The BC Human Rights Code (the Code) protects people in BC from discrimination. The Code prohibits discrimination based on certain personal characteristics and in certain protected areas.
If you have experienced discrimination in a protected area, you can file a human rights complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal. You have one year from the date of the discrimination to file a complaint.
The Clinic runs a Short Service Clinic every Monday. A human rights lawyer or advocate can provide you with a free 30 minute legal consultation to discuss your complaint and your options. To make an appointment, click here.
People in British Columbia are protected from discrimination in six areas:
- Employment includes all stages of employment, including interviews, hiring, terms and conditions of work, discipline and termination.
- The Code also prohibits employment ads that express an unjustifiable preference, limitation or specification on the basis of a protected characteristic. There are exceptions for non-profit organizations.
- Employers may not pay employees of one sex less than employees of another sex for similar work.
- The protections of the Code apply to people working full-time or part-time, interns, volunteers, temporary workers, non-citizens and people who do not have documented immigration status in Canada.
- Tenancy includes all stages of a tenancy, including renting a space, the terms and conditions of the tenancy, and being evicted.
Services, facilities and accommodations that are available to the public
- This is a broad area that includes businesses, stores, hotels, restaurants, schools, community centres, police services, government programs, and services provided by stratas.
Unions, employers’ organizations and occupational associations
- Unions and associations must not discriminate regarding membership on the basis of a protected characteristic
- Unions and associations also have obligations under other areas of the Code, including employment and services.
Purchase of property
- The Code prohibits poor treatment based on a protected characteristic regarding the purchase of property or the terms and conditions of the purchase.
- Publications that expose a person or group of people to hatred or contempt, or which indicate discrimination or an intention to discriminate, are prohibited by the Code.
People in British Columbia are protected from discrimination on the basis of the following protected characteristics:
- Race includes cultural and ethnic groups. It may overlap with ancestry, colour and place of origin.
- Colour refers to a person’s skin colour. It may overlap with race, ancestry, and place of origin.
- Ancestry means where a person’s family is from. It may overlap with race, colour, and place of origin.
Place of origin
- Place of origin means where a person is born or comes from. It may overlap with race, ancestry, and colour.
- Religion includes holding sincere religious beliefs and following the practices of a particular faith. It also includes not having religious beliefs.
- Marital status includes who your spouse is. It also includes being married, single, divorced, widowed, separated, or living common-law. It includes same-sex and opposite-sex spouses.
- Family status includes who you are related to and who is in your family, whether by blood, marriage or adoption. It also includes family type (e.g., a single parent family).
- Obligations to care for family members are also protected in some circumstances.
- This ground does not apply to the purchase of property.
- Physical disabilities are physical conditions that affect or are believed to affect a person’s abilities.
- A physical disability must have a degree of severity, permanence or persistence. It does not apply to short-lived conditions such as a cold.
- Mental disabilities are mental conditions that affect or are believed to affect a person’s abilities.
- Mental disabilities include conditions like learning disorders and developmental disabilities, and mental illnesses like depression, bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Sex includes being a woman, man, intersex or transgender. It also includes pregnancy and breast-feeding.
- Sexual harassment is discrimination on the basis of sex.
- Sexual orientation includes being gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual.
Gender identity or expression
- Gender identity means a person’s sense of themselves as male, female, both, in between or neither. A person’s gender identity may be the same as the sex they were assigned at birth or it may be different.
- Gender expression means how a person presents their gender. This can include behaviour and appearance, including hair, make-up, clothing and voice. It can also include their name and the pronoun they use (e.g., he, she or they).
- Age is defined as 19 and over. It does not apply to the purchase of property.
- The Code allows some difference in treatment on the basis of age. Seniority schemes, some employment benefit plans, seniors’ housing and insurance premiums and benefits may make distinctions based on age.
- Political belief includes advocating for changes to laws and policies, or supporting a political party or advocacy group. It also includes beliefs about the organization and governance of communities.
- Political belief is only protected in the area of employment, employment ads, and membership in a trade union, employers’ organization or occupational association.
Lawful source of income
- Lawful source of income means where you obtain your money. It includes income assistance, pensions and rent subsidies.
- Lawful source of income is only protected in the area of tenancy.
- Criminal conviction includes being charged or convicted of a criminal offence.
- Criminal conviction is only protected in employment and membership in a trade union, employers’ organization or occupational association.
- Only criminal convictions that are unrelated to a person’s employment or intended employment are protected.
Discrimination refers to treating someone differently on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination in a way that causes them disadvantage.
Example: Refusing to serve someone at a restaurant because they are Indigenous.
Discrimination can also result when a neutral rule, policy or practice has a negative impact on a person or group of people based on one or more of their protected characteristics.
Discrimination may not be intentional. It is the impact of the treatment that is important.
Example: A store has a rule requiring staff to be available to work on Saturdays. The rule applies to all staff. An employee’s religious beliefs prohibit them from working on Saturdays. The employer did not intend to discriminate against people of that religion. However, unless the store proves there is a reasonable justification for the rule and they could not accommodate the employee without undue hardship, this is discrimination.
To prove discrimination, a complainant must show:
- They have a personal characteristic that is protected from discrimination by the Code.
- They were treated badly or suffered a negative outcome in a protected area.
- Their protected personal characteristic was a factor in the negative treatment or outcome. The characteristic need not be the only, or even the most important factor in the negative treatment or outcome.
This is called the “complainant’s case”. It is also called the test for prima facie discrimination. If a complainant proves these three things, then the respondent must justify their actions.
A respondent may be able to show that the way they treated the complainant was justified. To do so, a respondent will need to show:
- They acted for a legitimate reason.
- They acted honestly and did not intend to discriminate.
- They took all reasonable steps to avoid harmful or negative effects on the complainant. This is called the duty to accommodate.
If the treatment, rule or policy is justified, then there is no discrimination.
This defence is sometimes called the bona fide occupational requirement defence, or the bona fide reasonable justification defence.
Example: A store has a rule requiring all staff to be available to work on the weekends. An employee’s religious beliefs prohibit them from working on Saturdays. Applying the 3-step test:
- The employer made the rule because Saturdays are their busiest day.
- They did not intend to discriminate when they made the rule.
- The employer tried to accommodate the complainant, but it was impossible because the company is so small.
On these facts, the employer may have a bona fide reasonable justification for requiring employees to be available to work on Saturdays.
Employers, landlords, service providers and other potential respondents under the Code have a duty to accommodate the protected characteristics of their employees, tenants, customers and clients.
To prove that it met its duty to accommodate, a respondent must show that it took all reasonable and practical steps to avoid the negative effect on the complainant. In the employment context, this may mean making changes to an employee’s job duties, altering their work environment, or changing their hours of work.
Respondents have a duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship. This means that the respondent may have to incur some hardship (e.g., cost, inconvenience) to meet the duty to accommodate.
To meet their duty to accommodate, respondents should also take steps to inform themselves about the nature of the accommodation-seeker’s needs and their capabilities and limitations at work.
Example: A person suffers an injury and can no longer perform part of their job duties due to their disability. The employer may have to alter the employee’s job duties or take other steps to allow the employee to do their job, unless this would cause the employer undue hardship.
Whether a respondent has met their duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship depends on all of the circumstances. The following factors may be considered:
- Financial cost of the accommodations
- Issues of safety and risk
- Size of the workplace
- Interchangeability of the workforce
- Disruption to a collective agreement
- Impact of the accommodation on others
A respondent may have to give evidence about the accommodations they have offered and why it would be an undue hardship for them to do more.
Complainants must participate in the search for reasonable accommodation. A person seeking accommodation may have to provide medical information about their disability and accommodation needs.
Complainants are entitled to reasonable accommodation, not perfect accommodation. A respondent may be able to prove that they did not discriminate if they can show that they offered a reasonable accommodation, but the complainant rejected it.
Non-profit organizations are allowed to give preference to members of a group whose interests are being served by the organization.
To qualify for this exemption, the organization must be a non-profit, and must be a charitable, philanthropic, educational, fraternal, religious, or social organization. Its primary purpose must be the promotion of the interests of a group or class of persons. The organization may then grant a preference to members of that group or class.
Example: A transition house for women leaving abusive relationships can choose to hire only women to work there.