Overview of the Structures
In Canada, our domestic human rights laws operate in two jurisdictions: the federal and the provincial. At the federal level, the Canadian Human Rights Act is administered and enforced by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal, and at the provincial level, theBritish Columbia Human Rights Code is administered by the BC Human Rights Tribunal. Both pieces of legislation are similar in the protections they provide although slight variations do exist. Neither the federal nor the provincial legislation trumps or supercedes the other. Rather, the appropriate legislation is determined according to which level of government regulates a specific area.
The two laws have separate administrative structures that allow individuals to exercise their rights by filing complaints of discrimination.
Examples of areas regulated by the federal government and governed by the Canadian Human Rights Act would include employment and services of:
- the federal government and all its ministries;
- all arms of the federal government such as the R.C.M.P. the Employment Insurance Commission or Canada Post;
- telecommunications, which are regulated by the CRTC, all inter-provincial transportation such as Air Canada and Via Rail;
- chartered banks, but not credit unions; and
- all unions attached to any of the above.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal are the two agencies that enforce the federal Act. To initiate a complaint of discrimination, contact the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Generally, the Canadian Human Rights Commission will help you identify whether they have the statutory ability to deal with your issue. If so, they will provide you with options to resolve your complaint, investigate your complaint and, if warranted, refer your complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for a public hearing and a decision.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission has other areas of responsibility such as providing public education, monitoring and conducting research related to discrimination, and enforcing the Employment Equity Act, which applies to federal employers with over 100 employees. See the Commission's website for further information.
The provincial legislation, the BC Human Rights Code, applies to employers, service providers and all provincially regulated businesses and agencies. Our provincial legislation also applies to the purchase of property and rental accommodations. Examples of provincially regulated areas include:
- all provincial, local and municipal government departments, services and policies;
- schools and universities;
- hospitals and medical clinics;
- all private businesses and services such as stores, restaurants, and movie theatres;
- credit unions;
- non-profit organizations and some of the services they provide;
- rental accommodations including hotels and rental property; and
- the purchase of either residential or commercial property.
The BC Human Rights Tribunal is the sole agency that enforces the provincial Code. This means that the Tribunal accepts, mediates, holds public hearings, and decides on complaints of discrimination.
Generally, you initiate your complaint of discrimination with the BC Human Rights Tribunal. If your issue is something they have the statutory ability to deal with, the Tribunal will provide you with various options to settle your claim prior to a full hearing. When early settlement doesn't work, the Tribunal holds public hearings and renders decisions on claims of discrimination.
The Tribunal’s process is similar to that of a court and full procedures are set out in its Rules of Practice and Procedure. The Tribunal also has a number of user-friendly guides and information sheets available to assist individuals through the process. See the Tribunal’s website for full information.
Recognizing that the provincial process is more court-like in nature, individuals have access to a publicly funded human rights clinic that provides information, assistance, advice and representation to those who need assistance. >>> Learn more about the clinic here.
In British Columbia, the statutory responsibility for education is held by the Minister responsible for Human Rights, the Ministry of Justice. This responsibility is jointly carried out by the Ministry, by the Tribunal, and by third party delivery agents under the auspices of the BC Human Rights Clinic.
The Ministry of Justice of BC also has the statutory power to initiate and conduct research related to discrimination and the Tribunal is responsible for filing an annual report with the legislature. See the Ministry of Justice website for more information.
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