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What is the Human Rights Code?

The Ontario Human Rights Code is the law in Ontario. This legislation was written to provide comprehensive human rights protections for all people in Ontario.

The Preamble sets the spirit

The intent (or spirit) of the Code is defined in the Preamble – which appears at the very beginning. The Preamble sets out what the legislation is intended to achieve. It is very important because it helps define the meaning of equality. When we are not sure how
to interpret a section of the Code, the Preamble can guide us. It sets out the basic assumptions underlying this important legislation.

The Preamble says that we recognize that all people:

  • Have human rights that cannot be infringed upon or dismissed
  • Have individual dignity and worth
  • Are entitled to equal rights and opportunities without discrimination
  • Need a climate of understanding and mutual respect, so that everyone feels a part of society and can contribute fully to it.

Teaching tip: Hand out copies of “Preamble to the Ontario Human Rights Code” to your students, or post it in a visible place in the classroom. A print-ready handout of this is included in the “Student handouts” section.                                            

The Code evolves over time

While the principles of the Preamble remain constant, the way we interpret these principles continues to evolve in step with changes in our society. Examples of how
the Code has changed include:

  • In 1981, adding sexual harassment as a violation of the Code
  • In the 1980s, adding disability and sexual orientation as prohibited grounds of discrimination
  • In 2012, adding the new grounds of gender identity and gender expression.

The Code is remedial

Human rights legislation is meant to remedy the situation for the person or group discriminated against, and to prevent further discrimination. It is not meant to punish the individual or organization that has discriminated.

The Ontario Human Rights Code provides for civil remedies, not criminal penalties. Individuals or organizations found to have discriminated are not sent to jail but can be required to compensate the person discriminated against, or make major changes in the way they conduct their affairs.

Focus on these main points with your students and tell them that you are going to start your study of the scope and intent of the Code by discussing the topic of discrimination.

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