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"In Canada, cases involving human rights don't go immediately to regular court. They go to human rights tribunals. These tribunals are governed by various Human Rights Commissions (federal or provincial depending on the industry). A complaint is made to a tribunal by a complainant. If attempts to mediate or settle the complaint are unsuccessful, the complaint goes to a hearing. Before the hearing there is an investigation. Complaints are confidential until the hearing but the hearings are public. There are various remedies that can be enforced by the tribunals ranging from letters of apology to financial compensation".
What is covered under Human Rights Acts?
- The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the overarching legislation. No one can make a law that contravenes it.
- The Canadian Human Rights Commission is "empowered by the Canadian Human Rights Act to investigate and try to settle complaints of discrimination in employment and in the provision of services within federal jurisdiction. Under the Employment Equity Act, the Commission is responsible for ensuring that federally regulated employers provide equal opportunities for employment to the four designated groups: women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities. The Commission is also mandated to develop and conduct information and discrimination prevention programs".
The CHRA oversees federally regulated employers such as:
- Federal departments, agencies and Crown corporations
- The post office
- Chartered banks
- Television and radio stations
- Inter-provincial communications and telephone companies
- Buses and railways that travel between provinces
- Other federally-regulated industries.
- Provincial Human Rights Acts. Provinces will investigate complaints regarding discrimination or harassment that falls under their mandate (i.e. it is not a federally regulated employer). Persons with physical disabilities are protected from discrimination in:
- professional trade associations
- public services ( restaurants, stores, hotels, government services etc.)
- purchase of property
- trade unions
- Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for disabilities including hearing loss; an employer cannot discriminate against an employee or potential candidate based on hearing loss - there are some exceptions where hearing is a safety issue, for example RCMP, armed forces, airline pilot due to importance of hearing instructions accurately over radio; All of the codes say that an employer must make accommodations for their employees with disabilities. Accommodation could mean many things; from changing the tasks a person completes, providing assistive listening devices, to allowing a hearing ear dog in the office. Codes also have provisions against discrimination during the hiring process. Codes say that you can't directly or indirectly discriminate when advertising a job opening or during the interview process. Therefore, if you see a job listed in a newspaper or website, it must be accessible; in this case it should have a TTY number listed, an email or a website address. If it isn't accessible, you are discriminating against the hearing impaired by preventing them from receiving information about the job that would otherwise be available to them.
- Landlords cannot discriminate against tenants or potential tenants based on hearing loss.
- Goods and services available to the public
Human rights codes also have provisions for goods, facilities or services. If you sell goods or provide a service to the public your business and its premises must be as accessible to the disabled as to any other customer. This also includes non-physical facilities such as online goods and services from radio, television and internet broadcasts.
- Undue hardship
Some companies may argue that accommodation results in undue hardship. However, the onus is on the company to prove that the accommodation is an undue hardship. Undue hardship is difficult to prove, and as a result some companies will go to some great lengths and be very creative in finding ways to accommodate people with disabilities.
There are also what are called 'bona fide' exclusions to the right not to be discriminated against. This applies mostly to discrimination in employment. When hiring, you can discriminate against people who don't have a specific ability required to perform the job.
- The Gist of it: 99.9% of the goods you buy, the services you by them from, the facilities you visit, the employers you work for, the landlords you pay rent to, the publications you buy, etcetera, need to be accessible to you. Access by persons with hearing loss means:
- Public telephones need to be accessible
- Scheduling an appointment should be without difficulty because of the technology used and the in-service training the staff obtained
- Clear signage, outside and throughout a building should be prominently displayed
- Receptionists should know how to communicate with you regardless of the severity of your hearing loss
- Televisions, films, videos, advertisements should all be captioned
- The appropriate Symbols of Access should be prominently displayed
- Assistive Listening Devices need to be provided in all public facilities, including the offices of health care providers like your Doctor
- Emergency Alarms need to be Visual as well as Auditory
- The provision of Sign Language Interpreters, CART and similar technology needs to be provided at public meetings, events and presentations
You need to ask for these accessibility modifications nicely, in the spirit of Partnership (see A is for Advocacy and P is for Partnerships). If the service provider refuses to take steps to making their business or service accessible, then it is time to take out "the Big Stick", a formal complaint under the appropriate federal or provincial legislation.
If everything needs to be accessible, why are they not so already?
There are many reasons for this:
- Sometimes the legislation lack clear guidelines and a tribunal needs to look into the complaint
- Tribunals and Courts usually side with the person making the complaint but this may take months or years to be resolved and some people give up
- No one complained before so nothing was done. Businesses and Services providers will often settle out of court because it is costly, time consuming and usually senseless to fight (they hope to wear you down and make you drop the case). They do not often take the first step to remove barriers. Removing barriers is costly also, and they are in the business of making money, not spending it. Make your complaint and improve services for those following you.
Providing accessibility is no longer an option in Canada. Some provinces have specific legislation such as Ontario with its Accessibility for Ontarians Disabilities Act (AODA), but all have Human Rights Acts. Here are a few resources you can follow up with to get you started on your path to becoming a Hearing Loss Advocate.
- Equal Access to the Canadian Justice System for persons who are hard of hearing or deafened, Canadian hard of Hearing Association, rev. 2002
- Accés égal au système judiciare canadien pour les personnes malentendantes ou devenues sourdes, Association des malentendants canadien, rev. 2002
Web Sites loaded with information
- Accessibility Ontario
- Canadian Transportation Agency
- Disability Weblinks
- Web Accessibility Law in Canada
- EnVision.ca Virtual Resource Centre - an informative site for all disability groups
Human Rights Commissions
- Canadian Human Rights Commission
- Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission
- British Columbia Human Rights Commission
- Manitoba Human Rights Commission
- New Brunswick Human Rights Commission
- Human Rights Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador
- Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission
- Ontario Human Rights Commission
- Prince Edward Island Human Rights Commission
- Québec Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse
- Saskatchewan Human Rights Commision
- Yukon Human Rights Commission
- Northwest Territories Human Rights Commission
- Nunavut Fair Practices Office
- Canadian Human Rights Reporter has a huge, searchable database of case law
Disclaimer: This article is not legal advice. If you want more information on how Human Rights law affects you, please contact a human rights lawyer.
Copyright © 2009 the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA)
Direct commercial exploitation is not permitted. No warranty of accuracy is given concerning the contents of the information contained in this publication. To the extent permitted by law, no liability (including liability to any person by reason of negligence) will be accepted by CHHA its subsidiaries or employees for any direct, or indirect loss or damage caused by omissions from or inaccuracies in this document. CHHA reserves the right to change details in this publication without notice.