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IV. Relationship Between Family Status and Other Code Grounds

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The experience of discrimination based on family status may differ based on other aspects of a person’s identity. Whenever an issue relating to family status is raised, it is important to take into account the intersecting impact of the person’s sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race and age, as well as whether the person or his or her family member has a disability.

1. Sex

As noted in Section III.3.1 above, because caregiving is at the heart of the ground of family status, and caregiving roles and responsibilities have historically been, and largely remain, closely tied to gender roles and stereotypes, the issues related to family status cannot be adequately understood without thoughtful consideration of the impact of gender.

As a result, systemic discrimination on the basis of family status will often have an adverse impact on the ground of sex as well. As well, the experience of being in a parent-child relationship will generally differ for men and women because of the different expectations, assumptions and stereotypes about mothering and fathering. Therefore, when considering complaints related to family status, gender issues should always be taken into account.

Example: After the birth of his first child, a father tells his supervisor that he is considering requesting a reduced work week. When he ultimately tells his supervisor that he will not be making a request for reduced work hours, his supervisor tells him “That’s good. We tolerate this kind of thing from the women because we have to, but we really don’t expect it from the men. Really, it would be a ‘career limiting move’ for you”. The employee feels that his work environment has been poisoned by this comment, and that it is now impossible for him to request any accommodations related to his family status.

2. Marital Status

The experience of caregiving will vary widely depending on whether one is married or single, or part of a blended or dual-custody family.

The situation of female lone parents deserves special attention. Female-headed lone-parent families are the most economically vulnerable of all families, as well as being the subject of persistent negative stereotypes; for example, that they are “failed families”. These stereotypes are often particularly virulent for female-headed lone-parent families from racialized or Aboriginal communities. These families often face massive practical barriers in accessing housing, employment and services.

Example: A Black lone mother asks to meet with her son’s teacher because he seems to be struggling with a certain aspect of the curriculum. Based on stereotypes about Black lone mothers, the teacher assumes that the child is not being properly supported and supervised at home, and is not likely to succeed at school. The teacher tells the child’s mother that, “All things considered, we really shouldn’t set our sights too high”.

Families shaped by divorce, such as dual custody and blended families, may require complex arrangements for childcare, housing, and services, and their needs may not be taken into consideration by those who design housing, employment, and services.

Example: A school bussing service has a mandate to provide transportation to all children who require it and who live within specified boundaries. It has a rule that it will only do pick-ups and drop-offs at a single location. A dual custody family asks for an exemption. The child in question rotates on a weekly basis between his parents’ homes, both of which are within the bus services boundaries. The bus service refuses, stating that the parents must chose one or the other of their homes as the sole pick-up and drop-off point. The parents file a complaint of discrimination based on family status.

3. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Often, the families of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered persons are not recognized as valid families, and are therefore invisible to others. As well, these individuals may face negative stereotypes about their fitness or capacity to parent. Discrimination, homophobia and transphobia may make it difficult for LGBT persons to openly discuss their families and request appropriate services or accommodations. Family members of LGBT persons may find themselves harassed, bullied or ostracized because of their relationship.

Example: The daughter of gay parents comes home crying from school because her classmates are ostracizing and teasing her about her parents. After unsuccessful attempts to have the school take steps to deal with the problem, the parents help their daughter to file a human rights complaint on the basis of family status.

4. Disability

Persons with disabilities may rely on caregiving networks that include not only spouses, parents and children, but also extended family, and a range of unique arrangements such as homesharing, supported decision-making networks and alternate family arrangements.[19] The lack of adequate social supports for persons with disabilities makes such caregiving relationships crucial. Those who are providing such support to persons with disabilities face challenges and barriers beyond those faced by others with caregiving responsibilities, and require accommodation and support in order to access employment, housing, and services.[20]

Example: A lone mother of a child with a disability is frequently asked to pick up her child from school because of behaviours associated with her child’s disability. Eventually, her employer meets with her because of her “persistent absenteeism”. When the employee explains her situation, the employer explores accommodation options, and puts into place a flexible work hours arrangement that meets her needs.

As well, persons with disabilities who are themselves caregivers may face stereotypes regarding their ability to parent, or may face difficulties in finding services for caregivers that are accessible.

5. Age

Young parents, particularly young lone-parents, are frequently the subject of negative assumptions and stereotypes, such as that they are irresponsible, or lack parenting skills. This may make it difficult for them to access employment, housing or services. As well, young parents are disproportionately likely to be poor: in 2001, 48% of all families where the main income earner was under the age of 25 were low income.[21]

On the other end of the spectrum, aging parents of adult children with disabilities face many difficulties, as they find themselves less able to provide the extensive care their children need, but may be unable to access the necessary community supports to ensure their children’s wellbeing.

As well, there are increasing numbers of grandparents providing primary care for their grandchildren. Many of these caregivers have significant health and mobility limitations, and their needs are often overlooked by those designing and providing services.

6. Race and Race-related Grounds

The Code prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnic origin, place of origin, colour, ancestry, citizenship and creed (religion). These grounds intersect with family status in complex ways.

There continue to be common negative stereotypes about the parenting practices and abilities of various racialized communities, and these stereotypes can have a significant impact on how members of these communities access housing, as well as important services such as education.

As well, services, employment and housing are often designed around definitions of family that are not inclusive of cultural differences. For example, immigrant and refugee families arriving from countries where average family sizes are larger may face extreme difficulty locating adequate housing.

As well, ongoing marginalization of racialized communities, including disproportionate levels of poverty, and the continued existence of discrimination and systemic barriers, leave these families especially vulnerable to the effects of discrimination based on family status.

Example: Upon arrival in Canada, a family of refugees attempts to find rental housing. Because they are new to Canada and from a racialized community, a landlord assumes that they are less likely to pay the rent, and more likely to be disruptive. The landlord insists that she can only rent to them if they can provide her with a security deposit of three months’ rent paid in advance.

[19] Homesharing involves two or three adults, at least one of whom has a disability, who chose to live together; one of the adults who does not have a disability is provided with some remuneration for being available to provide personal support to the adult with a disability. In a supported decision-making networks, one or more individuals are included in a personal network to assist in making personal, financial and health care decisions. In an alternate family, a person with a disability lives with a non-birth family, and family members are paid to provide support, similar to foster care arrangements. (See the ARCH Submission to the OHRC’s Consultation on Discrimination Based on Family Status, September 2005, available online at
[20] For example, a study by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers found that workers who had children with disabilities were more likely to turn down overtime hours, reduce their work hours and refuse promotions: Moving Mountains: Work, Family and Children with Special Needs (November 2002). Children with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty, and their parents are twice as likely to have social assistance as their primary source of income, according to a paper by the Canadian Association for Community Living, Developing a Family Supportive Policy Agenda to Advance the Citizenship and Inclusion of People with Disabilities (2006).
[21] Vanier Institute of the Family, 2005 Report on the Current State of Family Finances (2005), online: Vanier Institute of the Family

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