Bill 164, introduced in October 2017, would expand the current prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code to include social condition, police records, genetic characteristics and immigration status. We are currently waiting on the Bill to pass, or not. It passed second reading and currently sits with the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills. In its current form, the Bill would amend the Code to prohibit discrimination, or differential treatment on the basis of social condition, police records, genetic characteristics and immigration status. Presently, discrimination on these grounds is allowed in Ontario. Let’s take a look at what these proposed new grounds mean.
“Social Condition” is defined by the Bill as a social or economic disadvantage which arises from the following:
- Employment status
- Source/level of income
- Housing status, including homelessness
- Level of education
- Or any other circumstance that is similar to those mentioned above
Inclusion of this ground would provide greater protections to Ontarians who experience poverty. Imagine applying for a job and not having a fixed address to provide the prospective employer. The present state of the law allows an employer to make a judgment based on your lack of address. If the Code is amended to include this ground, employers will presumably not be able to ask for an address, current salary etc. Job history and educational background will still obviously be relevant to the qualifications for many jobs. We will explore further how the addition of this ground would work in the employment context in a future post should the Bill pass.
Inclusion of police record is a big deal. Currently, the Code prohibits discrimination on the basis of pardoned criminal convictions. This provides quite narrow protection to anyone with any involvement with the criminal justice system. People are often asked to provide police backgrounds checks in the employment context. These records checks will turn up things like non-convictions records, police contacts, as well as criminal convictions and can easily disqualify applicants. This proposed amendment would mean that an employer or prospective employer could no longer discriminate based on convictions, police contact etc.
As with all Code protected grounds, if being free from criminal convictions was a bona fide occupational requirement, then discrimination would be permitted. This change, would not, for example, mean that convicted sex offenders would be free to work with children.
You can read more about the current state of criminal record checks in employment in our past post here.
The inclusion of genetic characteristics as a protected ground would likely have the biggest impact in the insurance sphere. It would provide protections to an individual on the basis that they either 1) refuse to undergo a genetic test, 2) refuse to disclose their results, or 3) refuse to allow disclosure of said results. Genetic characteristics, or refusal to provide genetic characteristics, would not be permissible reasons to deny insurance coverage.
The Code currently provides protection on the basis of citizenship, race and place of origin. The addition of immigration status would practically eliminate an employer’s ability to discriminate on the basis of Canadian work experience or on the basis of how long someone has been in Canada.