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Understanding Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

By: Hargun Grewal

In Ontario, there exists a group of 14 adjudicative tribunals, known as Tribunals Ontario, that play an important role in the province’s administration of justice. Some of these tribunals include:

  • Animal Care Review Board

  • Child and Family Services Review Board

  • Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

  • Landlord and Tenant Board

  • Social Benefits Tribunal

Tribunals behave similarly to a Quasi Court, a non-judicial body which can interpret law, as it is enacted through statues and is given the authority to interpret the law. Judicial courts can sometimes deal with the same matters brought in tribunals, however, they are not that well-equipped to deal with them as courts usually see disputes and criminal cases while tribunals see more specialized matters and are not restricted by the rules of evidence. It is the purpose of tribunals to be more specialized so they can become more knowledgeable in that area of the law. Tribunals often hear cases for the first time and then if the matter was unable to be resolved it would then be moved to a court of law.

Established in 1961, The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HTRO) exists to “resolve claims of discrimination and harassment brought under the Human Rights Code, a law that protects people in Ontario from discrimination and harassment.” The Human Rights Code was enacted after the creation of the Tribunal, it was able to bring various discrimination and harassment laws together to form a more organized system to deal with human rights violations. This, in turn, allowed for Ontario to be held accountable by taking human rights issues more seriously because before the Code and the Tribunal existed there was no formal process an individual could bring discrimination and harassment to the government of Ontarios attention without the use of a lawyer, a lengthy legal process, and judicial courts. The Tribunal now hears cases of discrimination and harassment brought under the Human Rights Code under five parts of society, known as social areas:

  1. employment

  2. accommodation (housing)

  3. goods, services and facilities

  4. contracts

  5. membership in trade and vocational associations.

The Human Right Code, prohibits discrimination, the unfair differential treatment of another individual, on certain grounds which are commonly referred to as “prohibited grounds”. These include:

  • Race

  • Colour

  • Ethnicity

  • Disability

  • Sex

  • Gender And more.

However, not all unfair conduct or unequal treatment is covered by the Code. For example, although different treatment based on age is prohibited in the Code, different insurance rates based on age are allowed. Another example are, Bona Fide Occupational Requirements where different treatment based on your personal circumstances may be allowed. However, these should not be directly related to an individuals identity and should mainly be used to determine physical demands, environmental conditions, as well as cognitive or educational requirements. For example, if a requirement for a certain job is to be able to lift 50-80 pounds anyone who cannot do this due to either age or ability may be denied employment or the position.

The HRTO differs from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). The OHRC looks at systemic issues occurring in the province and seeks to remedy them. The OHRC works on research and develops reports to generate discussion on various human rights issues. However, both the tribunal and commission can work in unison to progress human rights in Ontario as the OHRC has the ability to bring organizations (governmental, public, and private) before the HRTO. For example, most recently the OHRC brought the Peel District School Board (PDSB) under review of the Code due to concerns of systemic anti-black racism.

If you believe you have experienced discrimination or harassment in Ontario and would like to take action, the first step to be taken is filing an application with the HRTO. There is a timeline up to when cases can be heard and in order to be successful in the process the respective incident could not have occurred more than one year ago from the time your application is filed.

After your application is filed and approved, you can either proceed through to the mediation process or hearing process. In meditation, the HRTO will work to resolve the issue between you and the other party in order to come to an agreement or solution that is fair and equitable to both parties. However, if you decide to undergo a hearing it will be your responsibility to prove that the Human Rights Code was violated indicating your rights were infringed upon and that you are entitled to a remedy. This means that you will need to prove that:

  1. The other party treated you differently in a negative manner on the basis of a prohibited grounds in the Human Rights Code (e.g. race, disability, age, sex/gender, sexual orientation); and

  2. As a result, you suffered a disadvantage, including a loss (e.g. financial - loss of paid work, emotional - loss of self-worth).

The timelines for the HRTO vary drastically depending on your case, the process you undertake, and how the tribunal reaches a decision. The timelines are located on their website, however, they are included below:

  • The first mediation date offered to parties will be scheduled to take place within 150 calendar days from the date the parties agree to mediation.

  • The first hearing date will be offered to parties and will be within 180 calendar days from the date the application is ready to proceed to hearing.

  • Decisions for hearings which take 3 days or less will be issued within 90 calendar days.

  • Decisions for hearings which take longer than 3 days will be issued within 180 calendar days

Undergoing this entire process can definitely be daunting as you can be intimidated by unfamiliar vocabulary in the legislation or policies, various dates and timeliness, and even the size of the individuals or organizations you are filing a case against. However, there are some best practices to follow that will help greatly throughout the process. The HRTO has an applicants guide located on their website that we have also linked here for you to view which outlines all the important steps and documents needed. If you are financially able, hiring a lawyer that specializes in human rights law may be the right path for you as they have strong background experience in what you may be dealing with. However, if you decide to undergo the process without external support such as a lawyer, then it becomes your responsibility to understand what is the best way to navigate the process.

Hargun Grewal is in his final year at McMaster University. He has been a student intern with Battick Legal since September 2020.


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