Human rights are fundamental rights to all human beings. There are 30 universal human rights that all of us are entitled to. These include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, the right to equality and dignity, and to live free from all forms of discrimination.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. The Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris, in December 1948. The UDHR, together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, form the so-called International Bill of Human Rights.
Human Rights in Canada
In Canada, basic human rights are protected by federal, provincial and territorial laws. Canada’s human rights laws stem from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
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.
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 only applies to governments, and not to private individuals, businesses or other organizations. This means that for the most part, a person cannot mount a Charter challenge against a private business, a private organization, or a person who is not acting on behalf of the government. The Charter also protects the rights of all Canadians from infringements by laws, policies or actions of governments, including authorities such as the police.
Human Rights in Newfoundland and Labrador
In Newfoundland and Labrador, it is the Human Rights Act of 2010 that protects people from discrimination and harassment. The Human Rights Act recognizes the inherent dignity and worth of all people, that we all have equal rights and opportunities and should live free from discrimination and harassment.
What is discrimination?
Discrimination is treating someone unfairly because of their personal characteristics, such as their race, age, sex, or disability. These characteristics also called prohibited grounds. There are 18 prohibited grounds protected under the Human Rights Act (s. 9).
Discrimination comes in many different forms. A person can have an unfair burden put on them, or can be denied a privilege, benefit or opportunity that others enjoy.
Intention to discriminate is not a requirement to a finding of discrimination. It is the impact of the unfair treatment that is significant.
- During a job interview you are being asked inappropriate questions about child care arrangements, or if you are a parent, or whether or not you plan to have children (discrimination based on family status) and finally you do not get the job based solely on your answer to these questions and not your qualifications or experience.
- Being fired when you are pregnant (sex discrimination) or are injured and need time off to heal (duty to accommodate).
- When someone is seeking an apartment for rent and the landlord tells that “no children are allowed” (discrimination based on family status) or they will nor rent to people under 25 years (age discrimination) because “they’re (considered) too noisy and won’t look after the place”.
- An employer assigns her employees to weekend shifts without recognizing that some employees observe the Sabbath and cannot work on those days (discrimination based on religion).
- Sometimes a rule or policy, which on its face is neutral, still can have has a discriminatory effect. For example, a policy requires that a person identifies themselves as either male or female (discrimination based on gender identity or expression).
What is harassment?
Harassment is a form of discrimination. It happens when a person experiences unwanted and offensive comments and/or conduct because of their personal characteristics.
Harassment can include inappropriate comments, jokes, insults, name-calling; spreading malicious gossip or rumours; or inappropriate communication through email, social media, or texts directed at a person because of their race, colour, sex or gender, sexual orientation, etc.
Generally, harassment involves a series of incidents. Serious or extreme one-time incidents can also sometimes be considered harassment.
- You have moved out of your apartment rental, because of the landlord’s harassing behavior. He would stare at your body or make comments about your appearance, and he entered your apartment without your permission, which you could not stand. You tried to bring this to his attention, but nothing happened (sexual harassment).
- The son of an immigrant family is attending a local school and has been bullied because he is from Japan. He is called racist names, pushed around in the hallway, and told to “go home” (racial harassment). The parents complained to the teacher and the principal but the school has not taken any action and the bullying has continued. The student does not wish to attend school and his school marks have fallen greatly.
- A colleague repeatedly makes fun of your hijab. You like your job, but don’t want to go to work and already started looking for other job opportunities (harassment based on religion). You have complained to your manager, but they did not take your concerns seriously.