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How to handle discrimination or harassment

Discrimination and harassment are not allowed in Canada. In fact it goes against any and all human rights codes, federal or provincial/territorial.

Discrimination and harassment show up in various kinds of behaviour. However, the law has recognized the grounds and areas of harassment based on which people can make human rights or criminal complaints.


If you are being treated adversely due to any of the 11 grounds listed under discrimination, you are probably facing discrimination.

Those grounds are:

  • Race 
  • National or ethnic origin 
  • Colour 
  • Religion 
  • Age 
  • Sex 
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Marital status 
  • Family status 
  • Disability 
  • A conviction for which a pardon has been granted or a record suspended.


Harassment is a type of discrimination. It usually recurs over time but it can be a one-time occurrence as well.

Harassment can include:

  • Unwelcome remarks or jokes about you based on any of the 11 grounds of discrimination;
  • Unwanted physical contact, including touching, patting, petting, and more. These kinds of behaviour may also be considered assault or sexual assault.
  • Threatening or intimidating behaviour by someone directed at you.

In extreme circumstances, this type of behaviour can also lead to criminal charges, as criminal harassment is forbidden by law.

Criminal harassment

s. 264 of the Criminal Code of Canada outlaws criminal harassment. Criminal harassment means that you are afraid for your safety because someone engages in threatening behaviour towards you such as:

  • Following you from one place to another and/or people who accompany you;
  • Watching places where you are known to go; such as employment, business, residence, etc.;
  • Communicating with you or people you know despite you not wanting to communicate with that person – this behaviour can be direct or indirect;
  • Threatening conduct direct at you or members of your family.

If someone engages in this behaviour towards you, you may want to call the non-emergency police line. If you are facing an immediate threat of violence, please call 9-1-1.

Human rights complaints

Most provinces/territories have similar legislation when it comes to filing a human rights complaint.

Be aware that the human rights tribunals of each province or territory usually has a time limit within which you must have filed the complaint. For instance, in British Columbia you must have filed within six months of the incident.

Usually you will be asked to file a written complaint and/or to fill out a form and return it to the human rights commission to whom you are complaining.

You will be asked in which protected areas you were discriminated against. Areas include, but are not limited to:

  • Employment;
  • Businesses, which can also be referred to in other terms, such as goods and services facilities;
  • Tenancy;
  • Wages
  • And more.

You will also be asked which of the 11 grounds you were discriminated against.

After you have written the letter/filled out the application, signed and sent it, usually the tribunal will evaluate your complaint and see whether to go ahead with it.

Note that if the harassment/discrimination is occurring while you are a federal employee or your company is being regulated by the federal government, then the complaint would be made under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

If you are unsure if you have indeed been harassed or discriminated against and whether or not to file a complaint, you may want to contact a human rights lawyer or an employment lawyer.

Read more:

What is discrimination?

What is harassment?