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Forms of discrimination based on mental health or addiction disabilities (fact sheet)

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The Ontario Human Rights Code

The Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) is the law that provides for equal rights and opportunities, and freedom from discrimination. The Code recognizes the dignity and worth of every person in Ontario. It applies to the areas of employment, housing, goods, facilities and services, contracts, and membership in unions, trade or professional associations.

In all of these areas, the human rights of people with mental health disabilities or addictions are protected. For example, at work, when receiving services or in housing, people with mental health disabilities or addictions are entitled to the same opportunities and benefits as everyone else. Services include restaurants, shops, hotels, movie theatres, transit, policing and other government services, among other services.


Discrimination against people with mental health or addiction disabilities is often linked to prejudicial attitudes, negative stereotyping and the overall stigma surrounding these disabilities.

Discrimination in employment, housing or services may happen when a person experiences negative treatment or impact because of a mental health or addiction disability. The Code also protects people from discrimination because of past and perceived disabilities.

Example: An employer suspects that an employee has depression. Because of this, the employer doesn’t think she can do her job, and fires her.

Discrimination does not have to be intentional. And, a person’s mental health or addiction disability needs to be only one factor in the treatment they received to be able to show that discrimination took place.

Forms of discrimination

Discrimination may take many different forms. It can happen when people or organizations specifically exclude people with mental health disabilities or addictions in rental housing, employment or services, withhold benefits that are available to others, or impose extra burdens that are not imposed on others, without a legitimate reason. This discrimination is often based on negative attitudes, stereotypes and bias.

Example: A family doctor refuses to give general health care services to someone with an addiction because she says that people with addictions are merely seeking drugs. 

Discrimination may also happen indirectly. It may be carried out through another person or organization.

Example: An agent of a landlord screens out potential tenants whom she perceives to have mental health disabilities, because the landlord has told her not to rent to anyone who has a disability.

People associated with persons with mental health disabilities or addictions are also protected from discrimination and harassment. This could include family, friends, or someone advocating on a person’s behalf.

Discrimination is often subtle. It may be unlikely that discriminatory remarks will be made directly. Subtle forms of discrimination can usually only be detected after looking at all of the circumstances of a situation to see if a pattern of behaviour exists. Individual acts themselves may be unclear or explained away, but when viewed as part of a larger picture, may lead to a conclusion that discrimination based on a Code ground was a factor in the treatment a person received.

Adverse effect discrimination

Sometimes rules, standards, policies, practices or requirements that seem neutral have an “adverse effect” on people who have psychosocial disabilities. 

Example: In one case, a housing co-operative had a rule that all members must perform a set number of volunteer duties every month. It tried to evict a member because she did not do these duties, despite her doctor’s note saying she could not do so for medical reasons. The co-op’s rule on volunteer service had an adverse effect on the woman because of her mental disability. The court found that if she could not do any of the volunteer tasks for “valid medical reasons,” excusing her from this rule would not be likely to create “undue hardship” for the co-operative.[1]


Harassment happens when someone shows a vexatious (which means distressing or annoying) pattern of doing or saying something based on a person’s mental health or addiction that they know, or ought to know, is unwelcome.

Harassment could include:

  • slurs and name-calling
  • graffiti, images or cartoons showing people with mental health disabilities in a negative light
  • singling out a person for teasing or jokes related to their mental health disability or addiction 
  • unwanted personal questions or remarks about someone’s disability, medication or accommodation needs
  • repeatedly excluding people from the social environment, or “shunning” them
  • revealing that someone has a mental health issue or addiction to people who do not need to know
  • circulating offensive material about people with mental health disabilities or addictions
    at an organization by email, text, the Internet, etc.

Poisoned environment

A poisoned environment may be created when unwelcome conducts or comment are widespread in an organization, which may result in a hostile or oppressive atmosphere for one or more people from a Code-protected group. Sometimes a single remark or action can be so serious that it results in a poisoned environment.

Example: A woman, who had anxiety, was accommodated during surgery by having a person help her to relax before the procedure. After surgery, her surgeon told her, “Had I known you were crazy, I never would have operated on you.” This type of comment could be seen as poisoning the service environment for this person.

Mental health profiling

Another form of discrimination is mental health profiling. Mental health profiling is any action taken for reasons of safety, security or public protection that relies on stereotypes about a person’s mental health or addiction instead of on reasonable grounds, to single out a person for greater scrutiny or different treatment. A “stereotype” is a generalization about a person based on assumptions about qualities and characteristics of the group they belong to.

Example: Security staff at a hospital are routinely called to be present if a person’s file shows a mental health diagnosis, regardless of the person’s behaviour.

Systemic discrimination

Systemic discrimination refers to patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the structure of an organization or sector, which create relative disadvantage for people with mental health disabilities or addictions. The policies or practices may appear neutral on the surface but have an adverse effect or exclude people with mental health disabilities or addictions.

Example: A person was taken to hospital by police for a mental health disability five years ago. When he applies for an educational co-op placement at a hospital, his contact with the police comes up on a police record check and he is denied the placement. The policies and practices that led to this situation can be systemic discrimination.

Failure to accommodate

When an organization does not accommodate a person’s mental health issue or addiction to the point of undue hardship, this also violates the Code.

Example: A tribunal found that an employer discriminated against an employee with anxiety and depression when it failed to give him a stress leave. Instead, it required him to either retire or transfer to another province (despite the negative impact that the transfer would have had on his family situation and possibly on his mental health).[2]


It is also against the Code for a person to be punished or threatened with punishment because they try to enforce their rights under the Code (for example, by making a complaint). This is called reprisal (or “payback”).

Organizational responsibility

The ultimate responsibility for making sure the environment is free from discrimination and harassment rests with employers, housing providers, service providers and other responsible parties covered by the Code. It is not acceptable to choose to ignore discrimination or harassment
of a person with a mental health disability or addiction, whether or not a human rights claim has been made.

For more information

The OHRC’s Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions and other publications are available online at

If you think you have been discriminated against, you can speak to your service provider, housing provider or employer. You can also file a complaint – called an application – with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO).

You can contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre if you need more information about your rights, the human rights process, or help filing an application. You can also ask another organization or person to file an application on your behalf.

You have the right to assert your rights, complain, or file an application with the HRTO, without reprisal. This means that it is against the Code for you to be punished or threatened with punishment because you object to discrimination. 

To make an application, contact the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario at:

Toll Free: 1-866-598-0322
TTY Toll Free: 1-866-607-1240

To talk about your rights or if you need legal help, contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre at:

Toll Free: 1-866-625-5179
TTY Toll Free: 1-866-612-8627

[1] Eagleson Co-Operative Homes, Inc. v. Théberge,  2006 CanLII 29987 (Ont. Div. Ct.) at para. 24.

[2] Stevenson v. Canadian Security Intelligence Service (2001), 41 C.H.R.R. D/433 (C.H.R.T.).