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TIPS: How to File a Human Rights Complaint

Important Note: This FAQ is intended to provide a broad overview of the human rights process, and should not be treated as legal advice. ECHRT does not provide legal advice or legal assistance. You should seek the assistance of a lawyer in completing the human rights complaint process. Free legal assistance with human rights complaints is available at many of the legal clinics across the country.

What first steps should I take before filing a claim?

Is my claim Federal or Provincial?

What is a human rights complaint?

What procedures do human rights bodies use?

What kind of remedy can I receive for the rights violation?

Can I appeal a decision on my human rights claim?

What first steps should I take before filing a claim?


In the event of a potential human rights infringement, Canada’s human rights bodies expect that Canadians first try to resolve the issue where it took place. For instance, many work places have internal dispute resolution mechanisms. If a dispute cannot be resolved in this way, you may file a human rights complaint with a federal or provincial commission. Many jurisdictions require that you file a complaint within a limited period after the incident. If you apply after the limited period, you may have to explain the reason for your delay, and your claim may be denied.

Is my claim Federal or Provincial?


If you feel you have been discriminated against while receiving service from, or being employed by a federal public service, or a federally regulated private company, such as a bank, airline, or telephone company, your complaint should be filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. All other human rights complaints should be filed with a provincial human rights commission. Note: many ‘federally incorporated’ companies still fall within provincial jurisdiction. If you are not sure whether your claim is federal or provincial/territorial, consult with a legal clinic that assists with human rights, or with a lawyer.

What is a human rights complaint?


The first requirement is that a complaint relates to a ground of discrimination recognized by the human rights code of the government body you are filing your complaint with. For instance, all provinces and territories recognize that race is a prohibited ground for discrimination, meaning that discrimination based on race violates the code. Check with the lists of grounds for Canada, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Québec, Saskatchewan, or Yukon. All codes now include recognition for sexual orientation. However, only the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia explicitly recognize complaints based on gender identity within their human rights legislation. Other provinces address gender identity indirectly. For more information, see our trans human right claims FAQ .

Provinces also specify which protected areas are covered by the code, such as employment, and services available to the general public. You should check the areas of discrimination covered in your province before filing a complaint. Canada, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Québec, Saskatchewan, Yukon

Finally, you must demonstrate that the discrimination had a negative impact on you. This can mean that the discrimination caused distress or psychological harm, or that it led to a detrimental effect such as being fired from a job.

What procedures do human rights bodies use?


The procedures used to process a human rights complaint vary from province to province. However, many provinces, and the federal government, will attempt to resolve matters through mediation or conciliation (non-adversarial processes) before holding a formal hearing (more similar to a trial). Commissions and Tribunals provide an overview of their procedures online: Canada, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Québec, Saskatchewan, Yukon

What kind of remedy can I receive for the rights violation?


Human rights organizations in Canada may make use of a number of potential remedies. They may order a party to pay financial compensation for damage caused by discrimination. They may also order non-monetary remedies which aim to put a person back in the position they would have been in had discrimination not occurred. For instance, if you lost your job because of discrimination, one remedy may be to order that you are to get your job back. Finally, an organization may be ordered to alter its practices so as to not violate code rights in the future.

Can I appeal a decision on my human rights claim?


If you are unhappy with the final decision of a human rights tribunal, you have the option to appeal the decision. You can appeal a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision to a federal court for review. The final decision of a provincial commission or tribunal may be appealed to a provincial court. A court will only hear an appeal if it finds that there are grounds for judicial review. You may require legal assistance to demonstrate the legal grounds for your appeal. General overviews of the judicial review processes of British Columbia and Ontario are available. Note: Appeals must be filed within a limited period after a final decision has been rendered. This means that you must file for an appeal soon after you receive the decision.