Words and Phrases Used in Human Rights

You may not know all the words or phrases used in human rights complaints. Some words and phrases are explained here.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | h | I | J | M | N | O | P | R | S | U | W


A
Accommodate
Accommodate means to take steps to make sure you are treating people equally.
For example, a store must allow guide dogs so that people who are blind can shop at the store.

Accommodation
The word accommodation has two meanings in human rights complaints.

  • An accommodation is a place to stay that is open to the public.

Examples: a hotel, inn, or bed and breakfast

  • An accommodation is a plan or step that makes sure that a person is treated equally.

For example, a child has a learning disability. The school hires an aid to help the child to learn what the other children are learning.

Adverse impact or adverse effect
Adverse impact or adverse effect means harm or bad treatment.
Examples of bad treatment:

  • getting evicted
  • getting fired
  • being harassed

An adverse impact can be discrimination if it is:

For example, it is discrimination to refuse to rent to a person because they are First Nations.
A person may discriminate even if they do not mean to.

For example, a person cannot work on Saturday because of their religion. A store makes everyone work on Saturday. They do not mean to discriminate, but the rule has adverse effect on the person because of their religion.

Affidavit
An affidavit is a statement about what happened. It is in writing. It must be signed in front of a "commissioner of oaths" such as a lawyer or notary. The person signing the affidavit must promise that the statement is true. An affidavit may have documents attached to it called "exhibits".

Agent
An agent is a person who is allowed to act on behalf of another person. An agent may represent someone in a complaint.

Allegation
An allegation is a claim that something happened. It must be proved.

An allegation of discrimination is a claim that a person discriminated.

For example, a person says their employer fired them because of their race. This is an allegation of race discrimination.

If the person makes a complaint, they must prove this happened.

Allege
Allege means to say that something happened.

For example, a person alleges their employer fired them because of their race.

Amendment
Amendment refers to a change to a complaint or a response to a complaint. There is a tribunal form to make an amendment.

For example, a complainant adds details about what happened.

Anonymization
Anonymization means to keep someone’s identity private. When someone makes a complaint, the names of the people involved may become public. A person can ask the tribunal to keep their name private.

For example, if a complaint involves a child, the tribunal will refer to people by initials or titles so the child’s identity is kept private.

Application
An application is a request for the tribunal to do something or to tell someone else to do something. It is made in writing on a tribunal form.

For example, you can ask the tribunal to move a hearing to a new date.

For example, a respondent can ask the tribunal to dismiss a complaint.

Area
An area is a part of daily life that is covered in the BC Human Rights Code. The Code says that a person must not discriminate in these areas. The areas are:

B
Bona fide
“Bona fide” means honest and sincere. A person must be honest and not mean to discriminate to prove a defence to a complaint.

See:

Bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR)
A bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR) is a defence under the Human Rights Code. It applies in employment cases. If a complainant proves their case, a respondent must prove three things.

  • They acted for a reason related to the job.
  • They acted honestly and did not mean to discriminate.
  • They took all reasonable steps to avoid any harmful  effect on the complainant. This is also called the duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship.

For example, a store makes everyone work on Saturdays. The complainant cannot work Saturdays because of their religion. The store fired the complainant. The store proves that they:

  • made everyone work Saturdays because that is the busiest day
  • did not intend to discriminate when they made the rule
  • tried to accommodate the complainant, but there was no reasonable way because the company is so small

Bona fide reasonable justification (BFRJ)
A bona fide reasonable justification (BFRJ) is a defence under the Human Rights Code. If a complainant proves their case, a respondent must prove three things.

  • They acted for a reason related to their business.
  • They acted honestly and did not mean to discriminate.
  • They took all reasonable steps to avoid any harmful effect on the complainant. This is also called the duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship.

For example, a co-op only rents two bedroom units to families with children. It refused to rent a two bedroom unit to a couple. The co-op may prove that:

  • the purpose of the rule is to give housing to as many low income people as possible
  • it did not intend to discriminate when it made the rule
  • it could not change the rule and meet its purpose at the same time

Breach
Breach means breaking the law.

For example, it is a breach of the Human Rights Code to refuse to rent a house to someone because they receive income assistance.

C
Case conference
A case conference is a meeting with the tribunal in person or by phone.

Chair
The chair is the person in charge of the tribunal.

Clinic
The Clinic is the BC Human Rights Clinic, which provides services to help complainants.  It is separate from the tribunal.

Code
The Code is the BC Human Rights Code.  It sets out people’s rights and duties regarding discrimination. It is the law in BC.

Complainant
A complainant is a person who makes a complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

A person can make a complaint about their own situation.

A person can also make a complaint for another person or group of persons.

A complainant is a party to a complaint.

Complaint
A complaint is a claim of discrimination. You can make a complaint to the tribunal using a tribunal form.

Contravention
A contravention of the law means breaking the law. Discrimination is a contravention of the Human Rights Code. It is against the law.

For example, a person refuses to rent a house to someone because they receive income assistance. This is a contravention of the Code.

Court and Court System
A court is an organization made up of judges who resolve legal problems. A court system is made up of all of the courts in a province. For example, in BC, there is a Provincial Court, Supreme Court, and Court of of Appeal. There are also specialized courts or tribunals.

The BC Human Rights Tribunal is a specialized court. It deals only with complaints of discrimination under the BC Human Rights Code. A party can ask the BC Supreme Court to review the Tribunal’s process or decisions.

D
Deferral
A deferral means waiting to deal with a complaint until something else has happened.
For example, the tribunal might defer a complaint until a grievance is finished.

Disclosure
Disclosure refers to the duty to give information to the other side. In a human rights complaint, both sides must:

  • tell each other who their witnesses will be at a hearing
  • give each other documents that relate to the complaint

For example, a complainant says a company fired her because she was pregnant. The complainant has notes of a meeting where she was fired. She must give a copy of the notes to the company.

Discrimination
Discrimination refers to bad treatment based on a characteristic like race.

A person discriminates under the BC Human Rights Code if:

  • They treat someone badly or cause them harm in an area such as employment.
  • A personal characteristic like race is a factor in the harm.
  • There is no defence for the conduct.

For example, a person refuses to sell a house to someone because they are black. This is discrimination.

A person can discriminate even if they do not intend to.

For example, a person cannot work on Saturday because of their religion. A store makes everyone work on Saturday. They do not mean to discriminate, but the rule has adverse effect on the person because of their religion.

This is discrimination unless the store proves it could not reasonably keep the person at work.

Dismiss
Dismiss means ending the complaint. The tribunal might dismiss a complaint after a hearing or as part of an application.  When a complaint is dismissed, it is over.

Document
A document means information that is kept in any form. It can be kept on paper, on a recording, or on a computer.

Examples of documents: a letter, email, list, note, statement, invoice, picture, or tape recording

Duty to accommodate
The duty to accommodate is part of a defence. It refers to steps a person must take to treat someone equally. It requires a person to take all reasonable steps. This means all steps to the point of undue hardship.

For example, a person cannot do part of their job due to a disability. The employer must change the job or take other steps to allow the person to do their job, unless this would cause the employer too much hardship.
E
Employment
Employment is an area covered in the Human Rights Code. It means working at a job. It includes hiring, firing, wages, benefits, and work environment.

Volunteer jobs can be employment.

Work as a contractor can be employment. This will depend on how much the employer controls the contractor’s work and how much the contractor depends on the employer for work.

Enforcement
Enforcement means making someone obey an agreement or order.

For example, you won your complaint, but the respondent has not paid the money the tribunal ordered them to give you. You need to enforce the order.

The tribunal does not enforce agreements or orders. It can be complicated. You might need help from a lawyer.

Evidence
Evidence is information used to show what happened. It can be testimony, documents or other things. A person can write down what happened in an affidavit or say what happened in testimony. A person can also explain how a document helps show what happened.

For example, a person says: On June 12, 2015 my employer fired me. The manager gave me this letter. The letter says my employment is terminated.

Exhibit
An exhibit is a document that is used as evidence. It can be attached to an affidavit or it can be given to the tribunal during a hearing.

Expedite
Expedite means to move more quickly than usual.

For example, it may be important to you to schedule a hearing quickly. You can ask the tribunal to expedite the process.

F
Factor
Discrimination happens when a characteristic like race is a factor in the bad treatment. This means that there is a connection between the personal characteristic and the bad treatment. The connection can happen in different ways. Here are examples:

A bed and breakfast says that gays and lesbians are not welcome.  Sexual orientation is a factor.

A store acts on unconscious stereotypes about Aboriginal people when it asks someone to leave.  Aboriginal ancestry is a factor.

An employer cannot explain why it promoted a man who is white instead of man who is black.  Race is a factor.

An employer says people applying for a job must be a certain height, and this affects more women than men because women are generally shorter. Sex is a factor.

An employer makes everyone work Saturdays, but an employee’s religion does not allow them to work on Saturday.  Religion is a factor.

G
Good faith
To act in good faith means to be honest and sincere.

For example, a person makes a complaint. They are acting in good faith if they honestly and sincerely believe that there has been discrimination.

For example, an employer makes a rule. They are acting in good faith if they honestly and sincerely believe that the rule is needed for a job.

Ground
A ground is a personal characteristic like race or sex that is covered in the BC Human Rights Code. The ground can be real, like your actual age. The ground can also be perceived (how someone sees you).

For example, someone thinks that you have a disability.

H
Harassment
Harassment includes:

  • name-calling
  • leaving pictures that embarrass someone
  • making fun of someone
  • unwanted touching  
  • unwanted sexual conduct (also called sexual harassment)

Harassment based on a personal characteristic may be discrimination. For example, it is employment discrimination if it negatively affects the work environment or has negative job-related effects.

For example, your supervisor keeps making fun of your religion at work.

A single negative comment is not a contravention of the Code, unless it is an egregious comment that, in the circumstances, negatively affected the work environment.

Usually repeated conduct is required, though one comment may be discrimination depending on the circumstances, such as:

  • The nature of the comment (how bad is it?)
  • The nature of the relationship between the involved parties
  • The context in which the comment was made
  • Whether an apology was offered
  • Whether or not the recipient of the comment was a member of a group historically discriminated against

Hearing
A hearing is where the tribunal decides what happened.

After the hearing, the tribunal member gives their reasons for the decision.

Human Rights Code
The Human Rights Code is the law in BC. It sets out people’s rights and duties regarding discrimination.

I
Intention
Intention means meaning to do something. A person can discriminate even if they do not mean to.

Impartial
Impartial means not taking sides. The Tribunal is neutral. It does not take either the complainant’s or the respondent’s side. It makes decisions about the complaint based only on the information and arguments given by the complainant and respondent.

Intervenor
An intervenor is a person who asks the tribunal if they can be involved in a complaint. Usually they can give a different and helpful view.

Issue
An issue is a question raised by a complaint.

For example, a complainant says a company fired her because of her race. The company disagrees. The issue is whether the complainant’s race was a factor in being fired.

J
Judicial Review
Judicial review is like an appeal. A party can ask the court to cancel the tribunal’s decision and ask the tribunal to make a new decision. The party must show the court that the tribunal made a mistake. These are the mistakes the court will tell the tribunal to fix:

  • The process was unfair.
  • The tribunal got the law wrong.
  • The tribunal’s decision was unreasonable.

Jurisdiction
Jurisdiction means power or authority. It refers to what the tribunal can do.

The tribunal can only deal with complaints in the areas under the Human Rights Code.

For example, the tribunal can deal with a complaint about a person’s work. The tribunal cannot deal with a complaint about a private club.

The tribunal can only deal with things that that have enough connection to BC.

For example, the tribunal cannot deal with a complaint about a person’s work in Alberta.
The tribunal can only deal with things that are regulated in BC. This is called “provincial jurisdiction”.

For example, the tribunal cannot deal with a complaint about a person’s work for an airline. This is because airlines are regulated by the federal government.

M
Mediation
Mediation is a meeting where the parties try to agree about how to solve a complaint. A mediator helps the parties to find a possible solution. The meeting can be in person or over the phone. It is confidential. What is said cannot be used against you.

Mediator
A mediator is a person who helps the parties to find their own solution to a complaint. These discussions are confidential. What is said cannot be used against you.

Membership in a Union or Association
Membership in a union, employers’ organization or occupational association is an area covered in the Human Rights Code. It includes being excluded, suspended, or expelled from membership, or how the union or association treats a member.

Mitigate
Mitigate means to reduce. It refers to a complainant’s duty to reduce their losses.
For example, someone loses their job. To reduce the wages they are losing, they try to find another job.

N
Neutral
Neutral means not taking sides. The Tribunal is neutral. It does not take either the complainant’s or the respondent’s side. It makes decisions about the complaint based only on the information and arguments given by the complainant and respondent.

O
Order
An order is a tribunal decision about a complaint. There are different kinds of orders. For example:

P
Party
A party means a complainant  who makes the complaint and a respondent who the complaint is against. A party has the right to a fair process at the tribunal.

Personal characteristic
A personal characteristic means a trait which is covered in the Human Rights Code. They include:

  • sex
  • race
  • religion
  • family status
  • disability
  • place of origin
  • sexual orientation

The Code says that a person must not discriminate based on these characteristics.
They are also called “protected characteristics”.

Prima facie case
A prima facie case is what a complainant must prove at a hearing. A complainant must prove three things.

For example, a complainant says they were fired because they were 65. They must prove that they were 65, they were fired, and that there is a connection between their age and being fired.

If the respondent proves a defence, then there is no discrimination.  

For example, an employer has a rule that workers must retire when they are 65. The employer defends the rule. It proves that there are safety risks related to age. It proves that it would be unreasonable to test individual workers.

Privilege
Privilege is a rule that keeps some discussions confidential. It also keeps some documents confidential. If a discussion is privileged, the tribunal cannot make you to share it. For example:

You get legal advice from a lawyer. This discussion is privileged. This is called solicitor-client privilege.

You talk to another party about settling a complaint. This discussion may be privileged. This is called settlement privilege.

You create a document to get ready for hearing. This document may be privileged. This is called litigation privilege.

Publication
Publication is an area covered in the BC Human Rights Code.

Examples of publications:

  • a public notice or sign
  • a flyer
  • an article

If a person means a statement to be private, it is not a publication.

For example, an email meant to be private is not a publication.

A publication on TV, radio, or the internet is not covered in the BC Human Rights Code. It is covered in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Purchase of Property
Purchase of property is an area covered in the BC Human Rights Code. It is about buying or getting land or an interest in land, or a home or commercial unit that someone represents is for sale.

For example: buying a house, condo or land.

R
Reconsideration
Reconsideration means to make a new decision about the same thing. The tribunal can only make a new decision if it needs to fix something unfair in the process.

Remedy
A remedy is a solution to the discrimination. A respondent may take steps to fix the situation. The parties may agree on a solution.

If the tribunal decides there was discrimination, it will tell the respondent what it must do to fix the discrimination. This is called ordering a remedy.

Respondent
A respondent is the person the complaint is against. The complainant says that the respondent is responsible for the conduct they are concerned about.

The respondent may be an individual or an organization.

A respondent is a party to a complaint.

Retaliation
Retaliation means to treat a person badly because they are involved in a complaint. It includes treating someone badly because they might be involved in a complaint.

It is against the law. A person can file a complaintif they believe they have been retaliated against.

For example, a person tells their boss they are going to file a complaint. The boss fires them as a result. This is retaliation.

Rules
Rules are the tribunal’s Rules of Practice and Procedure. The Rules set deadlines and other requirements for the parties.  

S
Screening
Screening is how the tribunal decides whether to deal with a complaint. The tribunal decides if the complaint sets out a possible contravention of the Human Rights Code. It also decides if the complaint was filed within the time limit.

Service, accommodation, or facility
A “service, accommodation, or facility” is an area covered in the BC Human Rights Code. It must be something offered to the public. Examples are:

  • Stores, restaurants, schools
  • Sports programs
  • Renting a gym or hall
  • BC government programs
  • Strata services
  • Hotels

An example of a service, facility or accommodation that may not be customarily available to the public is a private club.

Sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is a kind of discrimination. It is conduct that is sexual. A person does not need to object to the conduct, but it should be clear it is unwanted. It must have a harmful effect in an area under the Code. For example, it is employment discrimination if it negatively affects the work environment or has negative job-related effects.

Submission
A submission is a statement you make to the tribunal. It includes reasons why the tribunal should make a decision in your favour. It is usually in writing. It can also be made over the phone or in person at a hearing.

T
Tenancy
Tenancy is an area in the BC Human Rights Code. It is about renting a space.

For example, renting an apartment, house, or office.

Tenancy can apply to people who are not on the tenancy agreement.

For example, a person who lives with their parent may have rights regarding the tenancy.

Testimony
Testimony is the statement that a person makes when they are a witness at a hearing.

Tribunal
Tribunal is the BC Human Rights Tribunal. The tribunal is made up of 9 members. The BC government appoints members for periods of up to 5 years.

Tribunal Member
A tribunal member decides how the tribunal will deal with a complaint. If there is a hearing, the tribunal member decides what happened. They decide if there was discrimination.

U
Undue hardship
Undue hardship is part of the duty to accommodate.

A person or organization must try to treat people equally. They may need to take steps to treat a person equally. If so, they must take steps up “to the point of undue hardship”. This means all reasonable and practical steps.

Undue hardship is reached when the steps are too difficult or expensive.

For example, a person who uses a wheelchair wants to rent an apartment. The building has no elevator. The landlord looks at the cost of an elevator. The landlord shows that this would cause it real financial trouble. This may be undue hardship.

W
With prejudice
“With prejudice” means that a person’s rights may be harmed. It usually refers to an offer to settle a complaint.

For example, an offer to settle a complaint is usually confidential. A respondent may write “with prejudice” on an offer to settle a complaint. The respondent can then tell the tribunal about the offer. It can argue that this is a reasonable way to solve the complaint. It can ask the tribunal to dismiss the complaint.

Without prejudice
“Without prejudice” means that a person’s rights cannot be harmed. It usually refers to an offer to settle a complaint. Usually, an offer is confidential. This means no one can tell the tribunal about the offer.

For example, a complainant offers to settle a complaint. They offer much less than they think they would get at a hearing. An offer to settle is “without prejudice”. This means that no one can tell the tribunal about the offer.

If a party puts an offer in writing, they may write the words “without prejudice” on the letter.

Witness
A witness is a person who was there when something happened. A witness in a hearing is a person who comes to the hearing to tell the tribunal what they saw or heard happen. A witness must promise to tell the truth.