Your Guide to Understanding the Canadian Human Rights Act - Page 2

How does the Commission deal with complaints?

The Commission tries to resolve complaints at the earliest stage possible, as that is a good outcome for you, the respondent, and the Commission. If a complaint cannot be resolved, then it is usually assigned to a human rights officer to do an investigation. However, a complaint can be settled at any stage in the process.  Most of the time, the Commission will deal with your complaint by:

  1. Assigning a mediator to help the parties solve the dispute. A mediator is a neutral professional trained to help people solve problems. If the mediation works, you and the respondent will sign an agreement about what each of you agrees to do. This is called “reaching a settlement”. The Commission will review the settlement to ensure that it is fair and appropriate to both sides. The Commission can also monitor the settlement to ensure both sides do what they promise.

Settlement examples

Example 1:

Grounds: Race, national or ethnic origin

Area: Employment

Sector: Federal public service

Allegation: The complainant participated in a training program. He said that one of the instructors made derogatory comments about his Aboriginal heritage, tried several times to remove him from the program and forced him to leave on the last day, although he had successfully completed all parts of the program.

Settlement: Official recognition of his successful completion of the program.

Example 2:

Grounds: Race, national or ethnic origin, disability

Area: Provision of services

Sector: Transportation

Allegation: The complainant, an Aboriginal woman, has rheumatoid
arthritis. She said that, while she was travelling with her children, an
attendant harassed her and her family and treated them differently
from other passengers during their journey.

Settlement: Financial compensation and a letter of apology.

  1. Assigning a human rights officer to investigate. The human rights officer will speak with you and the respondent, interview witnesses and review any supporting documents. Then the human rights officer makes a report to the Commission, with the information, and recommends either that your complaint be dismissed or that it be referred to the Tribunal. You can send in a letter so that the Commission members know what you think about the report when they are making this decision.   
  2. Sending the complaint to the Tribunal. When that happens, the Commission no longer controls the complaint. The Tribunal will hold a hearing. It will ask you and the respondent to hand in documents and call witnesses to support your arguments.

After the hearing, the Tribunal will decide whether there has been discrimination. The Tribunal can:

  • dismiss the complaint, or
  • find that there has been discrimination and order payment or other action (called corrective measures) to resolve the discrimination.

Corrective measures can include making the respondent:

  • change its rules and policies or create an anti-harassment policy.
  • pay you lost wages or give you your job back.
  • learn more about human rights.
  • pay you for pain and suffering and any losses caused by the discriminatory practice.

If the Commission feels that the complaint deals with a matter of public interest, it can also appear before the Tribunal to represent the public interest.

The complaints process is not public. All written information is kept on file for the human rights officer to prepare a report for the Commission. But if the complaint goes to the Tribunal or Federal Court, the documents become public.

What if you disagree with the Commission or the Tribunal?

You can ask the Federal Court to review the decision. If the Federal Court agrees with you, it will send the case back to the Commission or the Tribunal to look at it again. The Federal Court cannot change the decision.

The Act and Aboriginal People

In 2008, the federal government repealed, or cancelled, Section 67 of the Act. Section 67 prevented anyone from filing a complaint about anything related to the Indian Act. Now that Section 67 is gone, Aboriginal people can file a human rights complaint against the federal government if the Indian Act or policies made under the Indian Act cause discrimination.

Starting June 18, 2011, Aboriginal people will also be able to file a human rights complaint against First Nations governments and federally regulated Aboriginal organizations if their acts or decisions under the Indian Act are a discriminatory practice. For example, denying a certificate of possession or a certificate of education under the Indian Act would be a discriminatory practice if a complainant can show that it’s because of a prohibited ground of discrimination, like family status.

Human rights decisions involving First Nations need to recognize Aboriginal and Treaty rights. For complaints about a First Nation government or service organization, the Commission and the Tribunal can consider the customary law of the First Nation. They need to balance collective and individual rights from a First Nation perspective, while respecting gender equality.

Where can you get more information?

For more information about the Commission and its services,
visit the website at or call toll free 1-888-214-1090.

Provincial and Territorial human rights agencies



Alberta Human Rights Commission
British Columbia Human 
Rights Tribunal
Manitoba Human 
Rights Commission
New Brunswick Human 
Rights Commission
Newfoundland & Labrador 
Human Rights Commission
Northwest Territories Human 
Rights Commission
Nova Scotia Human 
Rights Commission
Nunavut Human Rights Tribunal
(Ontario) Human Rights 
Tribunal of Ontario

(Ontario) Human Rights Legal 
Support Centre

Prince Edward Island Human 
Rights Commission
(Québec) Commission des droits de la
personne et des droits de la jeunesse
Saskatchewan Human 
Rights Commission
Yukon Human Rights Commission

Other human rights laws

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) is part of the
Canadian Constitution. It guarantees broad equality rights and other
fundamental human rights and freedoms. It applies to governments, but not to organizations, businesses, or people. Learn more on the Charter at

The United Nations has made many human rights statements, including
the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Declaration). The Declaration confirms that all indigenous people are entitled to individual equality rights and to collective equality rights as members of First Nation or other Aboriginal peoples. The Declaration recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination. Learn more on the Declaration at

Act  The Canadian Human Rights Act 
Commission  The Canadian Human Rights Commission, an organization under the Act 
complainant A person who makes a complaint under the Act 
complaint A complaint under the Act 
Discriminatory Practice 

The following are examples of discriminatory practices when they are based on one of the grounds of discrimination:

  • denying someone goods, services, facilities or accommodation
  • refusing to employ or continue to employ someone or treating them unfairly in the workplace
  • paying men and women differently when they are doing work of the same value
  • following policies or practices that deprive people of employment opportunities
  • communicating hate messages on the telephone or through the Internet
  • harassing someone
  • retaliating against a person who has filed a complaint with the Commission or someone who has filed a complaint for them 
duty to accommodate   The duty of an employer to make changes in the workplace to accommodate a person with special needs or for a service provider to adapt the way service is provided 
federally regulated 

The Act applies to federally regulated employers and service providers. These include:

  • federal departments, agencies and Crown corporations
  • chartered banks
  • airlines
  • television and radio stations
  • interprovincial communications and telephone companies
  • interprovincial transportation companies, like buses and railways that travel between provinces
  • First Nations governments and some other First Nations organizations
  • other federally regulated industries, like some mining companies 
grounds of
  • race
  • national or ethnic origin
  • colour
  • religion
  • age
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • marital status
  • family status
  • disability
  • a conviction for which you have been granted a pardon 
human rights officer  A Commission professional who has expertise in human rights 
public interest  A matter is in the public interest when there are concerns about public policy or public values 
respondent  The person or organization against whom a complaint is made 
retaliate or retaliation  A negative act or behaviour by or on behalf of the respondent as a result of a complaint filed with the Commission 
Tribunal  The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, an organization under the Act 
undue hardship  Circumstances involving cost, health or safety that would make it impossible or very difficult for an employer to meet the duty to accommodate 

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