The Ontario Human Rights Code
The Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) provides for equal rights and opportunities, and freedom from discrimination. The Code recognizes the dignity and worth of every person in Ontario and applies to the areas of employment, housing, goods, facilities and services, contracts, and membership in unions, trade or professional associations.
In Ontario, the law protects you from discrimination and harassment in these areas because of mental health disabilities and addictions. This includes past, present and perceived conditions.
The duty to accommodate
Some persons with mental health disabilities and addictions may need accommodation so they can equally benefit from and have access to services, housing and employment. Usually the accommodation process starts with the person asking for help. However, because of the nature of the disability, a person with a mental health disability or addiction may be unable to ask for assistance. Where an employer, housing provider or service provider thinks that someone has a mental health disability or addiction and needs help, there is still a duty to accommodate that person.
Organizations also have a duty to design their services, policies and processes with the needs of people with mental health disabilities and addictions in mind. This way, people with disabilities are able to fully integrate into all aspects of society. This is called “inclusive design.”
Accommodation is a shared responsibility. Everyone involved, including the person seeking accommodation, should cooperate, share information and look for solutions together. Many accommodations can be made easily and at little cost. Here are some examples of accommodation:
- Increased flexibility in work hours or work leave
- Finding out about a tenant’s personal support system, and calling a support person if the tenant experiences a crisis
- Facilitating an employee’s access to an addictions program and allowing the person time off to attend
- Getting information about community resources and supports
- Depending on the circumstances, job restructuring, retraining or assignment to an alternative position
You can find more information on the duty to accommodate here:
Mental health and employment
Mental illness can be a taboo subject in our society and our workplaces. People with mental health disabilities and addictions may be exposed to stereotypes based on irrational fear, leading to experiences of stigma. They may also experience systemic barriers to accessing employment. Employees may find themselves isolated and marginalized in the workplace – impacts that may be made worse by other human rights-related barriers such as racism, sexism, ageism or homophobia.
The Human Rights Code protects you from discrimination with respect to being fired, denied a job or a promotion because of a mental health disability or addiction. You are also protected from harassment in your employment.
Example: Coworkers make fun of a person with depression because of his disability. His coworkers and manager also constantly question him about the types of medications he is taking. This could be a form of harassment and is prohibited under the Human Rights Code.
Employers have a duty to accommodate the needs of people with mental health disabilities and addictions to the point of undue hardship.
You can find more information on mental health and employment here:
- Human Rights at Work, section 9.m) Mental Illness in the workplace
- Policy on drug and alcohol testing
- Ontario Divisional Court upholds right of employees with mental illness
Mental health and housing
People with mental health disabilities and addictions face challenges when renting an apartment or house because of negative attitudes and stereotypes that result in marginalization and discrimination. Landlords and housing providers cannot deny a person housing just because the person has, or is perceived to have, a mental health disability or addiction. Housing providers also have a duty to accommodate someone with a mental health disability or addiction.
For example, if someone disturbs other tenants due to behaviour related to a mental health problem, the landlord must take steps to work with the tenant to accommodate the person’s disability before evicting the tenant.
You can find more information on mental health and housing here:
- Policy on human rights and rental housing, section III.2.8. Disability
Mental health and services
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005) says goods and services must be provided in a way that respects the dignity and independence of people with disabilities, which includes people with mental health disabilities and addictions. It is discriminatory to deny a service to someone with a mental health disability or addiction simply because of their disability. Goods, services and facilities could be public or private and include:
- Schools and universities
- Shops, restaurants and gyms
- Hospitals and health care organizations
- Police and the court system
- Administrative tribunals, like the Social Benefits Tribunal or the Landlord Tenant Board
- Public assistance programs
- Government services
You can find more information on mental health and services here:
- Accessibility standards for customer service
- Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005) – mental illness
- Guidelines on accessible education
Getting human rights help
To file a human rights complaint, called an application, contact the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. To talk about your rights or to get legal help with a human rights claim, contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.
OHRC’s human rights and mental health plan
The OHRC is working with its partners to educate the public and reduce discrimination against people with mental health disabilities and addictions by:
- Meeting with people and groups to hear their advice:
- Public consultation paper: Human rights mental health strategy
- Developing a policy on human rights and mental health
- Working with communities and partners including:
- CAMH Empowerment Council
- Canadian Mental Health Association – Ontario Branch
- Canadian Mental Health Association - Ottawa Branch
- Canadian Mental Health Association - Toronto Branch
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
- Ethno-Racial People with Disabilities Coalition of Ontario
- Legal Assistance of Windsor
- Mental Health Commission of Canada
- Mental Health Connections
- Mental Health Network
- North Bay Indian Friendship Centre
- Ontario Federation of Community Mental Health and Addictions Programs
- Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care
- People for Equal Partnerships in Mental Health (PEP)
- Psychiatric Patient Advocacy Office
- Psychiatric Survivors of Ottawa
- Rainbow Health Ontario
- Sound Times
- True Self
- Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Helping other groups working in this area by giving our views on mental health and human rights
- Letter to the Attorney General regarding Police record checks on potential jurors
- Comment on Every door is the right door: Towards a 10-year mental health and addictions strategy
- Submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing’s long-term affordable housing strategy
- Mental Health and Human Rights – by Barbara Hall
- Pursuing cases involving discrimination based on mental health at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
- Looking at areas where legal action can help
- Conducting public interest inquiries in areas we think need more research
- Doing public education to teach people about their rights and let people know what we are doing