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FAQs about human rights

Last updated: December 14, 2023

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What are human rights? Why are some protected and not others?

The term “human rights” can mean different things. It can refer to the idea that everyone has basic rights, such as the right to housing, food, clothing and shelter.

Under the BC Human Rights Code, “human rights” refers to the right to be free from discrimination in certain areas of daily life.

The BC government chooses which rights to protect in the Human Rights Code.

In BC, there are five main areas of daily life where people are protected from discrimination. These areas are employment, housing, services, membership in unions and associations, and publications. In each area, people are protected from discrimination based on certain personal characteristics, such as race and sex.

Learn more about your human rights and duties on the My human rights and duties page.

How can I tell if what happened violates the Human Rights Code?

You need to consider four things.

  1. The Human Rights Code only applies in certain areas such as employment and tenancy.
  2. The Human Rights Code lists the protected traits such as race and sex.
  3. There must be a negative effect on someone related to their protected trait.

    Keep in mind:

    It can be hard to tell when a negative effect relates to a protected trait. Find out more about how to tell if a negative effect relates to a protected trait.

    Not every negative effect related to a protected trait is a Code violation. Examples:
  4. There are defences to some discrimination.

How to tell if a negative effect relates to a protected trait?

Sometimes the connection is clear.


A person publishes a flyer saying that a person is unfit to hold public office because they are transgender. You can tell that the flyer relates to gender identity. See: Oger v. Whatcott (No. 7), 2019 BCHRT 58.

Sometimes the connection is not clear.

You may need more information to tell how the negative effect relates to a protected trait.


An employer fires a pregnant employee. You need more information to tell if the firing relates to the pregnancy. The employer fires the employee the day after she tells them she is pregnant. See: Kooner-Rilcof v. BNA Smart Payment Systems and another, 2012 BCHRT 263.

An employer fires a woman. You need more information to tell if the firing is related to sex. The employer disciplined her more than men for similar conduct. See: Kalyn v. Vancouver Island Health Authority (No. 3), 2008 BCHRT 377.

A person is injured. He applies for WorkSafe benefits. He says WorkSafe was unfair. First, in how it calculated his wage rate. Second, by stopping his benefits. This is not enough information. It does not show how his disability and any unfair treatment are related. See: Ingram v. Workers Compensation Board and others, 2003 BCHRT 57.

You may need to know about stereotypes.


An Indigenous mother sees police arresting her son. She needs to witness the arrest and ensure his safety. The officers move her away and stop her from seeing her son’s arrest. The police officers treat the mother based on three stereotypes. First, they see her as suspicious. Second, they see her behaviour as possibly criminal. Third, they see her as a threat. See: Campbell v. Vancouver Police Board (No. 4), 2019 BCHRT 275.

You may need information about the effects on people. Similar conduct can affect people in different ways.


  • A tenant has a hard time climbing the stairs to her apartment building due to a disability. See: Stewart v. Satorotas Enterprises and others, 2012 BCHRT 442.
  • A medical school resident needs sign language interpretation. See: Dunkley v. UBC and another, 2015 BCHRT 100.
  • An employee needs to care for her son after school because of his disability. A rule about work hours means she cannot care for her son. Health Sciences Assoc. of B.C. v. Campbell River and North Island Transition Society, 2004 BCCA 260.
  • Work facilities are like conditions on slave ships. The history of the slave trade explains the effect on African workers. Balikama obo others v. Khaira Enterprises and others, 2014 BCHRT 107.

Does a single comment violate the Human Rights Code?

A single comment may not violate the Human Rights Code. It will depend on the circumstances.

The Human Rights Code aims to allow people to take part in the protected areas fully and with dignity. Does the comment get in the way of this? If not, the comment may be rude and disrespectful. But it won’t violate the Code.


A tenant had a dispute with another tenant about noise. He talked to the property manager about it. The property manager felt frustrated by the problem. He said inappropriate things like the tenant was “mental”. He said the tenant should be more grateful because he is an immigrant. But the property manager solved the problem by finding the tenant another unit. The comments would not violate the Code. See Brito v. Affordable Housing Societies and another, 2017 BCHRT 270.

An employee was Filipina. She said a co-worker swore at her. She told her supervisor. Her supervisor told her that the co-worker said she hates Filipinos. The comment would not violate the Code. See: Pardo v. School District No. 43, 2003 BCHRT 71.

Do preferences or benefits that further the aims of the Human Rights Code violate the Code?

Probably not. Section 3 of the Human Rights Code sets out its purposes. The Code aims to have a society based on understanding and respect. It aims to ensure people do not face barriers to taking part in society. It aims to get rid of the barriers that exist now.

Past discrimination has caused some groups to face a lot of disadvantages in many areas of life. These groups face barriers to employment, housing, and services. The Human Rights Code encourages people to get rid of those barriers. It encourages people to address the effects of past discrimination.


Indigenous Peoples

The way Canada has treated Indigenous Peoples has had devastating effects. One effect is that Indigenous Peoples have less access to jobs.

An employer knows that Indigenous Peoples are about 5% of the population in BC. It sees that Indigenous Peoples are only 1% of its staff. The employer plans to increase Indigenous employees to 5% of its staff. It says it will prefer qualified Indigenous candidates to reach its goal. This is different treatment based on race. But the goal is to remedy past discrimination. It does not violate the Code.

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities in Canada have faced much discrimination. People may see disability as abnormal or a flaw. People may stereotype persons with disabilities as less able. Organizations may refuse to accommodate the needs of persons with a disability. One of the effects is that persons with disabilities also have less access to jobs.

An organization designs a program to help people find a job. The organization limits the program to people with disabilities. This is different treatment based on disability. But the goal is to remedy past discrimination. It does not violate the Code.

A person may think it is unfair if they do not get a job because an employer prefers another applicant. But if the employer aims to further the Human Rights Code, the preference is not discrimination. The person who does not get the job is not being stereotyped or being treated as less capable or valuable.


An older person thinks it is wrong that an ad restricts a summer job to students under 30. The government funds the job to assist this group of students to find summer jobs. The older person’s dignity is not demeaned by the preference. The restriction does not violate the Code. See: Ervin v. Roedde House Museum, 2006 BCHRT 444.

The Human Rights Code’s goal is not to treat everyone the same. The goal is to ensure everyone can take part fully in the protected areas of daily life.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms offers protection for freedom of conscience, thought, belief, opinion and expression.  Why are these not covered by the BC Human Rights Code?

The BC Human Rights Code protects people from discrimination based on certain personal characteristics, such as race and sex.

The BC government chooses which personal characteristics are protected.

In BC, you are protected from discrimination based on your political beliefs in the areas of employment and membership in a union or association.

I’m being bullied. Do I have a human rights complaint?

Maybe. If you are being bullied based on a protected personal characteristic in an area of daily life protected under the BC Human Rights Code, you have a human rights complaint.

For example, if you are being bullied in your employment based on sexual orientation, you have a human rights complaint.

Bullying that is not connected to a protected personal characteristic is not covered under the BC Human Rights Code.

Learn more on the My human rights and duties page.

I’m a volunteer. Do I have the right to be free from discrimination?

It depends on the volunteer work that you do. A volunteer may be considered an employee, even though they are not paid for their work. Employees are protected against discrimination in their employment. The following factors may help to tell if a volunteer is an employee:

  • Does the organization have a formal process to recruit volunteers?
  • Is there a training process with defined tasks?
  • Do volunteers have to agree to follow the organization’s policies and practices?
  • Are there requirements about when or how much a volunteer must be available?
  • What is the role of volunteers in the organization?

How do I know if I have a human rights complaint against a person or a company?

Usually a company or organization is responsible for discrimination and is named as the respondent in a human rights complaint.

For example, an employer is responsible for discrimination against its employees.

In some cases, a person is also responsible and may be named as a respondent in a human rights complaint. A person can be responsible if they made the decision that affects you.

For example, a building manager who refuses to rent an apartment to someone because of their race would be responsible for the discrimination.

If you are complaining about harassment, you can name the person who harassed you.

For example, you can name a co-worker or supervisor who sexually harasses you at work.


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