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7. Intersecting grounds

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Discrimination may be unique or distinct when it occurs based on two or more Code grounds. Such discrimination can be said to be “intersectional.” The concept of intersectional discrimination recognizes that people’s lives involve multiple interrelated identities, and that marginalization and exclusion based on Code grounds may exist because of how these identities intersect.

The CRPD recognizes the “the difficult conditions faced by persons with disabilities who are subject to multiple or aggravated forms of discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic, indigenous or social origin, property, birth, age or other status.”[76] It also recognizes that “women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside the home of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation.”[77]

People with a psychosocial disability who also identify with other Code grounds may be distinctly disadvantaged when they attempt to access housing, employment or services. Particular stereotypes may arise based on the intersections between these identities that place people at significant disadvantage.

Example: In the OHRC’s mental health consultation, it heard that young African-Canadian men with a mental health issue will experience specific barriers renting housing based on intersecting stereotypes that relate to sex, age, race and disability.

Discrimination based on a mental health disability or addiction could intersect with discrimination based on other Code grounds, including:

  • race, colour or ethnic background
  • creed
  • ancestry (including Aboriginal ancestry)
  • citizenship (including refugee or permanent resident status)
  • gender identity and gender expression[78]
  • sex (including pregnancy)
  • family status
  • marital status (including people with a same sex partner)
  • disability, including physical, learning, cognitive and intellectual disabilities
  • sexual orientation
  • age
  • receipt of public assistance (in housing)
  • record of offences (in employment).

Example: Women who are survivors of violence, trauma and/or abuse often face substance use and mental health issues. Some women with mental health issues may also experience disproportionate rates of gender-based abuse, harassment and violence, because of their increased vulnerability.

Stereotypes or treatment based on a person’s socio-economic status may intersect with discrimination based on psychosocial disabilities. A person’s experience with low income may be highly relevant to understanding the impact of discrimination on someone with a psychosocial disability or addiction, and this may result in specific experiences of discrimination.[79]

As part of the duty to maintain environments that are free from discrimination and harassment, service providers (e.g. health care professionals, police services, legal services), employers and housing providers must take steps to design their programs, policies and environments inclusively, to take into account the needs of people from diverse backgrounds, with a range of unique identities.

Example: A supportive housing program for people with mental health disabilities makes sure that all of its units are accessible to people who also have physical disabilities, and a portion of its units are suitable for family living.

Organizations that provide services to the public should make sure their staff members have cultural competency skills.[80] The ability to interact comfortably with people from diverse cultural backgrounds may be key to recognizing and meeting the human rights-related needs of different populations, including people with mental health disabilities
or addictions.

Example: A police service trains its officers on de-escalation techniques to use when dealing with people who are in crisis, sometimes due to mental health issues. Part of this instruction includes sensitivity training to raise awareness about the negative associations and fearful reactions that many immigrants may have to police officers in uniform, particularly people who have come from countries governed by authoritarian regimes.

Example: A hospital emergency department makes sure they have a roster of language interpreters available by telephone to provide efficient service to people whose first language is not English, and who may require attention related to a mental health disability.

When interacting with people, organizations should use an individualized approach that recognizes the unique identity of each person, and not rely on preconceived notions, assumptions or stereotypes.

[76] CRPDsupra, note 27 at article P of Preamble.

[77] CRPDibid. at article Q of Preamble.

[78] As of June 2012, “gender identity” and “gender expression” were added as new grounds protected by the Code.

[79] See section 8 on “Poverty, mental health and addiction” for more information.

[80] “Cultural competence” may be defined as “an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, particularly in the context of human resourcesnon-profit organizations, and government agencies whose employees work with persons from different cultural/ ethnic backgrounds. Cultural competence comprises four components: (a) Awareness of one's own cultural worldview, (b) Attitude towards cultural differences, (c) Knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews, and (d) Cross-cultural skills. Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures.” See (Retrieved: January 17, 2014).


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