. Full details are available on the OHRC website.


Competing rights: setting the stage for respectful dialogue

We live in an increasingly diverse and complex society in which all citizens enjoy a variety of rights, freedoms and corresponding obligations. It is inevitable that conflicts between rights will arise.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, provincial human rights legislation and the courts recognize that rights have limits if they interfere in a significant way with other people’s rights. We know that no right is absolute, and we all have a shared obligation to search for solutions to reconcile competing rights on a case-by-case basis. The goal is to maximize enjoyment of rights on both sides. This starts with respectful dialogue, and sometimes requires legal steps as well.

It is often difficult to strike a balance between different rights – which is why we have supported public discussion and provided policy guidance. Our final goal was to create a Policy on competing human rights, which we launched in April 2012.

This policy outlines a series of steps that various sectors, organizations and individuals can take to deal with everyday situations of competing rights and avoid legal action. The policy may also give guidance to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the courts for addressing cases where litigation cannot be avoided.

The policy is the result of almost seven years of work that included consultation and discussion with key groups that tended to experience or litigate competing rights issues. Highlights of our background work included:

  • Releasing a research paper, “Balancing competing rights: towards an analytical framework” in 2005
  • Making a submission to the Canadian Human Rights Commission on section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the regulation of hate speech on the Internet in January 2009
  • Working with York University for Public Policy and the Law to hold a policy dialogue on competing human rights in March 2010
  • Publishing research papers from the policy dialogue in a special edition of Canadian Diversity in July 2010, and co-publishing an expanded volume of the papers in the coming months
  • Designing a draft framework for addressing competing rights, and testing it at a two-day workshop with representatives from Ontario’s education sector along with a cross section of rights holders in December 2010
  • Releasing a legal research paper, “The shadow of the law: surveying the case law dealing with competing rights claims” in early 2012.

The policy and the framework it contains are already being lauded as an important tool to help individuals, organizations and decision-makers effectively deal with some of the most challenging rights issues affecting Ontarians.

Applying the framework in the courts

The OHRC has intervened in relevant cases proposing its framework to help the courts examine competing rights questions. In N.S. v. M---D. S. & M---L. S. the courts are considering whether allowing a woman to wear a “niqab” veil as religious accommodation while testifying against the men alleged to have sexually assaulted her would interfere with their Charter right to full answer and defence. The Ontario courts’ decisions reflected the OHRC’s framework in their analysis. The issue is now before the Supreme Court of Canada.

We also intervened in Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. Whatcott at the Supreme Court of Canada. The issue here is whether freedom of expression and religion include the right to distribute pamphlets alleged to contain hate speech targeting gays and lesbians.

Decisions are expected later this year for both cases.

On the 50th anniversary of the Ontario Human Rights Code: 1962 – 2012

By A. Alan Borovoy

On such occasions, comparisons between then and now are irresistible. In this case, the comparisons are also monumental.

Little more than two decades before 1962, a boatload of Jews fleeing European Nazism was unceremoniously denied admission to Canada. The incident produced little public reaction. In the 1970s, boatloads of Vietnamese fleeing Asian Communism were not only allowed to come here, but in many cases, also subsidized to do so.

At the end of the 1930s, a Harvard law graduate with a brilliant academic record, upon his return to Toronto, was unable to get a job with a city law firm. The hapless graduate was Jewish. In the 1970s, that graduate had become the chief justice of Canada: Bora Laskin.

In the 1940s, racial, religious, and ethnic discrimination were both legally permissible and socially respectable. Today, such discrimination has become unlawful in the market place and disreputable in many social situations. Indeed, in today’s Canada, there are anti-discrimination laws in virtually every jurisdiction, and human rights commissions with full-time staff to administer and enforce those laws.

Who would have dreamt 50 years ago that some of our leading medical and law schools would be enrolling more women than men? And few reputable people would have dared to defend - let alone to promote – the right of same sex marriage.

The Ontario Human Rights Code is both a consequence of – and an influence on – all this social change. In addition to making us grateful, our experience should also inspire greater efforts. Intergroup injustice remains a persisting reality. The changes we’ve seen demonstrate that it is possible not only to fight – but also to beat – such injustice. In my view, that is the legacy of the last 50 years. 

Activity Type: 

Taking a fresh look at creed

From the very beginning 50 years ago, Ontario’s Human Rights Code included protection from discrimination because of creed. Half a century later, creed continues to be an area of discussion and sometimes conflict in communities across Ontario and across Canada.

In our 1996 Policy on creed and the accommodation of religious observances, we interpreted creed to mean “religious creed” or “religion.” Under this policy, religion was defined as a professed system and confession of faith, including both beliefs and observances or worship.

A belief in a God or gods, or a single supreme being or deity was not required. So the definition of creed included non-deistic bodies of faith, such as the spiritual faiths and practices of First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures. As well, it could include new and emerging religions, which were assessed on a case-by-case basis.

But this interpretation of what creed means in the Code may be outdated, since many things have changed in the past 15 years. That’s why we are in the early stages of drafting a new policy on creed that reflects today’s beliefs, issues, challenges and society.

In our new policy, we will take another look at defining the ground of creed in the Code, and we will offer updated ways for respecting and advancing creed rights in our increasingly complex world.

This policy project will involve a wide consultation, which we began in late 2011 by issuing a call for papers and presentations on creed. These were featured in our policy dialogue on creed rights in January 2012, which we hosted in partnership with the University of Toronto’s Multi-faith Centre and Religion in the Public Sphere Initiative, as well as its Faculty of Law. The event was well attended by a broad section of faith and other groups. Papers produced for the event will be published by the Association of Canadian Studies in a special issue of Canadian Diversity Magazine.

In March 2012, we published a case law review of creed rights, and hosted a legal workshop with our partners, York University’s Centre for Law and Public Policy, Centre for Human Rights and Osgoode Hall Law School.

We will be taking many other consultation steps over the next two years, including several options for the public to add their voices, before we have the information and input we need to design the new policy.

We also intervened at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) in Ketenci v. Yeates School of Graduate Studies at Ryerson University (March 2012).

The applicant alleged she was discriminated against based on her ethical veganism. We made submissions arguing that the HRTO should begin by determining whether the application has a reasonable prospect of success, assuming ethical veganism is a creed. If this was the case, then we recommended that the issue of whether ethical veganism is a creed should be determined. The HRTO later issued a decision dismissing the application. It found that the applicant had no reasonable prospect of establishing she was discriminated against based on creed. Because of this finding, the HRTO did not have to decide whether ethical veganism is a creed.

Code Grounds: 

Addressing Aboriginal rights

Some long identified human rights issues have been very slow to change. The discrimination faced by Aboriginal peoples continues, and is hugely damaging. Informing Aboriginal peoples about their human rights is a first step, while the OHRC builds relationships to exchange information and learn.

In the past year, the OHRC has:

  • Delivered a one-day human rights training session for staff of the Union of Ontario Indians in North Bay
  • Met with the Nipissing First Nation and later took part and delivered a presentation in a two-day educational workshop on the Nipissing First Nation reserve, hosted by the Union of Ontario Indians for its affiliates, in partnership with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. This session focused on preparing First Nations governing authorities for the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act as well as an introduction to the Ontario Human Rights Code
  • Presented at the Indigenous Bar Association annual conference in Ottawa
  • Met with Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services Corporation in Thunder Bay.

As part of our ongoing relationship-building with Aboriginal peoples in Ontario, we are working with colleagues at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. We are exploring the ways that reconciliation and human rights intersect and how we can help eliminate barriers and discrimination that affect Aboriginal peoples.

Code Grounds: 

Correctional Services: update on the MCSCS Human Rights Project Charter

In August 2011, after lengthy litigation, a settlement was reached on a human rights complaint filed by Michael McKinnon against the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS). The settlement included creating a three-year Human Rights Project Charter agreement among MCSCS, the Ministry of Government Services (MGS) and the OHRC. Its purpose is to support MCSCS’s human rights organizational change initiatives, and to make sure the change process addresses public interest concerns.

The project partners will work to identify and eliminate any discrimination in all MCSCS employment and service activities, with a special focus on the needs and concerns of Aboriginal people. The work includes:

  • Creating an organizational culture that holds all staff accountable for upholding human rights-related obligations, as well as setting specific accountability for human rights change initiatives
  • Supporting ongoing efforts to recruit, select, promote and retain qualified people who reflect Ontario’s diversity
  • Providing human rights, equity and diversity training and professional development to create a working environment that fully complies with the Code
  • Setting up effective workplace discrimination and harassment prevention standards and procedures, including completing investigations in a timely way, and creating a comprehensive complaint tracking database.

Putting the leaders and staff in place

Project sponsors are the three Deputy Ministers of MCSCS and MGS, along with the OHRC Chief Commissioner. Despite facing challenges in the first months with the appointment of new Deputy Ministers at both MGS and MCSCS, plus a major staffing change, the project now is making excellent progress. Project members have created an overall work plan and a plan to evaluate project outcomes and effectiveness. It will be important to maintain staff continuity as much as possible for the project and its implementation.

Each of the three partner organizations has offered extensive training on their operations, so that key executives and senior staff understand:

  • Human Rights Code obligations and principles
  • Applicable human resources policies in the Ontario Public Service
  • MCSCS’ business operations and its human rights challenges, opportunities and initiatives.

This training has helped build trust among the partners, and a deeper understanding of the project’s goals and context.

Building on existing initiatives

MCSCS and MGS also have given the OHRC documents on initiatives already underway that meet some of the Project Charter’s change objectives. In addition, MCSCS provided data from:

  • Exit surveys
  • Employee Engagement survey
  • Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy
  • Inmate/client human rights-related complaints.

Focusing on key areas

Subcommittees of both management and staff will do much of the essential work of the project. Members will work on:

  • Accountability for human rights improvement
  • Recruitment, selection, promotion and retention
  • Aboriginal issues
  • Training
  • Managing human rights-related complaints
  • Evaluation.

Recruitment for these committees is underway, and training is planned for all members. An Executive Committee has been meeting for several months, reporting to the Project Sponsors. The Project Sponsors will also receive advice from an External Advisory Group, with expertise in Aboriginal issues, human rights issues and organizational change. A way is being proposed to include the inmates’ perspective.

Looking ahead

In fall 2012, the subcommittees will look at the strengths and weaknesses in human rights performance in employment and client service, and will develop and prioritize strategies and initiatives for improvement.

An Advisory Committee, which includes a representative from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, will review the recommendations and forward them to the Executive Committee, with their advice, for approval. MCSCS will implement the initiatives in the project’s second and third years, and the outcomes will be evaluated. Practical, measurable impact and sustainability of initiatives will be important considerations.

The OHRC will take part regularly in all committees to provide human rights expertise and to monitor the project’s continued progress in achieving the public interest goals, including:

  • Achieving significant medium-term improvements in the human rights climate and performance in MCSCS
  • Making sure that all management and staff continue to be accountable, and have the systems and capacity to sustain an organizational culture where human rights obligations are built in to all parts of their work and are consistently met.

The Project Charter does not preclude the OHRC from becoming involved in litigation in appropriate cases to address systemic issues.

Activity Type: 
Discrimination Type: 

We’re proud to support LGBT2Q rights

In the past year, we have been reaching out and supporting a number of groups and sectors to help promote and protect rights for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender persons.

For example, we have continued to support efforts by various organizations to have gender identity added as an explicit ground of the Ontario Human Rights Code. Transgender individuals continue to be very marginalized in society. Recognizing this explicitly would send a strong message that transgender persons must enjoy the same human rights protections as all other Ontarians.

Many aspects of bullying in schools raise serious human rights issues. We have met with a number of community groups regarding gay-straight alliances and in May 2012 will appear before the government committee considering Bills 13 and 14, which both deal with adding anti-bullying amendments to the Education Act.

Sharing the celebrations: while the OHRC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011, we also took part in several events to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the inclusion in the Human Right Code of the ground of sexual orientation.

Sharing the celebrations

While the OHRC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011, we also took part in several events to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the inclusion in the Human Right Code of the ground of sexual orientation. For example, we joined colleagues in the Ontario Public Service Pride Network to march in Toronto’s annual Pride Parade with a banner commemorating our 50th anniversary with the motto “Ontario Human Rights Commission = 50, PRIDE = forever!

Close to home: housing highlights

Zoning in on zoning

Every day, people across Ontario face barriers to finding or keeping rental housing because of disability, age, race, creed, sexual orientation, disability, receipt of social assistance, family status, and other grounds of the Human Rights Code. These barriers often arise because landlords make assumptions about people based on characteristics that usually have nothing to do with their ability to be good tenants.

But there are other kinds of barriers – like the systemic ones that arise from municipal planning and zoning decisions that, often unintentionally, further limit the housing options of vulnerable people. Examples are requiring minimum separation distances between group homes, or limiting the number of bedrooms people can use in rental housing. The OHRC believes that planning and zoning are areas that need much change across the province, and we continued to work in this area over the past year.

Challenging decisions of individual municipalities

We made written submissions and/or presentations to a number of city councils to outline our concerns in several areas, including to:

  • The City of Toronto Planning and Growth Management Committee raising concerns about Toronto’s Draft Zoning Bylaw
  • The City of Waterloo Council on its proposed rental housing licensing bylaw, which had some positive amendments, but other provisions could have a discriminatory effect
  • The City of North Bay, raising concerns about its draft bylaw and the potential adverse effect on students (age discrimination), persons with disabilities and others living in group homes
  • The City of Hamilton, raising concerns about the human rights implications of denying a group home zoning application by the Lynwood Charlton Centre, which was seeking permission to house eight teenage girls with mental health issues
  • The City of London, commenting on proposed amendments to their Official Plan and Zoning By-Law that would treat methadone clinics differently and the impact this may have on people with addiction disabilities.

Taking legal steps

As well, we continued to make strategic legal interventions in a number of cases related to zoning and human rights. Many complaints are about minimum separation distances. We continue to intervene in cases challenging zoning rules that limit options for affordable and supportive housing for people with mental health or other disabilities. For example:

  • An application against the City of Toronto by the Dream Team (an organization led by psychiatric consumer survivors), supported by the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

  • In Tribunal cases (with the same partners) against the cities of Smiths Falls and Kitchener. These cases are currently at the mediation stage, while the Toronto case is pending.

We also intervened as a party in a case at the Ontario Municipal Board involving the City of Guelph. We challenged a Guelph zoning bylaw that used minimum separation distances to limit rental houses with accessory apartments and also reduced the number of units that could be rented in lodging houses. It appeared that these provisions were being used to keep young people out of neighbourhoods, and would also result in a loss of affordable rental housing that would affect other people who identified under Code grounds (such as seniors, newcomers, people with disabilities, single-parent families and people on social assistance).

In February 2012, the City of Guelph repealed the bylaw, and has committed to working with the OHRC to effectively deal with rental housing issues.

Using legal forums is not our first choice to overcome discriminatory barriers to housing. By the time a case goes to a tribunal or court, the damage to the people wanting to live in a neighbourhood or community is often already done. Instead, our goal is to prevent the damage from happening in the first place, by working with municipalities to arrive at systemic solutions that make communities welcoming to all residents.

An example of this “avoiding the damage” approach was our letter to the City of Toronto about the potential human rights impact of the sale of a large number of houses by Toronto Community Housing.

A new guide for human rights and zoning

In February 2012, we launched In the zone: Housing, human rights and municipal planning. This guide offers municipalities information about their legal obligations, and about the tools and best practices they can apply to connect human rights and housing when making zoning and planning decisions. We consulted planning experts, human rights and planning lawyers, housing providers and advocates to make sure the guide reflects a wide range of views.

We launched the guide at Queen’s University, at a one-day training forum for municipal staff and associates of the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CCMARD). The forum featured presentations on organizational change to eliminate racism and discrimination, collecting human rights-based data, setting up special programs under the Ontario Human Rights Code, and a look at the CCMARD Toolkit for Municipalities.

Copies of In the zone have been sent to every municipality in Ontario. More than 30 have asked for extra copies for municipal staff. The guide is receiving a lot of support from both municipalities and advocates, and we receive many requests to provide training on it. We plan to deliver training in eastern Ontario (with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing), in Guelph and in Midland, among other locations. We will continue to reach out across the province over the next few years to address systemic human rights issues in housing.

Making sure licensing is not a licence to discriminate

Rental housing licensing is a fairly new concept – only in the past few years have municipalities had the authority to license and regulate various forms of rental housing. Several municipalities, especially those that are home to colleges and universities, have adopted or are considering rental housing licensing bylaws.

For the past three years, we have contacted several municipalities on these bylaws, including the Cities of Oshawa, North Bay, Waterloo and Windsor. We have consistently raised concerns about minimum separation distances, bedroom caps, gross floor area requirements, applying bylaws across the entire municipality and other issues that appear to target certain Code-protected groups or result in differential treatment of these groups.

In March 2012, we took our concerns further by launching two public interest inquiries to take a closer look at rental housing licensing bylaws in North Bay and Waterloo.

“While rental housing licensing can be a valuable tool for promoting the safety and security of tenants, the ability to license must not be a licence to discriminate. We want to make sure this isn’t happening.” – Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall

The inquiries will help us to discover if there are discriminatory effects of licensing policies on Code-protected groups, identify possible solutions, and suggest ways municipalities can draft bylaws that respect and protect the human rights of tenants.

The first phase of the inquiries involved online surveys for tenants, landlords, community groups, advocates and service providers in the North Bay and Waterloo areas, along with a meeting with student groups in North Bay. We are also reviewing documents that each city relied on when developing the bylaws. Other steps will be determined once the survey and document review is completed. This summer, we will report on what we heard, lessons learned, and recommendations for making sure that rental housing licensing efforts reflect the vision and the legal obligations of the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Opening the door to fairer housing ads

Over the past few years, housing websites have become an increasingly popular way to both advertise and look for housing. In response to community concerns about discriminatory online ads, the OHRC and its housing partners looked at 28 sites that offer housing listings, and then did a detailed review of four of the largest websites that provide rental housing listings for Ontario. On some sites, we found that up to 20% of online ads for smaller rental housing units contained statements that were either directly or potentially discriminatory. Our research also showed that often the public is not aware of the full range of housing protections under the Code.

Most landlords and tenants want to comply with housing-related laws. But they need some resources to know what their responsibilities are. That’s why the OHRC and our partners wrote to operators of rental housing websites and print media asking them to work with us to prevent, identify and remove discriminatory ads. We suggested some best practices such as providing information on human rights in housing, and including a non-discrimination clause on forms that landlords use to place ads. We also developed an online fact sheet that has tips on how to write a non-discriminatory housing ad, provides examples of discriminatory statements such as “adult building,” “must provide proof of employment” or “No ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program),” and suggests fairer alternatives. Other support materials include landlord and tenant brochures and an e-learning module on Human Rights and Rental Housing.

Social Areas: 

Putting human rights in policing

New guide shares our experience

As part of our ongoing work with police across the province, we released a new guide. Human rights and policing: creating and sustaining organizational change aims to encourage and support police services across Ontario in building human rights into all their work.

The guide was inspired by our project charter work with the Toronto Police Service, the Toronto Police Services Board, Ontario Police College and most recently, the Windsor Police Service. Through that work, we have gained valuable insight on how police services can apply human rights principles at all levels of their organization. The Toronto project is currently being evaluated, and results will be available in late 2013.

The guide defines and explains key human rights terms and principles. It includes best practices to help police better serve the needs of Ontario’s increasingly diverse communities by offering inclusive police services and addressing human rights issues before they happen. It also offers advice on how to use a human rights lens in every part of a police service, including internal staffing and training. While the guide refers to experiences from the Toronto Police Service’s human rights work, it also provides direction on how these can be applied in services of all sizes across Ontario.

This guide has received positive feedback from police services across the country. As well, many non-police organizations are using it to help their own change efforts, as the lessons it contains can be applied in areas beyond policing. To meet this need, we are currently drafting a version of the book that focuses on organizations in general, which will be available in late 2012.

Celebrating Year 1 in Windsor

March 2012 was the one-year anniversary of the Human Rights Project charter, a three-year initiative where the OHRC is working with the Windsor Police Service (WPS), the Windsor Police Services Board (WPSB) and the Ontario Police College (OPC).

This three-year initiative involves a joint effort by project partners to identify and address human rights issues. The project will develop initiatives to prevent and eliminate racism and other forms of discrimination in the employment policies and the delivery of policing services by the Windsor Police Service. Project goals include:

  • Improving community representation in the WPS, expanding recruitment outreach efforts to underrepresented communities, and ensuring that promotional processes are fair and equitable for all members
  • Establishing a human rights policy that makes sure that WPS and WPSB activities, policies, procedures, directives and job descriptions of civilian and sworn positions include components that focus on and comply with Ontario’s Human Rights Code
  • Collecting data on internal and external human rights complaints, and developing performance management mechanisms to realize the Project Charter’s change initiatives
  • Increasing the human rights knowledge base through training and education.

 During the first year, the project partners set up four subcommittees to address key areas of concern: recruitment, selection, promotion and retention; accountability; public liaison; and accommodation (for example, meeting the needs of people with disabilities).

Progress has been encouraging – first-year results show a strong commitment at senior levels for positive human rights change and show what can be achieved when partners work together to address human rights concerns.

When systemic change is not enough – using the law

Systemic change in policing does not mean the need for vigilance goes away. That’s why litigation continues to be part of the OHRC’s strategy to address human rights in law enforcement. We intervened in the case of Phipps v. Toronto Police Services Board where the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found that Toronto Police had racially profiled Ronald Phipps, who is Black, when he was delivering mail in an affluent Toronto neighbourhood. That case went to judicial review, with the OHRC again intervening. In March 2012, the Divisional Court upheld the HRTO’s decision. 

We are involved in two cases about inmate care in custody, where we hope to address the way services are provided to inmates, so that their human rights are respected. This is also part of the Project Charter with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

We are also intervening in a series of cases against several police services on how section 45.1 of the Code applies in the context of the Police Services Act. Section 45.1 says that “the Tribunal may dismiss an application… if the Tribunal is of the opinion that another proceeding has appropriately dealt with the substance of the application.” In these cases, the issue, which the Tribunal described as “a significant one,” is whether it can dismiss a human rights application because the applicant’s complaints made under the Police Services Act were not found to be substantiated.

The African Canadian Legal Clinic, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic and South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario are also intervening in these cases, which include:

Code Grounds: 

Disability: building bridges, not barriers

Moving forward with transit

In 2011, the OHRC reached settlements with the cities of Hamilton, Greater Sudbury and Thunder Bay in three transit-based cases at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. We filed the complaints in 2009 to increase accessibility for riders with vision disabilities by ensuring the transit services called out all transit stops.

All three transit providers took action and now have automated call out systems that incorporate backup procedures should the systems malfunction. The transit providers monitor their systems regularly to make sure they are working properly, and provide training for all drivers. As part of the cities’ commitment to accessible service, they have also helped transit riders learn about the stop announcement systems, and provided ways for riders to raise any concerns or get more information.

We also continued to follow up with both Variety Village and the Toronto Transit Commission about the Variety Village bus stop. This new stop made Variety Village, in Scarborough, more accessible for people with disabilities who rely on transit.

Update on the AODA

We have suggested ways to improve a full range of accessibility standards being developed by the Ontario Government under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). A number of these have now become law under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation. This Regulation sets out requirements for employment, information and communication, and transit that will help to prevent many new barriers. For example, similar to our transit settlements, we were successful in getting requirements to announce transit stops included in the Regulation.

Another positive change is that organizations must train their staff on the rights of people with disabilities under the Human Rights Code. This led to a partnership between the OHRC, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario and Curriculum Services Canada to develop an e-learning module about the relationship between the Code, the AODA and its regulations. The module will set out human rights principles for implementing AODA standards and will be released this year.

We continue to be concerned, however, that the regulations often do not require removing existing barriers. This may not meet the requirements of the Code and will be of particular concern for the built environment standards, which the Government of Ontario is expected to release this coming year.

In the first statutory review of the AODA, Charles Beer called for a provincial policy framework on accessibility so that other legislation, regulations, standards, policies, programs and services harmonize with the AODA and the Code. We supported this recommendation, and continue work to make this happen.

Urging government to meet international obligations

We celebrated International Human Rights Day in December, 2011, by calling for a policy framework approach to disability issues in a joint press release issued through the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA). We asked governments at all levels to meet their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

In 2011, the OHRC and other commissions met with national disability organizations, including the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living, to discuss how we might work together to monitor implementation of the CRPD and report on results. With their input, the OHRC developed a brochure to promote the CRPD in Ontario and across Canada. The brochure is already being reprinted for distribution by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, and others.

One of the requirements under the CRPD is to make sure people with disabilities can take an equal part in political and public life. This includes the right to vote by secret ballot, and to run for and hold office. Other requirements are accessible voting procedures, facilities and materials, and making it possible to use assistive technology (Article 29).

Working with the Law Commission on disability

The Law Commission of Ontario is developing a tool to guide government in drafting legislation, regulations, policies and programs so that they protect the rights of people with disabilities. The OHRC is a member of the Law Commission’s Disability Project Advisory Group, along with ARCH Disability Law Centre and other groups representing persons with disabilities.

Continuing to work on special diet allowances

We have also been promoting the rights of persons with disabilities in other areas of public policy. In 2008, we referred almost 200 individual complaints about the Ontario Government’s Special Diet Allowance Program to the Human Rights Tribunal. This program was designed to help people with the extra costs of therapeutic diets prescribed by their heath care professionals.

The Tribunal considered three “lead” complaints and in February 2010 found the program’s eligibility criteria violated the Human Rights Code because it excluded certain medical conditions or provided relatively unequal amounts for other conditions.

Together with community legal clinics, we continue to be involved at the Tribunal and in enforcing Tribunal orders, so that people with certain medical conditions, including persons with schizophrenia who are taking second generation medication, receive the support they need.

Disability – looking at the numbers

The OHRC is working on two projects with Statistics Canada and the Canadian Human Rights Commission. These projects look at data that reveal the level of inequality experienced by persons with disabilities across socio-economic indicators like income, housing, education and employment. One study focuses on people with mental health disabilities and the other on people with disabilities in general. We will report on the results over the coming year.

Seberras v. the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board

In Seberras v. the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, we intervened at the Tribunal on the preliminary issue of the definition of services. The Tribunal ruled that providing WSIB benefits and the system used does constitute a service, but that individual eligibility decisions are not.

This case involves looking at whether the WSIB’s Traumatic Mental Stress policy and related provisions of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act are discriminatory because they add arbitrary requirements that are not required for people with physical injuries. The Tribunal has not yet held a hearing on the merits of the case.

Tranchemontagne v. the Ministry of Community and Social Services

We intervened at the Ontario Court of Appeal in another critical case involving disability – in this case, severe alcohol addiction. The Court upheld the Divisional Court’s earlier decision that found denying disability benefits to people whose sole disability is addiction is discriminatory.


Code Grounds: 

Human rights and inclusive education: continuing the connection

Since 2005, the OHRC has been working with the Ministry of Education to build on the positive structural and policy changes reached in the “safe schools” settlement, which changed the way Ontario schools managed discipline. This is reducing the disproportionate effect that certain policies and practices have on racialized students and students with disabilities, among others. We are very pleased to advise that all of the terms of the settlement have now been implemented.

This past year, we also provided support as the Ministry implemented its Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy in all Ontario school boards. As we move into 2012, the government is proposing additional amendments to address bullying especially based on race, sexual orientation and gender identity. These important systemic changes should help further prevent discrimination in our schools.

We continue to play an active role in education sessions across the province. In the past year, we regularly provided human rights training and/or keynote speeches at events hosted by the Ministry of Education, the Ontario Education Services Corporation (OESC), le Centre ontarien de prévention des aggressions (COPA), safe school networks, the Regional Equity and Inclusive Education Networks, and directly to schools and school boards across the province.

E-learning for teachers

The OHRC is working with teachers’ federations to develop an e-learning module for teachers, and is helping the Ministry of Education develop policy guidance on human rights and student discipline. This will help school boards and educators identify human rights concerns in board policies.

We will continue to train educators, monitor compliance with human rights settlements and work with the Ministry of Education to encourage collecting human rights-based data in Ontario’s public schools – this is a key tool that can help people understand and address disadvantage and discrimination.

British Columbia v. Moore

In March 2011, the OHRC intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada in British Columbia v. Moore, a case involving a student who alleged discrimination because he was not given appropriate accommodation in education for his severe dyslexia. We intervened in this case to make sure that the area of “services” in human rights codes is given a broad interpretation. We argued that to prove discrimination, people who need accommodation do not have to show they were treated worse than others who needed accommodation. In the years ahead, we continue to focus on making sure students with disabilities are accommodated “to the point of undue hardship.”

Mentoring the next generation – taking our message directly to schools

As well as working towards systemic solutions, we are committed to working with individual schools and student groups. This approach offers us unique opportunities to share a human rights message with the decision-makers of tomorrow, as well as to learn first-hand about the realities students face today.

In the past year, we have worked with students in Media Studies and other classes at Parkdale Collegiate Institute. This included providing several classroom training sessions on human rights, and launching our Living Rights Project at a special Parkdale assembly.

We have also made connections with Cedarbrae Collegiate Institute, through the MAG-TDSB Co-op Partnership, and are currently serving as mentors to two Grade 11 co-op students. These students are learning about human rights, and equally important, are sharing what they learned with their friends and families. This personal networking can often make the difference in whether rights are simply nice words or they are actually lived and understood. We also hosted 60 Cedarbrae classmates at the launch of our Policy on competing human rights, and will continue to make co-op students a part of our human rights network.

Human Rights 101 – advancing human rights in any language

In late 2011, as part of our outreach to new communities, the OHRC launched two new versions of its popular e-learning module, Human Rights 101. The two new versions offer users information on human rights history, principles, legislation and policies in Arabic and in Spanish. We’re also working on 11 other languages – Italian, Korean, Punjabi, Portuguese, Somali, Tamil, Tagalog), Urdu, Vietnamese, Chinese (Cantonese) and Chinese (Mandarin).

The new versions were launched at an International Human Rights Day event hosted by the Overland Learning Centre, a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) adult learning centre, and the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office. The Overland Learning Centre has a large English as a Second Language Program helping many new Canadians integrate into Canadian society.

Links to the Human Rights 101 modules are available on the OHRC website.

Getting the message out – keeping in touch across Ontario

When a new issue arises, we often hear about it first in the media. And the media is often the best venue for commenting on an issue to a wide audience. Throughout the past year, we continued to use media interviews, releases and advisories, and letters to the editor to respond to issues, correct inaccuracies and educate new audiences about human rights.

Some of the issues where we received significant media coverage in the past year included:

  • Mental health and human rights
  • Canada’s responsibilities under U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • Lynwood Charlton zoning issue in Hamilton
  • Rental housing licensing bylaws in Waterloo and North Bay
  • Racial profiling cases in the courts.

“Getting the message out” is a critical part of the work we do. This past year the OHRC began to take advantage of the communication tools offered by social media. We’ve since attracted more than 700 “friends” to our Facebook page and more than 1,400 ”followers” to our Twitter stream. We’ve discovered that those social media networks reach different audiences looking for different sorts of stories. We’ve also found that we are increasing the awareness of all our work among people who we might not reach with ”traditional” publications. One immediate result – we believe our new social media presence played a key role in getting more than 1,400 people to take our online survey on mental health and addiction issues.

Social media also helps us be more accessible. We have now made five of our brochures available in American Sign Language and Quebec Sign Language, known in French as Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ). These are posted to our YouTube channel and linked from our website.

We also used more traditional means – letters and submissions – to share our input on a variety of issues. Examples, also on our website, included:

Making the personal connection

We worked hard last year to keep in touch with people across Ontario, using many electronic options to send our messages to the widest possible audience. And we worked just as hard to help Ontarians connect with the real people who work at or lead the OHRC.

Staff consulted and offered human rights training in over 40 venues, and also met with groups across Ontario on a wide range of issues. Here are some highlights:

  • Provided training on human rights and student discipline to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation
  • Provided “train-the-trainer” sessions on human rights and inclusive education for COPA (le Centre ontarien de prévention des agressions) and also for Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario
  • Worked with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board on applying the Code in their policies and practices
  • Led training on human rights and policing for the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards
  • Hosted “Human rights from A-Z,” a one-day training event in Kingston in partnership with the City of Kingston, Queens University and the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism
  • Led policy dialogue and legal workshops to begin the discussion on revising the OHRC’s creed policy
  • Presentation to PREFER (Peer Recovery Education for Employment and Resilience) on discrimination, harassment and accommodating mental health issues in workplaces
  • Met with other groups, such as the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, Social Rights Advocacy Centre and Rainbow Health Ontario, to discuss ways to advance a range of human rights concerns.

As well, Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall met or spoke with more than 100 communities and groups across the province, to build partnerships and share critical human rights messages. Highlights of her speeches and presentations included:

  • Waterloo City Council, Waterloo
  • Ontario Association of Police Services Boards, Niagara Falls
  • Courtice Secondary School, Courtice
  • Roadmap 2030 Conference, Toronto
  • Workplace Safety Symposium, Mississauga
  • Ontario Education Services Corp./Ministry of Education Symposium, Toronto
  • Hamilton Civic Centre for Inclusion, Hamilton
  • Ontario Multifaith Council, Toronto
  • Human rights and policing, Thunder Bay Police Service, Thunder Bay.

We can’t be everywhere, but our materials can

We regularly receive requests for printed materials that explain specific human rights issues. These are especially of value to social agencies and smaller organizations that may not have the resources to produce their own materials. To make sure readers got the most up-to-date advice possible, over the past year we reviewed, updated and redesigned every OHRC brochure, and added some new ones, on subjects such as:

Each brochure is available in English and French, and is also available on the OHRC website. As well, printed versions of the two housing brochures are also available in 13 other languages, and we are currently designing several other brochures in 13 languages beyond English and French.

Guidelines on accessible education

ISBN 0-7794-7191-1
Approved by the OHRC: September 29, 2004

(Please note: minor revisions were made in December 2009 to address legislative amendments resulting from the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2006, which came into effect on June 30, 2008.)

Available in other accessible formats on request
Also available on Internet:

Code Grounds: 
Resource Type: 
Organizational responsibility: 

Purpose of OHRC Policies

Section 30 of the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code) authorizes the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) to prepare, approve and publish human rights policies to provide guidance on interpreting provisions of the Code.[∗] The OHRC’s policies and guidelines set standards for how individuals, employers, service providers and policy-makers should act to ensure compliance with the Code. They are important because they represent the OHRC’s interpretation of the Code at the time of publication.[∗∗] Also, they advance a progressive understanding of the rights set out in the Code.

Section 45.5 of the Code states that the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the Tribunal) may consider policies approved by the OHRC in a human rights proceeding before the Tribunal. Where a party or an intervenor in a proceeding requests it, the Tribunal shall consider an OHRC policy. Where an OHRC policy is relevant to the subject-matter of a human rights application, parties and intervenors are encouraged to bring the policy to the Tribunal’s attention for consideration.

Section 45.6 of the Code states that if a final decision or order of the Tribunal is not consistent with an OHRC policy, in a case where the OHRC was either a party or an intervenor, the OHRC may apply to the Tribunal to have the Tribunal state a case to the Divisional Court to address this inconsistency.

OHRC policies are subject to decisions of the Superior Courts interpreting the Code. OHRC policies have been given great deference by the courts and Tribunal,[∗∗∗] applied to the facts of the case before the court or Tribunal, and quoted in the decisions of these bodies.[∗∗∗∗]

[∗] The OHRC’s power under section 30 of the Code to develop policies is part of its broader responsibility under section 29 to promote, protect and advance respect for human rights in Ontario, to protect the public interest, and to eliminate discriminatory practices.
[∗∗] Note that case law developments, legislative amendments, and/or changes in the OHRC’s
own policy positions that took place after a document’s publication date will not be reflected in that document. For more information, please contact the OHRC.
[∗∗∗] In Quesnel v. London Educational Health Centre (1995), 28 C.H.R.R. D/474 at para. 53 (Ont. Bd. Inq.), the tribunal applied the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (4th Cir. 1971) to conclude that OHRC policy statements should be given “great deference” if they are consistent with Code values and are formed in a way that is consistent with the legislative history of the Code itself. This latter requirement was interpreted
to mean that they were formed through a process of public consultation.
[∗∗∗∗] Recently, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice quoted at length excerpts from the OHRC’s published policy work in the area of mandatory retirement and stated that the OHRC’s efforts
led to a “sea change” in the attitude towards mandatory retirement in Ontario. The OHRC’s policy work on mandatory retirement heightened public awareness of this issue and was at least partially responsible for the Ontario government’s decision to pass legislation amending the Code to prohibit age discrimination in employment after age 65, subject to limited exceptions. This amendment, which became effective December 2006, made mandatory retirement policies illegal for most employers in Ontario: Assn. of Justices of the Peace of Ontario v. Ontario (Attorney General) (2008), 92 O.R. (3d) 16 at para. 45. See also Eagleson Co-Operative Homes, Inc. v. Théberge, [2006] O.J. No. 4584 (Sup.Ct. (Div.Ct.)) in which the Court applied the OHRC’s Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate, available at:


In October 2003, the OHRC released its consultation report entitled The Opportunity to Succeed: Achieving Barrier-free Education for Students with Disabilities (The Opportunity to Succeed). The report was the product of the OHRC’s research and consultation with a wide array of interested parties during the fall of 2002 on human rights issues affecting students with disabilities.

Feedback received throughout the consultation indicated that, while there is a highly regulated and complex educational framework in place to address the needs of students, and while in many cases education providers are doing much to meet the diverse needs of the student population, a significant number of students with disabilities continue to face obstacles in their attempts to access educational services in Ontario. The Opportunity to Succeed identified key barriers at the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels of education. These barriers include: inadequate funding, physical inaccessibility, cumbersome and time-consuming accommodation processes, negative attitudes and stereotypes, and a lack of understanding of the OHRC policy and the rights and responsibilities of all parties under the Code.

The Report outlined actions required by schools and school boards, post-secondary institutions, government and other responsible parties to promote compliance with human rights law and policy. It defined the responsibilities of students and/or their parent(s) and guardian(s) as participants in the accommodation process. In addition, it set out the OHRC’s own commitments to take steps to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to educational services. In this regard, the OHRC has committed to monitoring progress with the recommended actions required by the Report and will follow up with education providers to assess levels of compliance. The OHRC also committed to developing Guidelines on Accessible Education (the Guidelines) to help parties better understand their obligations in the education of students with disabilities.

While the Guidelines are a companion piece to The Opportunity to Succeed, each document serves a distinct purpose. Whereas The Opportunity to Succeed reported the feedback received by the OHRC during its education consultation and recommended specific actions for the parties involved in order to address systemic issues in educational services, the Guidelines take key principles from the OHRC’s Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate (“Disability Policy”)[1] and apply them to the educational context. They are intended to provide guidance to support education providers[2] and students with disabilities in the fulfilment of their duties and rights under the Code.

The Guidelines provide clarification with respect to the following areas:

  • the principles of accommodation
  • creating a welcoming environment for all students
  • the accommodation process
  • the right to confidentiality and the disclosure of information
  • appropriate accommodation
  • accommodation planning
  • the undue hardship standard
  • roles and responsibilities of those involved in the accommodation process

It should be noted that the Guidelines are not intended to provide prescriptive solutions for accommodating specific disabilities, as accommodation must always be based on an individualized assessment. Where appropriate, however, examples are provided which apply the principles outlined to situations involving students with specific types of disabilities.

For a full understanding of how the OHRC approaches disability issues, the Guidelines should be read in conjunction with the OHRC’s Disability Policy and The Opportunity to Succeed. Both are available at the OHRC’s Web site:

By clearly setting out the OHRC’s interpretation of the responsibilities of all parties to the accommodation process, and by providing direction to these parties on how to best achieve compliance, it is hoped that the Guidelines will help to prevent discrimination, reduce disputes throughout the process, and where disputes continue to occur, provide strategies to help avoid their escalation.

[1] Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate (March 2001), available online at the OHRC’s website:
[2] “Education providers” includes, but is not limited to, school boards, school staff, educators, post-secondary institutions and where appropriate, government.

Activity Type: 

Scope of application

Education is a “service” under the Code

Section 1 of the Code guarantees the right to equal treatment in services, without discrimination on the ground of disability. Education, in its broadest sense, is a “service” within the meaning of the Code.[3] The scope of “educational services” will include the mastery of knowledge, academic standards, evaluation and accreditation. It may also encompass the development of a student’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential, and may include co-instructional activities such as school-related sports, arts and cultural activities, and school functions and field trips. At the lower grade levels, the service of education will typically be defined more broadly and may include the student’s overall social, physical and academic development in the educational setting. At the higher levels of education, formal educational services will be defined more narrowly and will focus increasingly on academic standards and accreditation.

Duty to accommodate disability

Once a disability-related need has been identified, or where a prima facie case of discrimination has been established, education providers have a duty to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities to allow them to access educational services equally, unless to do so would cause undue hardship.[4]

Applies to public and private educational institutions

The right to equal treatment and the duty to accommodate exist for publicly funded and privately funded early childhood pre-schools, elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities. This includes special schools which exist in the province such as hospital schools, care and treatment programs, schools in correctional facilities and provincial schools.[5] It would also include separate schools, French language schools and trade, business and professional accreditation courses.

Defining disability

The definition of “disability” in the Code is broad.[6] It includes past, present and perceived conditions. When considering whether a student has been discriminated against because of disability, the focus may be on how the student was treated rather than on proving that he or she has physical limitations or an ailment.

What the courts say: The Supreme Court has established that a disability may be the result of a physical limitation, an ailment, a perceived limitation or a combination of all these factors. The focus is on the effects of the preference, exclusion or other type of differential treatment experienced by the person and not on proof of physical limitations or the presence of an ailment. The Court has stated: “By placing the emphasis on human dignity, respect, and the right to equality rather than a simple biomedical condition, this approach recognizes that the attitudes of society and its members often contribute to the idea or perception of a 'handicap'. In fact, a person may have no limitations in everyday activities other than those created by prejudice and stereotypes.”[7]

Protection for persons with disabilities under the Code explicitly includes physical disability, developmental disabilities and learning disabilities. Discrimination may be based as much on perceptions, myths and stereotypes, as on the existence of actual functional limitations.[8]

Forms of discrimination

Discrimination can take many forms. It can occur when an education provider adopts a rule that, on its face, discriminates against persons with disabilities.

Example: As a condition of enrolment, a college requires deaf students to sign a waiver stating that the college is not responsible for providing or funding accommodations.

Discrimination can also take place through another person or other means.

Example: A private school instructs an admissions scout not to recruit students with disabilities who have costly accommodation requirements. In this case, the person or persons giving the instructions are discriminating indirectly.

Education rules, policies, procedures, requirements, eligibility criteria or qualifications may appear neutral but may nonetheless amount to constructive or “adverse effect” discrimination.

Example: A university policy of awarding scholarships only to students in full-time attendance would likely have an adverse effect on students whose disabilities only permit them to attend school on a part-time basis.

[3] Peel Board of Education v. Ontario (Human Rights Commission) (1990), 12 C.H.R.R. D/91 (Ont. S.C.)
[4] See section 17 of the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code), R.S.O. 1990, c.H-19. It should be noted that, in some situations, equality may require different treatment that does not offend an individual’s dignity.
[5] Provincial schools are residential schools geared to students with specific exceptionalities (for example, students who are blind, deaf, deafened or hard of hearing).
[6] See section 10 of the Code, supra, note 5.
[7] Quebec (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse) v. Montréal (City); Quebec (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse) v. Boisbriand (City), [”Mercier”], 1 S.C.R. 665 at para. 77.
[8] Ibid., at para. 39.

Organizational responsibility: 

Principles of accommodation

Accommodation is a means of preventing and removing barriers that impede students with disabilities from participating fully in the educational environment in a way that is responsive to their own unique circumstances. The principle of accommodation involves three factors: dignity, individualization and inclusion.[9]

Respect for dignity

Students with disabilities have the right to receive educational services in a manner that is respectful of their dignity. Human dignity encompasses individual self-respect and self-worth. It is concerned with physical and psychological integrity and empowerment. It is harmed when individuals are marginalized, stigmatized, ignored or devalued.

Education providers must fashion accommodation solutions in a manner that respects the dignity of students with disabilities.[10] Accommodations should be considered along a continuum from those that most respect a student’s right to privacy, autonomy and dignity, to those that least respect them. Accommodations that do not take into account a student’s right to respectful and dignified treatment will not be appropriate.[11] Respect for dignity also includes taking into account how an accommodation is provided and the student’s (and/or their parent(s)’ or guardian(s)’) own participation in the process.

Educators have a duty to maintain a positive school environment for all persons they serve.[12] Throughout the OHRC’s consultation, participants emphasized that the attitudes of educators towards disability issues play a major role in influencing how other students treat and relate to students with disabilities. Teachers should make efforts to sensitize students about disability issues and to model respectful attitudes and behaviour towards students with disabilities. Education providers need to address any behaviour that may be injurious to the dignity of students with disabilities.

Individualized accommodation

There is no set formula for accommodation. Each student's needs are unique and must be considered afresh when an accommodation request is made. At all times, the emphasis must be on the individual student and not on the category of disability. Blanket approaches to accommodation that rely solely on categories, labels and generalizations are not acceptable.

Although many accommodations will benefit large numbers of students with similar needs, it must be kept in mind that an accommodation solution that meets one student's requirements may not meet the needs of another. Two students with the same disability may have very different needs; for example, while some students with visual impairments read Braille, many do not. Different effects of a disability and different learning styles may call for different approaches.[13]

In practice: An appropriate accommodation for a student who is deaf and whose primary language of communication is American Sign Language or Langue des signes québecoise might be a Provincial School for the Deaf or a sign language instructional program in a local community school. At the same time, an appropriate accommodation for another student, who is also profoundly deaf, and who primarily uses auditory-verbal communication, might be inclusion in a regular classroom.

Individualized assessment includes being aware of the ways in which students with disabilities are affected by also being members of other historically disadvantaged groups. These students may sometimes be subjected to discriminatory treatment that is based on more than one protected Code ground, e.g., race, sex, sexual orientation or ethnic origin. These grounds may “intersect” thus producing a unique experience of discrimination.[14]

In practice: An eight-year-old boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, whose family has recently immigrated to Ontario from Sri Lanka, registers at his neighbourhood public school.Tto ensure that the boy’s parents are fully informed about the workings of the special education system and the resources available to students with disabilities, the school principal provides the family with written information about these services in Tamil, the family’s first language.

In practice: A university organization providing support services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students ensures that its literature is available in alternative formats so that it is accessible to students with visual disabilities.

Education providers must also ensure that testing and evaluation materials and procedures used to grade and place students with disabilities are not selected or implemented in a manner that is racially or culturally biased, or otherwise infringes the rights protected by the Code.

Inclusion and full participation

As the OHRC noted in its Disability Policy, “in some circumstances, the best way to ensure the dignity of persons with disabilities may be to provide separate or specialized services.”[15] However, education providers must first make efforts to build or adapt educational services to accommodate students with disabilities in a way that promotes their inclusion and full participation. Preventing and removing barriers means all students should be able to access their environment and face the same duties and requirements with dignity and without impediment.

Did you know: Internationally, inclusion is recognized as an essential part of ensuring that students with disabilities have equal opportunities in school. In this regard, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) noted:
Inclusion is to be seen as part of the wider struggle to overcome exclusive discourse and practices, and against the ideology that each individual is completely separate and independent. Inclusion is about the improving of schooling. Rather than being a marginal theme concerned how a relatively small group of pupils might be attached to mainstream schools, it lays the foundations for an approach that could lead to the transformation of the system itself.[16]

Other jurisdictions: In the United States, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act also recognizes the importance of including students with disabilities in the regular curriculum. The Act states:

To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities...are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.[17]

Education providers must take steps to include students with disabilities in classroom and extra-curricular activities, wherever possible. Education policies, programs, services and activities must be designed inclusively with the needs of all students in mind, so they do not exclude or single out any student. Education policies must take into account the diverse needs of the student population, and must plan for alternative measures to address the needs of students with disabilities.

In practice: Workplace tensions have culminated to the point where a labour strike by school staff appears imminent. Thinking ahead, the school board in question works together with school principals to draft a contingency plan for students that would permit them to continue attending school should there be a work stoppage. The plan includes specific provisions addressing the needs of students with disabilities, and includes a back-up plan in the event that educational assistants, special needs assistants and other special education staff are part of a walkout.

The following are steps education providers can take to provide students with disabilities with the greatest opportunity to participate fully in educational services:

STEP 1: Promoting inclusive design

To ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to education, academic facilities, programs, policies and services must be structured and designed for inclusiveness. This means education providers have an obligation to be aware of both the differences between students and differences that characterize groups of individuals when making design choices to avoid creating barriers. This approach is referred to as “inclusive design” or “universal design.”[18]

Course curriculum, delivery methods and evaluation methodologies should be designed inclusively from the outset. This may mean creative use of technology, such as putting materials online, or selecting software that is compatible with screen readers. When courses are online, web-based or CD-based, accessibility issues should be addressed up-front, in the development stage.

Did you know: UNESCO’s 1994 World Conference on Special Needs Education, which resulted in the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education, emphasized that educational systems and programs should be designed and implemented to take into account the wide diversity of children’s needs and characteristics. Article 28 of the Salamanca Statement provides: “Curricula should be adapted to children’s needs, not vice-versa. Schools should therefore provide curricular opportunities to suit children with different abilities and interests.” [19]

When constructing new buildings, undertaking renovations, purchasing new computer systems, launching new websites, designing courses, setting up programs, services, policies and procedures, education-providers should keep in mind the principles of universal design. New barriers should never be created in the construction of new facilities or in the renovation of old ones. Rather, design plans should incorporate current accessibility standards such as the Canadian Standards Association’s Barrier-Free Design[20] and the Principles of Universal Design.[21]

In practice: A college takes steps to ensure that course handouts and other curriculum materials are available in electronic text format at the time print materials are provided to all students, so that students who require alternative formats (e.g., students with visual impairments or learning disabilities) do not experience delay. The college also makes efforts to provide course materials to all students by e-mail or the Internet to promote even greater inclusiveness.
Inclusive design emphasizes equal participation and recognizes that all students have varying abilities and needs. This method of design may involve an entirely different approach and it is based on positive steps needed to ensure equal access for those who have experienced historical disadvantage and exclusion from society’s benefits.[22] This positive approach is more effective because it is accessible and inclusive from the start. Barrier prevention is much more preferable to barrier removal, and it is consistent with the notion of disability as a social model.

STEP 2: Removing barriers

Students with disabilities currently face many obstacles in the education system, including physical, attitudinal and systemic barriers. Students with mobility disabilities, for example, may face barriers in the form of inaccessible school buildings and student housing. Negative attitudes towards and stereotypes about students with disabilities continue to act as obstacles in themselves, with some students not feeling welcome or included in class activities or social situations at school.

The removal of barriers is necessary to give meaning to the right to equality and freedom from discrimination guaranteed to persons with disabilities under Part 1 of the Code.

Where barriers already exist, the duty to accommodate requires education providers to make changes up to the point of undue hardship to provide equal access for students with disabilities.

In practice: A university arranges sensitivity training for all faculty and academic staff on issues facing students with learning disabilities. The training focuses on creating greater awareness of different learning needs, and addressing misperceptions and misinformation which in themselves can create barriers to equal access to educational services.

STEP 3: Accommodating remaining needs

Even where the principles of universal design have been fully implemented and schools have adopted a comprehensive approach to removing barriers, some barriers may continue to exist for students with disabilities.

Where barriers continue to exist because it is impossible to remove those barriers at a given point in time, then, as part of the duty to accommodate, next best alternatives or temporary solutions must be explored and implemented, if to do so would not result in undue hardship.

Differential treatment may sometimes be required to provide students with an equal opportunity to achieve full benefit from the education service. When accommodating the needs of students through differential treatment, educators must still keep in mind and maximize the principles of respect for dignity, individualization, inclusion and full participation.

How to achieve accessibility

  • Develop an accessibility policy and student complaint procedure.
  • Review and identify accessibility barriers across educational facilities.
  • Develop a standardized accessibility plan for future locations based not only on the Ontario Building Code, but also on the Ontario Human Rights Code and current standards and best practices in barrier-free design.
  • For existing facilities, develop a plan and begin removing barriers.
  • Monitor progress toward achieving accessibility

[9] In Eaton v. Brant County Board of Education, [1997] 1 S.C.R. 241, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that while specialized or segregated education may be appropriate where it is in a child’s best interest, integration should be recognized as a norm of general application.
[10] The Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed that dignity is a factor to be considered in determining disability accommodation in the education context. In commenting on its decision in Eaton v. Brant County Board of Education, the Court stated:
...Emily’s claim might have succeeded if ...the Court had been persuaded that the Board’s response to the challenge posed by Emily’s placement [the accommodation] had itself violated Emily’s dignity as a human being equally deserving of consideration, or placed discriminatory obstacles in the way of her self-fulfillment. [Emphasis added.]
Granovsky v. Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration), [2000] 1 S.C.R. 703 at para. 74 making reference to Eaton decision, ibid.
[11] The Supreme Court’s decisions in Law v. Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration), [1999] 1 S.C.R. 497 and Granovsky, ibid, have confirmed that the concept of human dignity is central to discrimination analysis. These cases indicate that if an accommodation marginalizes, stigmatizes or demeans the person with a disability’s sense of worth or dignity as a human being, it will not be appropriate.
[12] Ross v. New Brunswick School District No. 15, [1996] 1 S.C.R. 825, 25 C.H.R.R. D/175.
[13] In the Eaton decision, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the unique nature of disability and emphasized the need for individualized accommodation because the ground of disability “means vastly different things depending upon the individual and the context,” Eaton, supra, note 10 at para. 69.
[14] The OHRC has explored this “contextualized” or “intersectional” approach to discrimination analysis at length in its discussion paper entitled An Intersectional Approach to Discrimination: Addressing Multiple Grounds in Human Rights Claims (2001), available online at the OHRC’s website:
[15]Disability Policy, supra, note 2 at Part 3.1.3.
[16] UNESCO, Salamanca Five Years On: A Review of UNESCO Activities in the Light of The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education (1999) at p. 9
[17] Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C., ss. 612(a)(5)(A).
[18] The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University defines universal design as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.” Please see Information accessed July 30, 2004.
[19] Document available at Information accessed May 12, 2004.
[20] Document available at Information accessed May 12, 2004.
[21] See
[22] In Eaton, the Supreme Court of Canada stated:
Exclusion from the mainstream of society results from the construction of a society based solely on "mainstream" attributes to which the disabled will never be able to gain access...[I]t is the failure to make reasonable accommodation, to fine-tune society so that its structures and assumptions do not result in the relegation and banishment of disabled persons from participation, which results in discrimination against them. Eaton, note 10 at para. 67 of Quicklaw version.
And in another decision, the Court also affirmed that standards should be designed to reflect all members of society, insofar as this is reasonably possible. See British Columbia (Public Service Employee Relations Commission) v. BCGSEU, [1999] 3 S.C.R. 3 [“Meiorin”] at para. 68.

Organizational responsibility: 

Creating a welcoming environment

Preventing bullying and harassment

Part of an educational institution’s duty to maintain a safe learning environment for students includes addressing bullying and harassing behaviour. Students who are being harassed are entitled to the Code’s protection where the harassment creates a poisoned educational environment. This protection would apply to sanction: (i) education providers who themselves harass students based on Code grounds, and (ii) education providers who know or ought to know that a student is being harassed based on Code grounds, and who do not take effective individualized and systemic steps to remedy that harassment.

Responsibilities of education providers

Education providers have a responsibility to take immediate steps to intervene in situations where bullying and harassment may be taking place. The harassment of students because of disability will amount to discrimination where it poisons the educational setting and impairs access to educational services. Every person has the right to be free from humiliating or annoying behaviour that is based on one or more grounds in the Code. If left unchecked, harassment can impede a student’s ability to access educational services equally and to participate fully in the educational experience.

Example: In a classroom, a student with Tourette’s Syndrome is repeatedly subjected to taunting and teasing by a group of other students for no apparent reason. The same group of students exclude him from recess activities stating that he is “different” and “weird.” It may be inferred from the particular circumstances that the treatment is due to the student’s disability even though none of the other students ever made a direct reference to his disability. The student’s ability to access the educational program is, as a result of this harassment, impaired.

The courts have established that schools have a duty to maintain a positive, non-discriminatory learning environment. [23] In this regard, education providers should take steps to educate students about human rights and implement strategies to prevent discrimination and harassment. An education provider has a responsibility to take immediate remedial action once made aware of harassing conduct. If an allegation of harassment has been substantiated, appropriate action must be taken. This may include disciplinary action.

A student who is a target of harassment may be in a vulnerable situation. Therefore, there is no requirement that he or she formally object to the behaviour before a violation of the Code can be considered to have taken place, where the conduct is or should have been known to be unwelcome. It may be unrealistic to require a student who is the target of harassment to object as a condition of seeking the right to be free from such treatment.

An education provider who knew of, or should have had knowledge of, the harassment and could have taken steps to prevent or stop it, may be liable in a human rights claim.

Prevention through education

Anti-harassment training for educators and school staff is an important first step in creating a climate of mutual respect in an educational environment. Educators will then be in a position to appropriately address issues of bullying and harassment that arise in the classroom.

Education providers can help to prevent incidents of bullying and harassment before they occur by:

  • Exhibiting a clear attitude of non-tolerance towards bullying and harassment.
  • Communicating clearly to the student body the consequences of bullying and harassment.
  • Educating students about disability issues and encouraging awareness of differing needs and acceptance of diversity.
  • Engaging in role-playing and educational exercises to help students develop increased compassion and a greater awareness of the impact that bullying behaviour may be having on others.
  • Respecting the confidentiality of students who do report bullying. This will encourage other students who are being harassed to report it in its early stages.

Anti-harassment policies

Educational institutions can go a long way toward promoting a harassment-free environment for students with disabilities and other individuals protected by the Code, by having a clear, comprehensive anti-harassment policy in place. In cases of alleged harassment, the policy will alert all parties to their rights, roles and responsibilities. Such a policy should clearly set out ways in which the harassment will be dealt with promptly and efficiently. Please see the Appendix for suggested contents of an anti-harassment policy.

In practice: All students and school staff should be aware of the existence of an anti-harassment policy and the procedures in place for resolving complaints. This can be done by:

  • distributing policies to everyone as soon as they are introduced
  • making new students aware of them by including the policies in any orientation material
  • training educators and school staff on the contents of the policies
  • providing ongoing education on human rights issues.

Accounting for non-evident disabilities

Part of creating a welcoming environment involves being sensitive to the many ways in which a student’s disability might manifest and the unique needs that may arise as a result. Some types of disabilities are not apparent to the average onlooker. This can be because of the nature of the specific disability in question: it may be episodic, its effects may not be visible, or it may not manifest consistently in all environments. Examples of non-evident disabilities include mental disabilities, learning disabilities, chronic fatigue syndrome, environmental sensitivities and epilepsy.

Students with non-evident disabilities often face unique challenges in the education system. For some, requesting an accommodation may be especially difficult if a teacher or professor doubts the authenticity of the request because they cannot “see” it. Sensitivity and informed understanding on the part of educators, school staff and fellow students alike can combat stereotypes, stigma and prejudice, all of which can have a discriminatory effect on students with non-evident disabilities.

Mental disability is a form of non-evident disability that raises unique issues in the educational context. Much misinformation continues to exist about mental illness. Too often persons with mental disabilities are labelled and judged according to inaccurate preconceptions and assumptions. Rules, preconditions, policies or practices that treat persons with mental disabilities differently from other persons with disabilities may be discriminatory on their face.[24]

Academic environments must be sensitive to the needs of all students, including students with mental disabilities. It is important to keep in mind that some mental illnesses may render the student incapable of identifying his or her needs. An education provider has a responsibility to take an active role in addressing situations that may be linked to mental disability. Where an education provider has reason to believe that a student may require assistance or accommodation due to a mental disability, further inquiries should be made and support offered. Even if an education provider has not been formally advised of a mental disability, affording differential treatment to a student based on the perception of a disability may still engage the protection of the Code.

In practice: A third-year university student begins to exhibit erratic behaviour. Although she has been a successful student to date, she begins missing classes and she fails to submit her coursework on time. In the middle of a lecture, she suddenly starts shouting inexplicably. The university professor arranges to meet with the student after class to inquire into the student’s situation. As a result of this discussion, the professor contacts the university’s Office for Students with Disabilities. A meeting is arranged and the student is offered assistance. The university helps arrange counselling and support services for the student who, ultimately, is diagnosed with schizophrenia. The Office for Students with Disabilities then works with the student and her professors to arrange academic accommodations.

Education providers should educate themselves, school staff and students about non-evident disabilities, including mental illness, to provide a welcoming and safe environment for all students with disabilities. Schools should ensure that all students are provided with learning opportunities that foster an awareness and appreciation of diversity issues in the educational environment, and combat negative attitudes and stereotypes.

Discipline, safe schools and students with disabilities

The stated purposes of safe schools legislation, regulations and related school board policies – to promote respect, non-violent conflict resolution and the safety of people in schools – are reasonable and bona fide and of paramount importance.[25] At the same time, in some cases, discipline policies may have an adverse effect on students with disabilities.[26]

Education providers have a duty to assess each student with a disability individually before imposing disciplinary sanctions. Disciplinary sanctions include detentions, exclusions, suspensions, expulsions and other forms of punishment. Educators should attempt to determine whether the behaviour in question is a manifestation of the student’s disability by considering:

  • formal assessments and evaluations of the student
  • relevant information supplied by the student or the student’s parents
  • observations of the student
  • the student’s accommodation plan[27]
  • whether the accommodations provided for in the student’s accommodation plan were appropriate, and whether these accommodations were being provided consistent with the student’s accommodation plan
  • whether the student’s disability impaired his or her ability to understand the impact and consequences of the behaviour subject to disciplinary action
  • whether the student’s disability impaired his or her ability to control the behaviour subject to disciplinary action
  • whether the student has undetected disability-related needs that require accommodation.

Under the Code, education providers have a legal obligation to accommodate students with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship. All students with disabilities, even those whose behaviour is disruptive, are entitled to receive accommodation.

Did you know: Other jurisdictions have implemented safeguards to protect students with disabilities from being disciplined for behaviour that is disability-related. For example, in the United States, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that, where certain disciplinary action is taken or contemplated against a student with a disability, a review must be conducted of the relationship between the child’s disability and the behaviour subject to the disciplinary action.[28]

Educators must consider a range of strategies to address disruptive behaviour. Such strategies will include reassessing and, where necessary, modifying the student’s accommodation plan, providing additional supports, implementing alternative learning techniques, and other forms of positive behavioural intervention.

If a student’s behaviour is not a manifestation of his or her disability, that is, where there is no causal relationship between the student’s disability and the behaviour in question, then that student would be subject to the normal consequences of his or her misconduct. Where discipline is warranted, however, it is to be implemented with discretion and with regard to the student’s unique circumstances.[29]

There may be rare situations in which a student’s behaviour, even where it is a manifestation of his or her disability, poses a health and safety risk to the student him or herself, other students, teachers and/or school staff. While an education provider in this type of situation continues to have a duty to accommodate the student up to the point of undue hardship, it is recognized that there may be legitimate health and safety concerns that need to be addressed. In some situations involving health and safety risks, placement in a mainstream classroom may not be the most appropriate accommodation. This issue is discussed in the “Undue hardship standard” section of the Guidelines under “Health and safety requirements.”

[23] See Ross, supra, note 13; Quebec (Comm. Des droits de la personne) c. Deux-Montagnes, Comm. Scolaire, (1993), 19 C.H.R.R. D/1 (T.D.P.Q.) (“Kafe “); Jubran v. North Vancouver School District No. 44, (2002), 42 C.H.R.R. D/273, 2002 BCHRT 10 (In Jubran, the Tribunal held that the School Board (i) had a duty to provide an educational environment that did not expose students to discriminatory harassment, (ii) knew that students were harassing another student and (iii) was liable for failing to take adequate measures to stop that harassment. The B.C. Supreme Court quashed the Tribunal's decision on the ground that the harassment was not linked to a protected ground under the legislation, and stated that it did not have to decide any other issues in disposing of the case. The B.C. Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear a further appeal in October of 2004: see North Vancouver School District No. 44 v. Jubran, [2003] B.C.J. No. 10).
[24] For example, see Gibbs v. Battlefords and Dist. Cooperative Ltd. [1996] 3 S.C.R. 566, 27 C.H.R.R. D/87.
[25] In 2000, the Ontario Legislature passed the Safe Schools Act. The Act gives force to the provincial Code of Conduct and provides principals, teachers and school boards with more authority to suspend and expel students and involve the police. The Safe Schools Act specifies infractions that require mandatory suspensions, expulsions and police involvement. It also permits school board policies to add infractions for which suspensions or expulsions are either mandatory or discretionary. Bill 212, the Education Amendment Act, (Progressive Discipline and School Safety Act), 2007 was passed in June 2007. It amends but does not repeal the Safe Schools Act.
[26] The potential discriminatory effect of safe school legislation and policies on individuals protected by the Code was a prominent concern raised during the OHRC’s disability and education consultation, and is discussed at length in The Opportunity to Succeed. This issue was also raised extensively in the OHRC’s inquiry into racial profiling, and is discussed in the OHRC’s report entitled Paying the Price: The Human Cost of Racial Profiling. Both documents are available online at the OHRC’s website:
[27] For a more detailed discussion on accommodation plans, please refer to the section of the Guidelines entitled “Accommodation planning.”
[28] See Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, supra, note 18, ss. 615(k)(4)(A)(ii).
[29] The Ontario Court of Appeal has commented that discipline measures pursuant to the regulations under the Education Act must take into account a student’s individual circumstances. See Bonnah (Litigation Guardian of) v. Ottawa-Carlton District School Board (2003), 64 O.R. (3d) 454 (Ont. C.A.) at para. 37.

Discrimination Type: 
Organizational responsibility: 

Accommodation process

Basic principles

The principles of respect for dignity, individualization, inclusion and full participation apply both to the substance of an accommodation and to the accommodation process. The manner in which an accommodation is provided and the methods by which it is implemented are subject to human rights standards.

At the heart of the accommodation process is the responsibility, shared by all parties, to engage in meaningful dialogue about accommodation, and to seek out expert assistance as needed. Everyone involved should co-operatively engage in the process, share information and avail themselves of potential accommodation solutions.[30]

Sharing information

Information about accommodation procedures should be readily available to students and, where applicable, their parents. It is important to create an educational environment that encourages and supports accommodation requests, and educators and school staff should be encouraged to show a positive attitude toward accommodation. Educational institutions can demonstrate their support for and commitment to providing accommodation by making public announcements during meetings or through the institution’s communication channels. All students should be informed that students with disabilities are entitled to accommodation, the process for requesting an accommodation, their right to participate in such a process, and any other information that may be helpful in making the accommodation process more understandable and accessible. In addition, the accommodation process should be part of the regular life and discourse of the educational institution. At the same time, it should respect confidentiality and the process itself should not result in an undue burden on individual students and/or their parent(s)/guardian(s).


Accommodations must be provided in a timely manner. Delays in providing accommodation have the potential to directly impede a student’s ability to access and participate in the educational curriculum. As such, unreasonable delays may be found to violate the procedural duty to accommodate, and thus constitute a breach of the Code.

Examples of delays that students with disabilities may experience include:

  • waiting long periods of time for textbooks and other academic materials in alternative formats
  • delays in the receipt of professional assessments
  • delays in the provision of support staff (e.g., educational assistants, special needs assistants, sign language interpreters, etc.)
  • waiting lists for other types of special education services (e.g., identification hearings, classroom placements, preparation of accommodation plans, implementation of accommodation plans, processing of claims for funding, etc.)
  • delays in receiving needed adjustments to accommodations.

When making accommodation requests, students have a responsibility to give education providers ample time to ensure that accommodations will be available when needed.

Where the most appropriate accommodation cannot be provided right away, education providers have a duty to provide interim accommodation as the next best and timely solution while planning for a more appropriate and permanent solution. In the meantime, this will enable students be as productive and involved as possible.

In practice: A personal reader may be an interim accommodation for a person who has low vision, while she is waiting for an electronic transcription of course materials to be provided.

Dispute resolution

Education providers should provide an effective and transparent mechanism to resolve disputes that arise in the accommodation process. At the primary and secondary levels, students and their parents should have timely access to a mechanism that will hear and resolve issues related to the identification of a student’s disability-related needs, placement, programs and services, and any other process issues that may arise. The mechanism should comprise or have access to qualified individuals representing a range of interests. At the post-secondary level, students should also have an avenue to address and resolve accommodation disputes in a timely fashion.

The purpose of a dispute resolution mechanism should be to identify problems and determine ways to solve them which would permit the student access to educational services with a minimum of delay. Educational institutions should facilitate this process and provide reasonable assistance to students, and where applicable, their parents/guardians. Dispute resolution procedures that are not timely or effective could amount to a failure of the duty to accommodate.

Where there is a dispute regarding a proposed accommodation, and an education provider alleges undue hardship, the education provider must demonstrate it. It is not the responsibility of a student seeking accommodation to prove that a proposed accommodation would not cause undue hardship.[31]


Staff training is one of the critical supports that an educational institution can provide in the accommodation process. Disability awareness training should be a mandatory part of professional training for all teachers, faculty and school staff, and should be available on an ongoing basis throughout the school year. The student being accommodated, those responsible for providing accommodation and other staff should learn about disability issues, accommodation and the implemented choices.

In practice: At the primary and secondary levels, effective training will enable teachers to deal effectively with disability issues in the classroom. Training will also help teachers educate students about issues of diversity and difference.

In practice: At the post-secondary level, staff may need to learn about the interaction of a new access device with the organization’s computer system.

Training should be repeated if changes in the educational institution or in the student’s accommodation plan make it necessary to modify the accommodation.

[30] See Disability Policy, supra, note 2 at Part 3.4.
[31] The elements of undue hardship will be discussed in greater detail in the section of the Guidelines entitled “Undue Hardship Standard.”

Organizational responsibility: 

Confidentiality and disclosure of information

When requesting accommodation from an education provider, students (and/or their parent(s)/guardian(s)) have a responsibility to provide sufficient information about their disability-related needs to facilitate the accommodation. Educational services at the lower levels of education are broad and may include cultivating aspects of the student’s development beyond those that are strictly academic. Since the accommodations that younger students may require will often relate to their overall well-being, it may be appropriate for education providers at the primary and sometimes at the secondary levels to require more extensive and detailed information about a student’s disability-related needs. At the higher levels of schooling, where educational services are defined more narrowly and the focus is more on academic standards and accreditation, accommodations will generally be related to the student’s academic needs and the degree and type of information required by education providers will not likely be as broad.

In an ideal world, all students, including students with disabilities, would be comfortable discussing all aspects of their personal identities in an open manner without fear of discrimination and/or harassment. However, in reality, some students may be reluctant to disclose their disabilities at school, particularly at the secondary and post-secondary levels, for fear of being stigmatized, denied opportunities or arousing unwanted curiosity and unnecessary concern from others. Some will have had bad experiences in the past that may have included being on the receiving end of intolerant attitudes and other forms of discriminatory treatment.

Protecting disability-related information

It is important that an education provider take steps to ensure that students feel safe disclosing a disability. To avoid labelling or stereotyping, it is essential that education-providers take precautions to safeguard the disability-related information of students. This is especially important for individuals with disabilities that continue to carry a strong social stigma, such as mental illness and HIV/AIDS. Maintaining confidentiality for students with disabilities is an important procedural component of the duty to accommodate. The degree of confidentiality afforded to students will likely vary according to the level of education being offered. For example, confidentiality may be less of an issue for students at the primary school level where the educational service being offered is broad and student autonomy is less of an issue. For students at the secondary and post-secondary levels, privacy and confidentiality will likely be of greater importance, particularly as students, in many cases, are developing greater independence and will often be more in control of managing their own accommodation needs.

Personal information that either directly or indirectly identifies that a student has a disability should remain exclusively with designated personnel in a secure filing system away from the student’s academic record, to protect the student’s privacy. This is meant to protect the institution from allegations of discrimination, as well as the student from potential discriminatory practices.

In practice: In the day-to-day activities of the educational institution, education providers must take care to avoid disclosing a student’s disability. For example, faculty should not speak about a student’s disability in front of their class or other students, disclose a student’s personal disability information to other faculty/staff without permission, leave written information regarding a student’s disability in a public place or in plain view, or use names when discussing general disability issues.

Any data collected on students with disabilities (such as numbers of students served, types of disabilities or accommodations received) should be collected in aggregate, and must not include any information that would reveal a student’s identity. Particularly at the secondary and post-secondary levels, educational institutions must ensure that data on disability do not appear on academic documents including test results, transcripts, student records or graduation documentation. Distinguishing the score results of a student who received accommodation has the potential of revealing the existence of a disability and exposing that student to discrimination.

In practice: Transcripts, entrance test result forms, or licensing exam result forms should not indicate that a student received accommodation, or that academic requirements were met under “special” or “non-standard conditions.”

For some students, disclosing a disability may not be necessary because the disability may not impact upon their study. This will especially be the case where educational institutions have designed their technology structures, curricula, programs and services inclusively, and adaptation or modification to meet the needs of students with disabilities is therefore unnecessary.

Information to be provided

While a student seeking accommodation must provide information about his or her disability-related needs, and in some cases may have to provide medical confirmation that a disability exists, it is not generally necessary, particularly at the secondary and post-secondary levels, for the student to explicitly inform the education provider of the specific type of disability, or to provide specific medical information (e.g., a diagnosis) about a disability. A diagnosis of a student’s medical condition will not usually be relevant to or necessary for planning accommodation, and wherever possible, an education provider should attempt to ascertain the disability-related needs of a student without requiring a formal diagnosis.

There will be some cases, however, where there may be overlap between a description of the student’s needs and an actual diagnosis. In these circumstances, it may be necessary for an education provider to require a diagnosis to appropriately accommodate a student.

Example: In the course of providing information to her school principal to facilitate the provision of accommodation, a Grade 11 student provides an assessment of her learning needs from an outside expert. The assessment outlines the learning supports required by the student, and in doing so, identifies the student as having a learning disability.

The staff in offices for students with disabilities at colleges and universities have expertise in dealing with accommodation issues in the academic environment and, as such, can play a vital role in assisting with the accommodation process. Students may choose to provide these offices with more detailed information about their disabilities, including, for example, a diagnostic assessment, where to do so would facilitate the provision of accommodation. Offices for students with disabilities must ensure that the disability-related information of students is kept strictly confidential.

There may also be some instances where a student will be asked to produce a medical diagnosis of his or her disability for the purposes of establishing eligibility for student funding programs.

Example: A government-sponsored fund developed specifically to assist college and university students who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing requires that students provide a medical diagnosis to be considered eligible.

In situations where a diagnosis is necessary, the educational institution is responsible for implementing procedures to ensure that student confidentiality is maximized, the information requested is limited to that which is specifically needed for the program, and the information is disseminated only to those responsible for administering the program.

In some instances, there may be a reasonable and bona fide basis for an education provider to question the legitimacy of a student’s request for accommodation or the adequacy of the information provided. In such cases, the education provider may request confirmation or additional information from a qualified health care professional. No one can be forced to submit to an independent medical examination, but failure to respond to reasonable requests may delay the provision of accommodation until such information is provided.

Organizational responsibility: 

Appropriate accommodation

Basic principles

It is the OHRC’s position that the duty to accommodate requires that the most appropriate accommodation be determined and then undertaken, short of undue hardship. The most appropriate accommodation is one that most respects the dignity of the student with a disability, meets individual needs, best promotes inclusion and full participation, and maximizes confidentiality.

An accommodation will be considered appropriate if it will result in equal opportunity to attain the same level of performance, or to enjoy the same level of benefits and privileges enjoyed by others, or if it is proposed or adopted for the purpose of achieving equal opportunity, and meets the student’s disability-related needs.

The aim of accommodation is the inclusion and full participation of students with disabilities in educational life. Education providers must make efforts to build or adapt educational services to accommodate students with disabilities in a way that promotes their full participation. Barriers must be prevented or removed so that students with disabilities are provided with equal opportunities to access and benefit from their environment and face the same duties and requirements as everyone else, with dignity and without impediment.

Forms of accommodation

Depending on a student’s individual needs and the nature of the educational service being provided, accommodations that students with disabilities may require may include:

  • modifications to improve the physical accessibility of educational buildings, facilities, resources and student housing
  • support services, such as assessment or advice on learning strategies
  • a modified curriculum
  • modification to evaluation methodologies, such as extended time when taking tests and completing assignments, or alternative evaluation formats
  • academic materials in alternative formats (e.g., Braille, large print, digitized text, voice activated software, assisted hearing devices)
  • sign language interpretation services
  • provision of and training on adaptive technology
  • in-class assistance from specialized professionals
  • in-class supports (e.g., tutors, interpreters, notetakers, personal readers)
  • transportation to and from school.


At the primary and secondary levels, before considering placing a student in a self-contained or specialized classroom, education providers must first consider inclusion in the regular classroom.[32] In most cases, appropriate accommodation will be accommodation in the regular classroom with supports.[33] However, every student with a disability is unique. To provide appropriate accommodation to all students with disabilities, education providers must, with the assistance of parental input, assess each student’s particular strengths and needs, and consider these against a full range of placements, programs and services. Ultimately, appropriate accommodation will be decided on an individual basis.

In determining the most appropriate accommodation, education providers should consider factors such as:

  • the student’s preferred learning style
  • the student’s academic performance (grades and other signs of advancement or regression)
  • the length of time the accommodation will take to arrange
  • whether supports provided are compatible with accommodation supports used at home
  • the geographical proximity of a placement to the student’s home (ideally, the student should be able to attend his or her neighbourhood school)
  • the extent to which a placement affords the student with opportunities to socialize and interact with other students
  • the degree to which a placement addresses health and safety issues.

In the Eaton decision, the Supreme Court of Canada established that equality may sometimes require different treatment that does not offend an individual’s dignity.[34] Emily Eaton, a student with a disability, was initially placed in an integrated classroom. However, after three years, her teachers and assistants concluded that this placement was not in her best interests and she was moved to a specialized classroom. Her parents disputed the change and appealed the decision up to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court stated that the failure to place Emily Eaton in an integrated setting did not create a burden or disadvantage for her, because such a placement was not in her best interests. According to the Court,

While integration should be recognized as the norm of general application because of the benefits it generally provides, a presumption in favour of integrated schooling would work to the disadvantage of pupils who require special education in order to achieve equality ...Integration can be either a benefit or a burden depending on whether the individual can profit from the advantages that integration provides.

At the same time, the Supreme Court has also said that the search for accommodation is a multi-party inquiry.[35] In education, this means that students with disabilities, their parents or guardians, as well as educators, administrators and any necessary experts together must consider the best interests of the student in determining the most appropriate placement accommodation. In some circumstances, the best way to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities with dignity may be to provide separate or specialized services. This may include education in a self-contained classroom within a neighbourhood school, or it may involve enrolment in a specialized school, including a provincial school or a demonstration school. However, it is the OHRC’s view that, before considering placing a student in a self-contained or specialized classroom, education providers must first consider inclusion in the regular classroom.

Where placement outside the regular classroom is determined to be the most appropriate accommodation, the education provider should still make reasonable efforts to include the student in school programs and activities with students without disabilities, wherever possible. For example, the student should be afforded the opportunity to participate in music and art classes, lunch, recess, gym, school trips, etc.

Accommodation process as a continuum

Accommodation is a process and is a matter of degree, rather than an all-or-nothing proposition, and can be seen as a continuum. At one end of this continuum would be the most appropriate accommodation that meets a student’s needs. Alternative accommodation (that which would be less than "ideal") might be next on the continuum and might also be implemented as an interim solution until the most appropriate accommodation is implemented or restored. This also means that in the course of exploring other appropriate alternatives, the most appropriate accommodation known at that given point in time should still be implemented or maintained.

It is the OHRC’s view that short of undue hardship, the highest point in the continuum of accommodation must be achieved. However, if there is a choice between two accommodations which are equally responsive to the student’s needs in a dignified manner, then those responsible for accommodation may select the one that is less expensive or that is less disruptive to the organization.

In practice: While in grade 3, a student with dyslexia received the one-on-one services of a full-time Special Needs Assistant as an accommodation. Based on an assessment of the nature and extent of the student’s needs along with a review of her academic and social progress, this level of intensive support was no longer necessary once the student was in grade 4 and the school board decided that the services of a part-time Special Needs Assistant would be an appropriate accommodation.

The Code does not guarantee the right to any one particular form of accommodation. Before opting for the less expensive or disruptive option, however, an accommodation provider must first demonstrate, considering the student’s specific needs, that two accommodations are in fact equally responsive and equally dignified.

Modifying educational requirements

Section 17 of the Code states that a right is not infringed if the person with a disability is incapable of performing or fulfilling the essential duties or requirements attending the exercise of the right. Once appropriate accommodation is received, students must still be able to perform the essential requirements of the service. While courts and tribunals have provided little guidance on the nature of essential duties and requirements, terms that have been used include indispensable, vital and very important.

Depending on the level of education in question, essential requirements may be defined quite differently. At the primary and secondary levels, for instance, there is a statutory right to education for all. Each child is entitled to the opportunity to develop his or her unique abilities and talents. Therefore, the essential requirements of the educational service at these levels would be defined broadly, and would likely include the student’s overall physical and social development, in addition to the student’s academic performance.

At the post-secondary level, the educational right would be defined more narrowly, and the essential requirements of the educational service at this level would likely be more focused on academic performance. An appropriate accommodation at the post-secondary level would enable a student to successfully meet the essential requirements of the program, with no alteration in standards or outcomes, although the manner in which the student demonstrates mastery, knowledge and skills may be altered. In this way, education providers are able to provide all students with equal opportunities to enjoy the same level of benefits and privileges and meet the requirements for acquiring an education without the risk of compromising academic integrity.[36]

In practice: A college policy requires students to fulfil a minimum number of in-class hours to receive credit for a course. However, in response to the needs of students whose disabilities make it difficult or impossible to attend school full-time, the policy states that the attendance requirements may be modified where appropriate.

A requirement should not lightly be considered to be essential, but should be carefully scrutinized. This includes course requirements and standards. For example, at the post-secondary level, it may likely be an essential requirement that a student master core aspects of a course curriculum. It is much less likely that it will be an essential requirement to demonstrate that mastery in a particular format, unless mastery of that format (e.g., oral communication) is also a vital requirement of the program.

In practice: A university professor in a nursing program requires all students to demonstrate proficiency in her course by passing an in-class essay test worth 100% of the student’s final grade. The primary aim of the course is to teach students clinical evaluation methodology. Unless the education provider can show that the 100% essay mode of evaluation is an essential requirement of the course, it may be found to discriminate against students with learning disabilities and other types of disabilities that make it difficult to process large amounts of written material under strict time constraints.

The onus is on the education provider to show that a student is incapable of performing the essential requirements of the educational service, even with accommodation. Conclusions about inability to perform essential requirements must not be reached without actually testing the ability of the student. It is not enough for an education provider to assume that a student cannot perform an essential requirement. Rather, there must be an objective determination of that fact.

Non-essential requirements are those requirements that would not detract from the main purpose of the educational service if they were waived. Accommodation for non-essential requirements may include finding another way for the student to meet the requirement, having it done differently, or dropping it altogether.

[32] The Ministry of Education has articulated its policy position on this issue stating its commitment to the principle that “the integration of exceptional students should be the normal practice in Ontario, when such a placement meets the pupil’s needs and is in accordance with parental wishes.” Please see MEDU Memorandum dated June 9, 1994 to directors of education, superintendents of special education and principals as quoted in Ministry of Education, Special Education: A Guide for Educators, 2001 at D10. Please note that the Ministry of Education launched Ontario’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy in April 2009.
[33] In situations where an education provider makes a determination that home instruction is the most appropriate accommodation for a student with a disability, even if it is only an interim placement while other more permanent accommodation solutions are being explored, the education provider continues to have a duty to accommodate the student up to the point of undue hardship and to bear the costs of the accommodation.
[34] Eaton, supra, note 10.
[35] Central Okanagan School District No. 23 v. Renaud, [1992] 2 S.C.R. 970 at para. 43.
[36] For a more detailed discussion on academic integrity, please see The Opportunity to Succeed at pages 61-62.

Organizational responsibility: 

Accommodation planning

As part of the duty to accommodate, education providers are responsible for taking steps to plan for the accommodation of students with disabilities. Effective planning will take place both on an organizational level and on an individual level in relation to each student with accommodation needs. Individual planning should also address the transition needs of a student as he or she moves from one level or type of education to another. Accommodation planning may also require education providers to collect and analyze aggregate data on students with disabilities to ensure that education policies and practices do not have an adverse effect on these students.

Accommodation is an ongoing process. Accessibility plans and accommodation plans should be reviewed on a regular basis. As with any other plan, documenting progress in writing helps with monitoring, accountability and future planning. Where academic requirements or facilities change over time, education providers are required to review, modify or upgrade accommodations. Plans should be revised as the individual’s needs, or the educational institution, changes.

Example: A change in the computer network could interrupt a student’s efficient use of a technical aid connected to the system. New equipment in the school or educational institution may require additional accommodation or modifications to existing accommodations.

Institutional accessibility plans

Education providers must take steps to ensure that accessibility plans comply with the requirements of human rights law and policy. To be effective, an accessibility plan should set out an educational institution’s specific commitments to providing equal access to educational services for all students. In this regard, accessibility plans should:

  • set goals, identify steps being taken and report on achievements made by the educational institution with respect to adhering to the principles of inclusion by design, barrier removal, most appropriate or next best or interim accommodation of remaining needs, individualization, confidentiality and shared responsibilities in the accommodation process
  • report on policies, procedures and mechanisms for implementation, monitoring, education and training, input, dispute resolution and accountability
  • include timelines, performance measures and accountability structures; and respect the dignity and the right to inclusion and participation of students with disabilities in the process of planning for and implementing accessibility.

In practice: Education providers might wish to prepare and make available to the public a formal report outlining their commitment to providing accessible education for all students. The Report might include the educational institution’s accessibility plan and the findings of data collection and analysis. Where the data reveals discrepancies, the report could also set out steps that will be taken to address inequities and bring the education provider’s practices into compliance with the Code and OHRC policy.

Individual accommodation plans

Education providers should also develop an accommodation plan for each student with a disability who requires accommodation, in consultation with that student and/or his or her parent or guardian. At the primary and secondary levels, accommodation plans will likely be more prescriptive and structured and include learning objectives. At the post-secondary level, students might prefer to have more control over their accommodation planning, and plans would likely focus on specific accommodation services or modifications to evaluation methods, and would not be as tied to learning outcomes. Depending on the student’s individual needs and preferences, an effective accommodation plan may include:

  • a statement of the student’s individual limitations and needs as they relate to accessing the service of education, including any necessary assessments and information from experts or specialists
  • arrangements for necessary assessments by a health or other professional
  • identification of the most appropriate accommodation
  • a statement of the specific services and supports required by the student (e.g., assistive technology devices)
  • ordering any necessary products or services
  • the student’s present levels of educational performance and a statement of current educational status (may not be required at the post-secondary level)
  • a statement of annual goals (including specific performance indicators and short-term objectives)
  • incorporation of input from student and/or parent(s)/guardian(s)
  • clear timelines for the various stages of the accommodation process
  • specific steps to be taken to meet annual goals
  • criteria, procedure and schedule to determine whether the accommodation is facilitating the student’s educational goals
  • a mechanism for review and re-assessment, where necessary, to determine whether the student’s accommodation needs are being met
  • an accountability mechanism (for example, if plan not implemented, or if not implemented effectively or in a timely fashion.


At the primary and secondary levels, accommodation plans should also include a statement with respect to the student’s transition needs. It might include, for example, a plan to have the student take specific courses designed to prepare him or her for post-secondary study, or it might outline a strategy to have the student participate in a vocational educational program or other type of “co-op” placement. The focus should be on how the student’s educational program can be planned to facilitate a successful transition to his or her goals after secondary school. Each student is unique, and goals may include post-secondary schooling, vocational training, integrated employment, continuing and adult education, independent living or community participation. School staff should inform students that, where the student so desires, staff will communicate with the student’s prospective educational institution or employers with regard to accommodation practices or effective learning strategies to help facilitate the student’s transition.

Transition planning will also be appropriate in situations where students are transferring from one type of educational setting to another.

Example: An 11-year-old girl with a history of behavioural difficulties has made significant progress in a section 20 program.[37] She has learned effective anger management techniques and is ready to be re-integrated into the regular school system with supports. Working together, her former and prospective teachers, her parents and medical professionals develop a plan to facilitate this transition.

Data collection

Effective planning requires that education providers ensure that education policies and practices do not have an adverse impact on students with disabilities or other individuals protected by the Code. To make sure that education environments are free from social phenomena widely recognized as discriminatory such as profiling, institutionalized barriers, socio-economic disadvantage or unequal opportunity on the basis of protected Code grounds, education providers should collect statistical information for the purposes of monitoring, preventing and ameliorating systemic and adverse discrimination.

Did you know: In 2004, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), in conjunction with provincial organizations, established the Safe and Compassionate Schools Task Force to review the Board's Safe Schools Policy and its implementation. In its submission to the Task Force, the OHRC recommended that the TDSB collect and analyze data on suspensions and expulsions under the Safe Schools Act and that this data be used to prevent and correct any discriminatory effect.[38]

Statistics and data collection may also be warranted in situations where an education provider has an objective basis to believe that systemic infringement of rights may be occurring, where there are persistent allegations or perceptions of systemic discrimination, or where it is an organization’s intent to prevent or ameliorate disadvantage already known to be faced by persons with disabilities. Where problems are identified, data analysis can provide useful direction for remedies to address systemic discrimination as well as evaluate the success of such measures. This is in keeping with the remedial purpose of the Code and with recent human rights jurisprudence that finds organizations have an obligation to take into account a person’s already disadvantaged position within Canadian society.[39]

Other jurisdictions: In the United States, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires states to collect and provide data on students with disabilities on an annual basis. Internationally, the United Nations has also recommended that “States Parties should encourage the collection, analysis and codification of statistics and information on disabilities and on the effective enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities.”[40]

Data collection and the use of data should only ever be undertaken for legitimate purposes not contrary to the Code such as ameliorating disadvantage, removing systemic barriers and promoting substantive equality for individuals and groups protected by the Code. Collecting information about characteristics based on enumerated grounds under the Code may lead to an inference that the information might be used to treat an individual or group in a discriminatory manner. To address such concerns, measures should be taken to ensure that the collection and use of data is done in a legitimate and appropriate manner. [41]

In practice: At the primary and secondary levels, data collected could include numbers of students in mainstream classrooms versus self-contained classrooms, number of students in each placement according to type of disability, number of students who also belong to other historically disadvantaged groups, etc. At the post-secondary level, data collected could include numbers of students who leave their programs before graduating, and lengths of time taken to provide accommodation.
Where an analysis of this data reveals significant discrepancies with respect to trends in identification, placement, disciplinary action, graduation and/or drop-out rates, education providers should review and revise their policies, practices and procedures accordingly to ensure that they are in compliance with the Code.

[37] Section 20 programs provide educational programming to students who, for a variety of reasons, require their educational needs to be met outside of the regular school system in specialized settings.
[38] See Recommendation #3 of the Submission of the Ontario Human Rights Commission to the Toronto District School Board Safe and Compassionate Schools Task Force (April 2004) available online at the OHRC’s website: In addition, in The Opportunity to Succeed, the OHRC recommended that school boards collect and analyze data on suspensions and expulsions under the Safe Schools Act to ensure that the Act is not having an adverse effect on individuals protected by the Code. The OHRC also recommended that the Ministry of Education collect and analyze data on placements of students with disabilities for the purpose of addressing iniquities and promoting compliance with the Code and OHRC policy. See The Opportunity to Succeed, supra, note 27 at pp. 25 and 40 respectively.
[39] The notion that substantive differential treatment can result because of a distinction, exclusion or preference, or because of a failure to take into account a person’s already disadvantaged position within Canadian society, was first articulated in Law, supra, note 12. The approach has been affirmed in several subsequent cases, most notably two cases dealing with discrimination on the basis of disability: Mercier, supra, note 8, and Granovsky, supra, note 11.
[40] Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, supra, note 18, s. 618(c); Draft Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, at Article 6, United Nations Ad Hoc Committee, January 2004.
[41] For more information, please see the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Guidelines for Collecting Data on Enumerated Grounds Under the Code, available online at the OHRC’s website:

Organizational responsibility: 

Undue hardship standard

Under the Code, every student with a disability is entitled to accommodation up to the point of undue hardship. The Code sets out only three elements that may be considered in assessing whether an accommodation would cause undue hardship:

  • cost
  • outside sources of funding, if any
  • health and safety requirements, if any.

It is the OHRC’s position that this means that only factors that can be brought within these three elements should be considered.[42]

Example: A union opposes the hiring of a specialized education professional to assist in the accommodation of a student with a learning disability because the professional is not part of the bargaining unit. Unless the union can show that the hiring will cause undue hardship on the basis of one of the three elements set out above, disruption to the collective agreement will not, in and of itself, be enough to establish undue hardship.

To claim the undue hardship defence, the education provider has the onus of proof. The student requesting accommodation does not have to prove that the accommodation can be accomplished without undue hardship. The nature of the evidence required to prove undue hardship must be objective, real, direct and, in the case of cost, quantifiable. The education provider must provide facts, figures and scientific data or opinion to support a claim that the proposed accommodation in fact causes undue hardship. A mere statement, without supporting evidence, that the cost or risk is “too high” based on impressionistic views or stereotypes will not be sufficient.

Objective evidence includes, but is not limited to:

  • financial statements and budgets
  • scientific data, information and data resulting from empirical studies
  • expert opinion
  • detailed information about the activity and the requested accommodation
  • information about the conditions surrounding the activity and their effects on the person or group with a disability.

Elements of the undue hardship defence


What the courts say: The Supreme Court of Canada has said that, “One must be wary of putting too low a value on accommodating the disabled. It is all too easy to cite increased cost as a reason for refusing to accord the disabled equal treatment.”[43]

The costs standard is a high one. Where possible, an education provider must take steps to recover the costs of accommodation. This can be done, for example, by obtaining grants, subsidies and other outside sources of funding[44] that help to offset accommodation expenses. Tax deductions and other government benefits flowing from the accommodation must also be considered. In addition, inclusive design and other creative design solutions can often avoid expensive capital outlay.

In determining whether a financial cost would alter the essential nature or substantially affect the viability of the educational institution, consideration will be given to:

  • The size of the institution – what might prove to be a cost amounting to undue hardship for a small educational institution will not likely be one for a larger educational institution.
  • Can the costs be recovered in the normal course of operation?
  • Can other divisions, departments, etc. of the educational institution help to absorb part of the costs?
  • Can the costs be phased in – so much per year?
  • Can the education provider set aside a certain percentage of money per year to be placed in a reserve fund to be used for accommodation issues?[45]
  • Will the educational programs and services for all students be substantially and permanently altered? For example, will a school board be forced to cancel its music programs to fund an accommodation?

The government is required to ensure that school boards have access to sufficient funding to ensure equal access to education. School boards, in turn, have a responsibility to provide adequate funding to schools to enable the provision of accommodations. Where an education provider receives funding from government for the purposes of promoting accessibility and meeting the needs of students with disabilities, the education provider should track accommodation data and alert the government to any funding deficiencies that exist.

Education providers cannot use limited resources or budgetary restrictions as a defence to the duty to accommodate without first meeting the formal test for undue hardship based on costs. Further, education providers are not to decide which accommodations are most appropriate for a student based on financial considerations or budgetary constraints. Whether an accommodation is “appropriate” is a determination completely distinct and separate from whether the accommodation would result in "undue hardship." If the accommodation meets the student’s needs and does so in a way that most respects dignity, then a determination can be made as to whether or not this “most appropriate” accommodation would result in undue hardship.

Where the most appropriate accommodation would result in undue hardship, education providers should consider “next best” alternatives or interim measures while the most appropriate accommodation is being phased in or implemented at a later date.

If an accommodation exceeds an education provider’s pre-determined special education budget, the education provider must look to its global budget, unless to do so would cause undue hardship.[46]

Example: A publicly-funded school informs the parents of a student with a learning disability that they cannot provide their son with the services of a special needs assistant. The school principal states that he only has a certain amount of resources to fund accommodations to students with disabilities, and that he has already spent the money on the “most needy” students. The school board in this instance would be required to review its overall budget before supporting a conclusion that the accommodation could not be provided without causing undue hardship based on costs.

Costs of accommodation must be distributed as widely as possible within the institution responsible for accommodation so that no single school or academic department is disproportionately burdened with the costs of accommodation. The appropriate basis for evaluating the costs is based on the budget of the institution as a whole, not the school or academic department in which the student with the disability has requested an accommodation.

Example: A college student requires the services of a sign language interpreter in his classes. The college has received several accommodation requests in the given academic year and has depleted its disability accommodation budget. Before denying the student’s request, however, the college reviews its overall budget and finds a surplus in the budget of the business department which is then used to fund the student’s request.

Larger organizations, governments in particular, may be in a better position to set an example or provide leadership in accommodating persons with disabilities. Accommodation costs will likely be more easily absorbed by larger organizations.

Health and safety requirements

Maintaining a safe learning environment for students, school staff and educators alike is an important objective. Health and safety issues will arise in various educational contexts and have the potential to affect individual students with disabilities, other students, educators and school staff. Depending on the nature and degree of risk involved, it may be open to education providers to argue that accommodating a student with a disability would amount to an undue hardship.

Where a health and safety requirement creates a barrier for a student with a disability, the education provider should assess whether the requirement can be modified or waived. However, modifying or waiving health and safety requirements may create risks that have to be weighed against the student's right to equality.

In practice: A teacher has reservations about allowing a student who uses a wheelchair to accompany the class on a field trip to a local zoo because of her belief that it will be too dangerous. The school principal decides to make further inquiries, including contacting the zoo’s management, and determines that most of the facility is accessible and that patrons who use wheelchairs and other motorized devices regularly visit the premises without incident. It is important to substantiate the actual degree of risk in question, rather than acting on inaccurate or stereotypical perceptions that may have little to do with a student’s actual limitations.

An education provider may believe that accommodation that would result in the modification or waiver of a health or safety requirement could place the student at risk. The education provider is obliged to explain the potential risk to the student or his or her parent, where appropriate. The student, or his or her parent, will usually be in the best position to assess the risk. This applies only if the potential risk is to the student's health or safety alone. Where the risk that remains after considering alternatives and after accommodation is so significant as to outweigh the benefits of enhancing equality, it will be considered to be undue hardship.

Where a student is placed in an educational setting outside the regular classroom due to health and safety risks, the student is entitled to periodic reassessment to determine, in cases where the student’s status changes, whether re-inclusion in the regular educational program is appropriate.

In practice: A student with bi-polar disorder is unable to attend college due to uncontrollable and violent outbursts associated with his disability. After a period of medical treatment and with the aid of medication, he is able to manage his disability effectively. At this point, the college arranges to meet with and reassess the student’s accommodation needs. The duty to accommodate is dynamic and ongoing and must be responsive to changes in the nature of a student’s disability.

Where modification or waiver of a health or safety requirement is believed to result in a risk to the health or safety of others, the degree of risk must be evaluated. The education provider must consider other types of risks assumed within the institution. A potential risk created by accommodation should be assessed in light of those other more common sources of risk in the educational institution. The seriousness of the risk is to be judged based on taking suitable precautions to reduce it.

An education provider can determine whether modifying or waiving a health or safety requirement creates a significant risk by considering the following:

  • Is the student (or his or her parents) willing to assume the risk in circumstances where the risk is solely to his or her own health or safety?[47]
  • Would changing or waiving the requirement be reasonably likely to result in a serious risk to the health or safety of other students, educators or school staff?[48]
  • What other types of risks are assumed within the institution or sector, and what types of risks are tolerated within society as a whole?

In evaluating the seriousness or significance of risk, the following factors may be considered:

  • The nature of the risk: What could happen that would be harmful?
  • The severity of the risk: How serious would the harm be if it occurred?
  • The probability of the risk: How likely is it that the potential harm will actually occur? Is it a real risk, or merely hypothetical or speculative? Could it occur frequently?
  • The scope of the risk: Who will be affected by the event if it occurs?

If the potential harm is minor and not very likely to occur, the risk should not be considered serious. If there is a risk to public safety, consideration will be given to the increased numbers of people potentially affected and the likelihood that the harmful event may occur.

Where a student with a disability engages in behaviour that affects the well-being of others, it may be open to education providers to argue that to accommodate that student would cause undue hardship on the basis of health and safety concerns, specifically, that the accommodation would pose a risk to public safety. However, the seriousness of the risk will be evaluated only after accommodation has been provided and only after appropriate precautions have been taken to reduce the risk. It will be up to the education provider to provide objective and direct evidence of the risk. Suspicions or impressionistic beliefs about the degree of risk posed by a student, without supporting evidence, will not be sufficient.

A claim of undue hardship must stem from a genuine interest in maintaining a safe learning environment for all students, rather than as a punitive action. Even where a student poses a risk to him or herself or the safety of others, an education provider still has a duty to canvass other accommodation options, including separate services, where possible and appropriate.

Ultimately, an education provider must balance the rights of the student with a disability with the rights of others. There may be situations where a student poses a health and safety risk to him or herself or to others that would amount to an undue hardship, or an otherwise appropriate accommodation is impossible to implement in the particular circumstances. However, it is important that education providers not rush to such a conclusion. Further training for staff, or further supports for the student may resolve the issue. The accommodation process must be fully explored, to the point of undue hardship.

[42] The broad and purposive interpretation of the Code and human rights generally means that rights must be construed liberally and defences to those rights should be construed narrowly. There are a number of cases that confirm this approach to the interpretation of human rights statutes. Most recently, in Mercier, supra note 8, the Supreme Court summarized these cases and outlined the relevant principles of human rights interpretation. Moreover, the Code has primacy over other legislation (see sub-section 47(2) of the Code).
[43] British Columbia (Superintendent of Motor Vehicles) v. British Columbia (Council of Human Rights), [1999] 3 S.C.R. 868 [“Grismer”] at para. 41.
[44] Outside sources of funding may include:

  • Funds that may be available to the student only, provided through government programs and that are linked to the student’s disability. Students might be expected to take advantage of these programs when making accommodation requests of an education provider. However, such resources should most appropriately meet the accommodation needs of the student, including respect for dignity.
  • Funds that would help education providers defray the costs of accommodation. Other outside accommodation resources might be available to a student with a disability when more than one organization has an overlapping or interconnected sphere of responsibility for the duty to accommodate.
  • Funding programs to improve accessibility for persons with disabilities – a corporate or organizational responsibility.

[45] It should be noted that both phasing in and establishing a reserve fund are to be considered only after the accommodation provider has demonstrated that the most appropriate accommodation could not be accomplished immediately.
[46] This is consistent with the OHRC’s approach in the employment context, where an employer or other entity cannot refuse to accommodate an employee with a disability because the accommodation would exhaust the funds that the employer had earmarked for employees with disabilities.
[47] Risk is evaluated after all accommodations have been made to reduce it.
[48] Ibid.

Organizational responsibility: 

Roles and responsibilities

Often, a number of parties might be involved in the accommodation process rendering it quite complex. Everyone should co-operatively engage in the process, share information and avail themselves of potential accommodation solutions. It is in everyone’s best interests that congenial and respectful relationships be maintained throughout the accommodation process.

The student with a disability (or his or her parent/guardian) has a responsibility to:

  • advise the education provider of the need for accommodation related to a disability
  • make his or her needs known to the best of his or her ability, so that the education provider may make the requested accommodation
  • answer questions or provide information regarding relevant restrictions or limitations, including information from health care professionals, where appropriate, and as needed
  • participate in discussions regarding possible accommodation solutions
  • co-operate with any experts whose assistance is required
  • fulfill agreedupon responsibilities, as set out in the accommodation plan
  • work with the education provider on an ongoing basis to manage the accommodation process
  • advise the education provider of difficulties they may be experiencing in accessing educational life, including problems with arranged accommodations.

As a party to the accommodation process, the education provider has a responsibility to:

  • take steps to include students with disabilities in in-class and extra-curricular activities
  • advise students or their parent(s)/guardian(s) of available accommodations and support services, and the process by which these resources may be accessed
  • accept a student’s request for accommodation in good faith (even when the request does not use any specific formal language), unless there are legitimate reasons for acting otherwise
  • take an active role in ensuring that alternative approaches and possible accommodation solutions are investigated, and canvass various forms of possible accommodation and alternative solutions as part of the duty to accommodate
  • obtain expert opinion or advice where needed, and bear the costs of any required disability-related information or assessment
  • maximize a student’s right to privacy and confidentiality, including only sharing information regarding the student’s disability with those directly involved in the accommodation process
  • limit requests for information to those reasonably related to the nature of the need or limitation, and only for the purpose of facilitating access to educational services
  • deal with accommodation requests in a timely manner
  • ensure that the school environment is welcoming and that all students treat one another with respect
  • take immediate remedial action in situations where bullying and harassment are or may be taking place
  • educate all faculty, staff and students about disability-related issues.

In the provision of educational services, the education provider has a responsibility to:

  • review the accessibility of the educational institution as a whole, including all educational services;
  • design and develop new or revised facilities, services, policies, processes, courses, programs or curricula inclusively, with the needs of persons with disabilities in mind; and
  • ensure that the costs of accommodation are spread as widely as possible.

Unions, professional associations, and third party educational service providers are required to:

  • take an active role as partners in the accommodation process
  • facilitate accommodation efforts
  • support accommodation measures irrespective of collective agreements, unless to do so would create undue hardship.

The duty to accommodate a disability exists for needs that are known. Education providers are not, as a rule, expected to accommodate disabilities of which they are unaware. However, some students may be unable to identify or communicate their needs because of the nature of their disability. In such circumstances, education providers should attempt to assist a student who is perceived to have a disability, by offering assistance and accommodation. Once disability-related needs are known, the legal onus shifts to those with the duty to accommodate.

Organizational responsibility: 

Appendix A

Anti-harassment policy

The following are suggested contents for an anti-harassment policy that is broad enough to cover all forms of harassment in the educational setting.

  • A statement setting out the education provider’s commitment to a fair and equitable learning environment free of discrimination and harassment and that discrimination/harassment will not be tolerated by the educational institution.
  • A statement of rights and obligations, including:
    • student rights
    • education provider, educator, and school staff obligations
    • a statement indicating that no reprisals are permitted or will be taken against a student making a complaint.
  • A list of the prohibited grounds of discrimination listed in the Code.
  • The Code definitions of "harassment" and of "sexual harassment/solicitation.”
  • An explanation of the concept of a "poisoned environment" as a violation of the Code.[49]
  • Description/examples of unacceptable behaviour, such as:
    • examples of harassment based on a ground listed in the Code
    • refusal to evaluate fairly based on a ground listed in the Code
    • examples of what would constitute sexual harassment, etc.
  • How internal complaints will be handled, including:
    • confidentiality
    • length of time for complaint to be investigated, etc.
  • Disciplinary measures that will be applied if a claim of harassment or discrimination is proven.
  • Remedies that will be available if the claim of harassment or discrimination is proven, such as:
    • an oral or written apology from the harasser/person who discriminated and educational institution
    • recovery of lost class time, fair evaluation, or academic credit that was denied
    • compensation for injury to dignity.
  • A statement reinforcing the right of students to file a application with the Tribunal at any time during the internal process, as well as an explanation of the one-year time requirement in the Code.

[49] See Part 3.1.6 of the OHRC’s Policy on Sexual Harassment and Inappropriate Gender-Related Comments and Conduct available online at the OHRC’s website:

Discrimination Type: 
Organizational responsibility: 

For more information

Please visit for more information on the human rights system in Ontario.

The Human Rights System can also be accessed by telephone at:
Local: 416 326-9511
Toll Free: 1-800-387-9080
TTY (Local): 416-326 0603
TTY (Toll Free) 1-800-308-5561

To file a human rights claim, please contact the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario at:
Toll Free: 1-866-598-0322
TTY: 416-326-2027 or Toll Free: 1-866-607-1240

To talk about your rights or if you need legal help with a human rights claim, contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre at:
Toll Free: 1-866-625-5179
TTY: 416-314-6651 or Toll Free: 1-866-612-8627


In the courts: family status and sex discrimination case

The OHRC intervened at the Federal Court in Seeley v. CN, a judicial review of a decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The Tribunal had found that CN discriminated against Ms. Seeley by requiring her to relocate without considering her obligations as a parent. The Court has not yet released its decision.

OHRC interventions

OHRC interventions at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, 2011/12:

Disability and housing:

Dream Team v. Toronto (City)

Dream Team v. Corporation of the City of Kitchener

Dream Team v. Corporation of the City of Smith’s Falls

Disability and employment:

Seberras v. Workplace Safety and Insurance Board

Disability and services:

Lawson v. Ontario (Community and Social Services) (16 cases; intervention begun in June 2010 is ongoing)

Zufelt v. Regional Municipality of Waterloo

Aganeh Estate v. Mental Health Care Penetanguishene

Race and related grounds:

McKinnon v. MCSCS (settlement reached in 2011)

Shallow v. Toronto Police Services Board

Claybourn v. Toronto Police Service

Leong v. Peel Regional Police Services Board

de Lottinville v. Ontario (Community Safety and Correctional Services)

Ferguson v. Toronto Police Services Board

Gender identity:

XY v. Ontario (Government and Consumer Services)


Ketenci v. Yeates School of Graduate Studies at Ryerson University

OHRC interventions in cases before courts and tribunals (other than the HRTO):


Moore v. British Columbia (Supreme Court of Canada)


Phipps v. Toronto Police Services Board (Court of Appeal for Ontario)

Phipps v. Shaw (Ontario Divisional Court, Court of Appeal for Ontario)

Creed, competing rights:

R. v. N.S. (Supreme Court of Canada)

Creed, sexual orientation, competing rights:

Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. Whatcott (Supreme Court of Canada)

Family status:

Canadian National Railway v. Seeley (Federal Court)


City of Guelph (Ontario Municipal Board; case withdrawn when the City of Guelph repealed the bylaw in question)

Activity Type: 

Financial position as at March 31, 2012 ($’000)



2011-2012 Printed Estimates

Revised Budget
March 31,

2011-2012 Total Expenditures

2011-2012 Year End Variance from Revised Budget







Salaries & Wages






Employee Benefits






Other Direct Operating Expenses (ODOE)













From the next generation…


Student journalist speaks out on rental bylaws

Now, we’re starting to see the Commission provide a check and balance against the ways municipalities have traditionally dealt with boarding houses, residential care facilities, and rental bylaws.

Rental bylaws, like the one that was recently passed in Waterloo, have serious impacts for us students. Now, specifically targeting students in a bylaw is illegal.

But nobody wants to see Northdale decline any further, nor do we want to see other parts of the city become student ghettos. The challenge is to regulate the rental housing market without shutting people out of it.

Source: Sam Nabi, Imprint (University of Waterloo), March 16, 2012.


“The issues are not trivial. Planners can either make human rights a focus, or continue to shrug them aside to the detriment of social well-being.”

Source: Sam Nabi, Imprint (University of Waterloo), March 16, 2012.


“We can change racism and the way people are getting treated badly around the world if we just think about giving the people we think are different from us another chance.” – Sujeththan, Grade 9


“If you see anyone who is getting bullied or harassed please try to stop them and try to help them.” – Sujeththan, Grade 9


“I think that the Human Rights Act is a very helpful and useful thing … It tries to do away with discrimination as much as it can so no one will be left out because of their race, colour, or religion.” – Nicolas, Grade 9


“I believe that all men and women should have the same rights.” – Tenzin, Grade 9


“The S.S. St Louis reminds us of the struggle of 937 Jews and the many sacrifices they had made to be on the ship that was supposed to sail them towards freedom. I think that Jewish people on S.S. St. Louis felt abandoned, neglected, and unwanted … Canada has to look back at their past and think about what happened when S.S. St. Louis came to Canada for help and freedom.” – Chimme, Grade 9


“We wouldn’t need jails because no one would have a reason to commit crimes.” – Obediah, age 10


“People would live longer and make new inventions because they would have more time because there wouldn’t be wars and conflict.” –  Emet, age 9


“Less people with mental disabilities would be homeless.” – Obediah, age 10


“In a couple years down the road, I would like for the awareness of Human Rights to increase within the youth demographic. I believe that if the youth are more aware of their rights a lot of the issues which are currently happening will decrease immensely.” – Diriye, age 20


“Knowing my rights has helped me in my life by giving me the knowledge to understand what is and what isn’t acceptable in terms of discrimination. I also know what I’m entitled to as a Canadian citizen and I use that to my advantage every day.” – Tracy


“My name is Gasira and what human rights means to me is equality for everyone and peace of mind. I am not scared to get a job or go out because I know I am protected against any form of discrimination.” – Gasira, age 14


“Human rights means to me equality amongst everyone. It means to openly practice your religion, culture, etc. without being worried that someone will say something. It means that every one is equal and no one should be above anyone.” – Luula, age 17

Activity Type: 

From the press files…

Seventy organizations demand law to end racial discrimination

Representatives of nearly 70 organizations, including several hundred men and women, will meet Premier Frost at Queen’s Park today to present a brief urging passage of legislation to deal with racial and religious discrimination.

Source: Toronto Daily Star, January 24, 1950

Professor urges legal action

“This prejudice, like all others, will break down only when the two groups take part in interaction. What is needed is a change in relationship, and to attain that, the laws can and must be used.”

Source: Professor Everett W. Bovard, University of Toronto, as quoted in the Globe and Mail, November 1, 1954

Start prosecution for discrimination

Steps to launch the first prosecution under Ontario’s anti-discrimination law were taken yesterday in the case of Morley McKay, Dresden café owner.

He is said to have refused service last Friday to a Toronto Negro, Bromley Armstrong.

… Next step will be the issuing of a summons against McKay, charging him with practicing racial discrimination.

Source: Globe and Mail, November 4, 1954

Won’t let legislation collapse, premier says of Dresden cases

… The Dresden people were convicted on charges of refusing to serve Negroes. When they appealed before Kent County Court of Appeal, the convictions were thrown out by Judge Henry Grosch.

Premier Frost described as ridiculous reports that the convictions had been put aside because neither restaurant keeper had told the Negroes they weren’t being served because of their color.

“Surely it isn’t necessary that a bank robber must announce that he is going to hold up a bank before he is convicted of bank robbery?” he remarked.

…”The fact that others were being served in the restaurants while the Negroes were being ignored should have indicated discrimination. It shouldn’t be necessary for a statement or a written notice telling them why they weren’t being served.”

Source: Globe and Mail, September 16, 1955

Beacon against bigotry

[T]he code will serve as a beacon; a warning against practising racial prejudice in this province, a statement of public policy on which sufferers from slurring discrimination can lean. It should, as Premier Robarts has said, “create a climate of understanding and mutual respect among our people.” As often as not, the problem is not communal bigotry, but communal apathy to bigotry. This code should help to reduce such apathy.

Source: Editorial, Toronto Daily Star, Friday, June 15, 1962

Law and prejudice

The Ontario Human Rights Code, which is now in effect, is another milestone in this Province’s fine record in the area of anti-discrimination laws. The new code consolidates the Fair Employment Practices Act, the Female Employees Fair Remuneration Act, the Fair Accommodation Practices Act and the Ontario Human Rights Commission Act. It combines education and enforcement under the administration of the Human Rights Commission.

Source: The Globe & Mail, June 18, 1962

Ontario lays first civil rights charge

The first prosecution under the Ontario Human Rights Code since it became law in 1962 was ordered today by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Mrs. W. A. Fletcher, owner of Fletcher’s Cottages at Brydon’s Bay, Gravenhurst, will be charged with refusing to rent to two couples because they are Jewish.

Since the code was introduced four years ago, there have been 12 cases of alleged discrimination but none has previously reached court. Others were resolved by conciliation.

Source: Toronto Daily Star, August 31, 1966

Activity Type: 

A bit of history...

Celebrating International Human Rights Day, circa 1962

While we deplore and condemn violations of human rights elsewhere in the world and stand aghast before such ugly manifestations as the Berlin Wall, we must never cease to concern ourselves with those walls of prejudice which still exist in our own community – and sometimes in our own minds – and which deny our fellow citizens that justice and equality of opportunity which is their inalienable right. Justice, like charity, should begin at home.

-  Premier John Robarts, October 12, 1962

Life Together raises the human rights bar

In July 1977, the OHRC released a comprehensive report, Life Together, that outlined the findings of a province-wide consultation on the Ontario Human Rights Code and what could be done to improve it. The report recommended sweeping changes, many of which would eventually become law. Recommendations included:

  • Giving the Code “primacy,” which means that unless a law specifically says otherwise, the Code takes precedence
  • Extending protection from discrimination to contracts
  • Integrating human rights into the education system and policing
  • Adding protection from discrimination by association
  • Adding marital status and age as protected grounds in housing
  • Adding physical disability, sexual orientation and criminal record as Code grounds
  • Expanding who can make a human rights complaints from a single person to a “class or person”
  • Adding the ability to deal with systemic or “constructive” discrimination
  • Changing the age provisions from 40 or over to 18 or over.

Source: Life Together, 1977

No annual reports?

[It] is surprising that, in its fifteen years of public service to date, there has been no request or provision for the Ontario Human Rights Commission to make an annual report, other than a few perfunctory paragraphs included in the reports of the Ministry of Labour. The Commissioners recommend that an Annual Report should be prepared each year to be tabled in the Legislature and made available to the public.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Community relations problems on the rise

An increasing number of community relations problems are being brought to the Commission. These include, for example, problems relating to racial unrest and even violence in high schools, allegations of police brutality against Native people and members of other visible minority groups, the dissemination of hate literature, recorded telephone messages espousing racial prejudice, and racially-motivated vandalism at religious festivals and in places of worship.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Are practices really neutral?

[In] 1962, it was generally believed that discrimination took place through conscious overt actions directed against individuals. Therefore, the Code expressly prohibited such actions and to some degree deliberate and overt discrimination has declined since then. But the Commission's experience in administering the Code during the last fifteen years demonstrates that the most pervasive discrimination today often results from unconscious and seemingly neutral practices which may, none the less, be as detrimental to human rights as the more overt and intentional kind of discrimination.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Focusing on social systems

There can be a vicious circle of self-perpetuating discrimination that has nothing to do with the personal merits of an individual, and everything to do with historical, economic and social circumstances which have been effectively discriminatory. For example, as so often happens, a Native person loses a job competition because of the lack of educational qualifications. Discrimination has probably occurred. However, the locus of discrimination is not the educational requirement, but the social system that has restricted his or her access to educational opportunities.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Getting to the root causes of discrimination

Because historical and institutional discrimination is so pervasive and complex, the Commission cannot deal with it effectively only by responding to individual complaints. It is essential that its mandate be broadened and its procedures be made sufficiently flexible to enable it to cope with human rights problems that are at the root of discrimination, rather than dealing only with the individual incidents of discrimination that arise from such problems.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Knowledge is the key

Before there can be understanding and respect for the public policy of Ontario about human rights, there will have to be a much more widespread knowledge about this policy and about the reasons for it.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Education system needs to lead

[The] educational system bears a particular responsibility for the furtherance of human rights by providing knowledge, understanding, and positive example that will counter the ignorance and misinformation on which prejudice and discrimination are based.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Dick does, Jane watches

An analysis of [school] guidance pamphlets found that girls were generally encouraged to become hygienists or nurses, while boys were encouraged to become dentists or doctors. Although the cover of one recent guidance pamphlet depicts a woman in a white coat, the text inside refers to the doctor throughout as "he". Such male and female stereotyping was also found in primary school readers, where the message seems to be that "Dick does" and "Jane watches".

Source: Life Together, 1977

Discrimination laundering

The Commission is encountering a growing number of incidents of discrimination committed on behalf of clients by such intermediaries as employment agencies and management consultants. This practice constitutes, in effect, a "laundering" of discrimination in the sense that the employers themselves have no direct contact with the victims and thus do not appear to be acting in contravention of the Code, though clearly they are as responsible for discrimination as the agent who accepts the assignment ... Indeed, acts of discrimination of this kind are frequently so covert that the victim may not even know that he or she is being discriminated against.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Accessible transit an issue – in 1977

[A] great many physically disabled people would like to be able to make use of regular transportation facilities - of buses, trains and subways - like anyone else, and it should usually be possible for them to do so.

Source: Life Together, 1977

We’re all responsible

It is important that human rights be seen as the responsibility of all of us, and not just as the specific task of an expert human rights agency.

Brief to the Code Review Committee of 
the Ontario Human Rights Commission 

from Simon Chester. August 1976.

A much different place

My arrival in Ontario predated this milestone Human Rights legislation by a few years and I can say first-hand that our Province became a much different place. At the time, there was little recourse or protection against discrimination and prejudice. The advent of the Code has indeed helped us to become a better society reflective of our diversity and talent.

- Jean Augustine, Ontario Fairness Commissioner

Grassroots pressure works

Grassroots pressure to address discrimination in the early 1950s led to a series of anti-discrimination laws in Ontario that paved the way for the eventual establishment of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Source: Herbert Sohn, Human Rights Legislation in Ontario:
A Study of Social Action
Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, 1975

Working, buying a home

Ontario’s pioneering Fair Employment Practices Act of 1951 prohibited discriminatory employment practices, and a year earlier the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act was amended to end real estate provisions that required someone buying a house to agree that their property “shall never be sold, assigned, transferred, leased to, and shall never been occupied by any person of Jewish, Hebrew, Semitic, Negro or coloured race or blood.”

Equal pay for women

In 1952, the Female Employees Fair Remuneration Act protected a woman’s right to equal pay, and in 1954 the Fair Accommodation Practices Act was enacted to prevent discrimination in services, facilities and accommodations in public spaces.

Before the OHRC…

The Ontario Anti-Discrimination Commission was set up in 1959 to raise awareness and educate the public about the new anti-discrimination statutes.

Getting started in 1962

Ontario’s first Human Rights Code, proclaimed on June 15, 1962, prohibited discrimination in signs, services, facilities, public accommodation, employee and trade union membership on the grounds of race, creed, colour, nationality, ancestry and place of origin.

Bill 107 – the latest reform

On June 30, 2008, Bill 107 came into force. This major reform of Ontario’s human rights system included:

  • Changing the role of the Ontario Human Rights Commission to not have carriage of individual human rights complaints, focusing instead on working on systemic or root causes of discrimination
  • Having people make complaints – called applications – directly to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
  • Creating a new organization – the Human Rights Legal Support Centre – to provide legal advice to people making complaints.

Housing cases from the start

Khoun v. Rosedale Manor (1963), the OHRC’s first housing case to go before a Board of Inquiry (the precursor to the current Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario), involved an Indonesian student being refused accommodations because of his race. The respondents agreed to a comprehensive settlement that helped set a framework for future settlements and a trend toward conciliation.

Adding sexual orientation to the Code

In 1986, the Code was amended to bring it more line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The key change was the addition of sexual orientation as a ground, which fulfilled the vision of the OHRC’s 1977 Life Together report. The OHRC was also empowered to initiate complaints itself or at the request of another party.

Activity Type: 

Meet our Commissioners

Barbara Hall – Appointed November 2005
Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and former Mayor of Toronto, has served for more than 40 years as a community worker, lawyer, municipal politician and champion of a grassroots approach to community-building.


Ruth Goba – Toronto – Appointed October 2006
Ruth Goba, a lawyer, has worked domestically and internationally on disability and women’s equality rights issues. From 2007 to 2009, she was the Executive Director of the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA), a human rights NGO that promotes housing and other economic and social rights.


Raja Khouri – Toronto – Appointed September 2006
Raja G. Khouri is managing consultant at The Knowledge Centre and specializes in organizational development and capacity building in the non-profit sector. Raja is co-founder of the Canadian Arab-Jewish Leadership Dialogue Group. He served on Ontario’s Hate Crimes Community Working Group and the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy Roundtable.


Fernand Lalonde – Gloucester – Appointed May 2005
Fernand Lalonde retired from the federal public service in 2001 after serving in many roles, including General Secretary of the National Joint Council, Executive Director of Appeals and Investigations for the Public Service Commission of Canada, and Director of Personnel Services, Parks Canada.


Julie Lee – London – Appointed September 2009
Julie Lee is a lawyer, practicing family and criminal law in St. Thomas, Ontario. Prior to her legal education she worked in the anti-violence movement as an educator, administrator and advocate. Julie’s advocacy has also been directed at achieving equity and dignity for same-sex families.


Paul Lefebvre – Sudbury – Appointed September 2009
Paul Lefebvre is a partner at Lefebvre Lawyers where he practices corporate and tax law and is also a business owner. Currently he is President of the Sudbury District Law Association, and former Board Chair of the Centre de Santé Communautaire du Grand Sudbury.


Larry McDermott – Lanark – Appointed September 2009
A member of Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation, Larry McDermott served as an Ontario municipal politician for 28 years including as the first national rural chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. He is currently Executive Director of Plenty, a non-profit organization devoted to environmental protection and healthy communities.


Errol Mendes – Ottawa – Appointed September 2009
Errol Mendes is a lawyer, author, professor and has been an advisor to corporations, governments, civil society groups and the United Nations. His teaching, research and consulting interests include public and private sector governance, conflict resolution, constitutional law, international law and human rights law and policy.


Mark Nagler – Hamilton – Appointed September 2009
Mark Nagler, Professor Emeritus, taught sociology, race and ethnic relations, native studies and disability studies for 29 years at the University of Waterloo. A past president of ARCH, he has served on many volunteer boards and has advised the federal and provincial governments on a variety of aspects related to disability issues.


Fiona Sampson – Toronto – Appointed September 2009
Fiona Sampson is the Human Rights Director at Canadian Lawyers Abroad (CLA), where she is also the Director of the African and Canadian Women’s Human Rights Project. Fiona has worked as a legal consultant with, among others, the Ontario Native Council on Justice, the DisAbled Women’s Network (DAWN) of Canada, Education Wife Assault, and the Ethiopian Muslim Relief and Development Association.


Bhagat Taggar – Scarborough – Appointed May 2005
Bhagat Taggar is a Chartered (UK) and Professional (Ontario) Engineer with diverse international and Canadian community experience. He is the past chair of the Employment Insurance Board for the Ontario regional division (Scarborough) and a recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for community service.


Maggie Wente – Toronto – Appointed October 2006
Maggie Wente, who is Anishnabe and a member of Serpent River First Nation, is a lawyer with Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP, representing First Nations governments, individuals and organizations. She has also worked with the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres and volunteered at Downtown Legal Services, a community legal clinic. Currently she is President of Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto.