As part of Human Rights First: Strategic Plan 2023-25, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is committed to work with other institutions to challenge and address the increase in hate expression and help ensure public institutions, individuals and groups know how to use the human rights system to respond to hate.
The OHRC aims to build awareness about the real consequences of hate on people’s right to be free from discrimination. Promoting a climate of understanding and mutual respect so everyone feels welcome in our community is what Ontario’s Human Rights Code (the Code) is all about.
In recent years, Ontario has seen a rise in hate activities against individuals and groups based on colour, ethnicity, race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation, among other grounds.
The Supreme Court of Canada said that hatred involves vilification and detestation of identifiable groups, implying that individuals are to be despised, scorned, denied respect, and subjected to ill treatment based on their group affiliation. Hatred thrives on insensitivity, bigotry, and destruction of both the target group and of the values of our society.
The rise in hate activities is a critical issue that requires a multi-faceted approach involving government, public and private sector organizations and civil society alike.
- What is hate speech?
- Does Ontario’s Human Rights Code protect people from hate speech?
- Does Ontario’s Human Rights Code apply to online forms of hate expression, for example cyberbullying and cyberhate?
- What must organizations do to address discriminatory hate expression?
- What can someone do if they are the target of discriminatory hate?
- What is the OHRC doing to address hate expression?
- OHRC policies and guides that include components addressing hate expression
- Other OHRC statements that address hate expression
- Other resources
Hate speech is the use of extreme language or a form of communication that expresses detestation for or vilifies an individual or group of individuals based on colour, ethnicity, place of origin, race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation, among other grounds of discrimination under Ontario's Human Rights Code. Hatred is often rooted in anti-Black, anti-Asian and anti-Indigenous racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia and white supremacy.
Unlike some other human rights legislation (e.g., British Columbia Human Rights Code), Ontario's Human Rights Code does not regulate or specifically mention hate speech.
Some discriminatory conduct may include the expression of hate that can be reasonably limited by the Human Rights Code. For example, the Human Rights Code prohibits harassment (unwelcome vexatious comment or conduct) and other forms of discrimination that negatively impact individuals and groups in employment, services, housing accommodation, vocational associations and contracts.
More extreme forms of speech may be a violation of Canada’s Criminal Code. The Criminal Code prohibits advocating genocide and public incitement or willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group.
Communication that expresses mere dislike or disdain or discredits, humiliates, hurts or offends a person or group might not be hatred under the Criminal Code but could be discriminatory under Ontario’s Human Rights Code, depending on the circumstances.
3. Does Ontario’s Human Rights Code apply to online forms of hate expression, for example cyberbullying and cyberhate?
The Human Rights Code may be engaged if online communications amount to bullying, harassment or a poisoned environment for individuals in particular “social areas” such as employment, housing, or services. See for example the OHRC’s Policy on preventing sexual and gender-based harassment.
The Human Rights Code will not apply to in-person or online comments made by individuals in the absence of a connection to one of these social areas (employment, housing or services). For example, comments made in a “public square” or over social media, even if these comments are unpopular, offensive or repugnant are not discriminatory under the Human Rights Code unless one of the social areas are engaged, keeping in mind the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the right to freedom of expression.
Employers, housing providers, schools and other services have a legal responsibility under human rights law to make sure their environments are free of discrimination and harassment, including expressions of hate targeted at groups identified by prohibited grounds under the Code. They must address and not ignore hate expression and other forms of discrimination when they happen.
Organizations must take steps to prevent and respond to discriminatory hate expression and should have policies and procedures in place, including complaint mechanisms as well as education and training.
Individuals who believe they have been targeted by discriminatory hate expression at work or in school, housing or other services should tell someone in authority at the organization what happened so steps can be taken to ensure a safe environment for the individual or group.
Individuals who believe they have been targeted by a more extreme form of hate should consider contacting the police.
Under Human Rights First: Strategic Plan for 2023-25, the OHRC will be working with other institutions to challenge and address the dramatic increase in hate that has been documented since the onset of the pandemic. The OHRC’s aim is to ensure public institutions are more aware of and know how to use the human rights system to respond to manifestations of hate.
In keeping with the Preamble of the Code, the OHRC is raising awareness about the real consequences of hate speech on people’s right to be free from discrimination and the importance of ensuring a climate of understanding and mutual respect so that each person feels a part of the community.
The OHRC has often spoken out about the impact of hate activities targeted at Code-protected groups. Some recent examples include:
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, the OHRC spoke out on race-based hatred against Chinese, South Asian and Indigenous communities.
- In summer 2021, the OHRC released public statements on antisemitism and Islamophobia in keeping with its Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed.
- In September 2022, the OHRC’s Chief Commissioner spoke about the rise in hate activities at the York Regional Police Annual Hate Crimes Conference.
- In February 2023, the OHRC released a public statement on Human Rights Code obligations of education officials regarding concerns of increased violence.
- In February 2023, the OHRC made a social media statement denouncing the hate-motivated vandalism of a Hindu temple.
But the OHRC cannot speak out alone. The rise in hate activities is a critical issue that requires a multi-faceted approach involving government, public sector institutions and civil society alike.
To learn more, see anti-hate/anti-discrimination resources for a list of OHRC policies, guides and statements, and other organizations that address hate expression.
- Policy and guidelines on racism and racial discrimination
- Racial discrimination, race and racism (fact sheet)
- Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed
- Policy on competing human rights
- Policy on discrimination and harassment because of sexual orientation
- Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression
- Guide to your rights and responsibilities under the Human Rights Code (see section 13 on announced intention to discriminate)
- Policy statement on a human rights-based approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic (See principle 5: Respond to racism, ageism, ableism and other forms of discrimination)
- 2023 – OHRC Opinion Editorial on TVO.org: Anti-hate
- 2023 – OHRC social media statement denouncing the hate-motivated vandalism of a Hindu temple
- 2023 – OHRC statement on Code obligations of education officials
- 2021 – OHRC statements on national summits on islamophobia and antisemitism
- 2021 – COVID - OHRC urges Ontarians to respect the human rights of South Asian communities
- 2021 – OHRC statement on mass killings in London, Ontario
- 2020 – A critical juncture of hate: OHRC Chief Commissioner statement on how Canada is facing two pandemics – COVID-19 and the pandemic of brazen hate, extremism and brutality
- 2018 – January 29 a day to remember the tragic consequences of hate
- 2017 – Opening statement: Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination M-103
- 2016 – Ontario Human Rights Commission response to Orlando mass shooting
- 2015 Dec 10th – statement: History teaches us that difficult conversations about religion must start from respect and inclusion, not hate and division
- 2015 – Terror abroad has revealed troubling hate here at home
- 2013 – Re: Racist anti-Aboriginal slurs
- 2011-12 annual report Competing rights: setting the stage for respectful dialogue
- 2011 – OHRC factum Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. Whatcott
- 2010 – OHRC Anti-racism and anti-discrimination for municipalities: Introductory manual
- 2009 – OHRC submission to the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s report concerning section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the regulation of hate speech on the internet prepared by Richard Moon October 2008
- 2008 – Commission reports on inquiry into assaults against Asian Canadian Anglers
- 2008 – OHRC reference to the Ontario Hate crimes community working group
- 2008 – OHRC submission to the Canadian Human Rights Commission concerning section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the regulation of hate speech on the internet
- 2001 – 9-11 attacks "Compassion, justice and a renewal of our pledge against hatred should mark this day of mourning", says Chief Commissioner Keith Norton
- British Columbia’s Human Rights Commission public inquiry and 2023 report into hate incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic (see also their Qs and As on hate speech)
- A review of services for victims of hate in Canada: Interim report 2022 (Canadian Race Relations Foundation)
- Bill C-36 2021 An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act and to make related amendments to another Act (hate propaganda, hate crimes and hate speech) (the bill died on the Order Paper when Parliament was dissolved on 15 August 2021)
- Legislative Summary of Bill C-36 (includes a summary of hate promotion and hate crimes in Canada and an overview of the Canadian legal context)
- Hate/Bias crime: A Review of Policies, Practices and Challenges (Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, 2020)
- Police-reported hate-motivated crime, by detailed motivation, Canada, 2020 to 2021 (Statistics Canada). Also see this more detailed analysis for 2020
- Ontario Mandates Universities and Colleges to Introduce Free Speech Policy by January 1, 2019 (policies must also ensure that hate speech, discrimination and other illegal forms of speech are not allowed on campus)
- 2006 – Final Report of the Hate Crimes Community Working Group