Human Rights Commissions

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

Definition (reference below) defines a human rights commission as a department, body, or committee constituted by a state or its local government to investigate on human rights violations and to protect human rights.

It goes on to say:

“A human rights commission can be set up at international, national or sub-national levels. For example, there are national human rights institutions, truth and reconciliation commissions and the U.N. Commission on human rights. The primary functions of a human rights commission can be classified into two types:

  1. to advocate and promote human rights observance; and
  2. to maintain and develop a harmonious relation between individuals and among diverse groups in a state.”
Canadian laws that protect human rights

The Canadian Human Rights Commission (reference below) notes that in Canada, human rights are protected by federal, provincial and territorial laws:

“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 is part of Canada’s Constitution. The Charter protects every Canadian’s right to be treated equally under the law. The Charter guarantees broad equality rights and other fundamental rights such as the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. It applies to governments, but not to organizations, businesses or people. It also protects the rights of all Canadians from infringements by laws, policies or actions of governments, including authorities such as the police. For example if you are arrested without cause, this could be a violation of your rights under the Charter. Please note that the Canadian Human Rights Commission does not enforce the Charter or accept complaints under the Charter. Complaints under the Charter must be filed in a court.

“The Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977 protects people in Canada from discrimination when they are employed by or receive services from the federal government, First Nations governments or private companies that are regulated by the federal government such as banks, trucking companies, broadcasters and telecommunications companies. People can turn to the Canadian Human Rights Act to protect themselves against harassment or discrimination when based on one or more of the 11 grounds of discrimination such as race, age and sexual orientation. For example, if a workplace policy offers benefits to some married couples but not others, this may be considered discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

“Although Canada’s human rights laws are not part of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has found that other laws must be interpreted in ways that are consistent with them. In other words, they are “quasi-constitutional.”

“Provincial and territorial human rights laws share many similarities with the Canadian Human Rights Act and apply many of the same principles. They protect people from discrimination in areas of provincial and territorial jurisdiction, such as restaurants, stores, schools, housing and most workplaces.”

Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC)

The website for the CHRC is The Commission was created to administer the Canadian Human Rights Act. It also ensures compliance with the Employment Equity Act. The Chief Commissioner, Marie-Claude Landry (see and Deputy Chief Commissioner, David Langtry (see are full-time appointees. In addition, there are six part-time Commissioners (see The Commission operates independently from government when administering these two acts of Parliament. The CHRC has an online Glossary of terms at

The CRHC defines discrimination and describes its role as follows (at

“Discrimination is an action or a decision that treats a person or a group negatively for reasons such as their race, age or disability. These reasons are known as grounds of discrimination. Federal employers and service providers, as well as employers and service providers of private companies that are regulated by the federal government, cannot discriminate against individuals for these reasons.

“These 11 grounds are protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act:

  • 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.

“There are several ways that a person could be discriminated against. The Canadian Human Rights Act calls these discriminatory practices. The following seven discriminatory practices are prohibited by the Canadian Human Rights Act when they are based on one or more of the 11 grounds of discrimination:

  • Denying someone goods, services, facilities or accommodation.
  • Providing someone goods, services, facilities or accommodation in a way that treats them adversely and differently.
  • Refusing to employ or continue to employ someone, or treating them unfairly in the workplace.
  • Following policies or practices that deprive people of employment opportunities.
  • Paying men and women differently when they are doing work of the same value.
  • Retaliating against a person who has filed a complaint with the Commission or against someone who has filed a complaint for them.
  • Harassing someone.

“Federal employers are not allowed to discriminate against their employees. In fact, they are obligated to make every effort to accommodate an employee’s individual circumstances that relate to protected grounds of discrimination. We call this the duty to accommodate.

“If you work for or receive services from a business or organization that is regulated by the federal government, and you believe you have experienced discrimination because of one of the 11 grounds, you can file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.”

Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)

The website for the OHRC is The Commission was established in 1961 to administer the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Commission is an arm’s length agency of government accountable to the people of Ontario through the legislature. There is a full-time Chief Commissioner and a varying number of part-time Commissioners, appointed by Order-in-Council. Staff of the Commission is appointed under the Public Service Act. The Chief Commissioner, Renu Mandane, was appointed in 2015 (see Toronto Star profile at

The OHRC describes its mission and vision as follows:

“The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is one part of Ontario’s system for human rights, alongside the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC). We are guided by the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code) in all our work.

“The OHRC plays an important role in preventing discrimination and promoting and advancing human rights in Ontario. The OHRC:

  • Develops public policy on human rights
  • Actively promotes a culture of human rights in the province
  • Conducts public inquiries
  • Intervenes in proceedings at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO)
  • Initiates our own applications (formerly called ‘complaints’)
  • Engages in proactive measures to prevent discrimination using public education, policy development, research and analysis
  • Brings people and communities together to help resolve issues of “tension and conflict”

“In addition, the OHRC has the power to monitor and report on anything related to the state of human rights in the Province of Ontario. This includes reviewing legislation and policies for consistency with the intent of the Code.

“The HRTO may refer matters in the public interest to the OHRC and may ask the Commission to conduct an inquiry. The OHRC may also apply to the HRTO to state a case to the Divisional Court where it feels the HRTO decision is not consistent with OHRC policies. OHRC policies can be used in issues that are before the Tribunal.

“… Our vision – An Ontario in which everyone is valued, treated with dignity and respect, and where human rights are nurtured by us all.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Courts, Tribunals, and Commissions (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.

Sources, Human Rights Commission, at, accessed 15 November 2016.

Canadian Human Rights Commission (2016), Laws that protect human rights, at, accessed 15 November 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 8 February 2017.