Guide to the BC Human Rights Code and Tribunal
Please Note: The information in this guide is an overview of the role of the BC Human Rights Tribunal under the Human Rights Code. This guide is not intended as a substitute for the Human Rights Code or the tribunal’s Rules of Practice and Procedure. This guide is not legal advice. If you have legal questions, you should see a lawyer.
For further information, please see the Who Can Help? page.
The BC Human Rights Code (the Code) is a law created by the B.C. legislature. The purposes of the Code are to:
- foster a society in B.C. where there are no impediments to full and free participation in the economic, social, political and cultural life of B.C.
- promote a climate of understanding and mutual respect where all are equal in dignity and rights
- prevent discrimination prohibited by the Code
- identify and eliminate persistent patterns of inequality associated with discrimination prohibited by the Code
- provide a means of redress for those persons who are discriminated against contrary to the Code.
The Code prohibits discrimination in certain areas of activity (for example, employment). The Code also creates the tribunal and sets up a process for making and resolving complaints of discrimination.
The BC Human Rights Tribunal (the tribunal) is responsible for dealing with human rights complaints made under the BC Human Rights Code. The tribunal is where you can make a complaint that someone has discriminated against you under the Code.
The tribunal’s job is to resolve human rights complaints in a way that is fair to the parties – the person who made the complaint and the person whom the complaint is against. The tribunal does this by:
- helping the parties to settle the complaint
- deciding preliminary applications to dismiss complaints
- holding hearings
The tribunal operates much like a court but is less formal and more flexible.
The tribunal is made up of members. Members are experts in human rights law. They are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. The Lieutenant Governor in Council designates one of the members as Chair of the tribunal.
The tribunal also has staff who you will deal with if you are a party to a complaint.
No. The tribunal can only deal with human rights complaints that arise in British Columbia and that are covered by the Code. The tribunal cannot deal with any other type of discrimination.
Note: The Code does not cover matters within federal jurisdiction. For example, banking is a matter of federal jurisdiction; so the tribunal cannot deal with a complaint against a bank.
Discrimination complaints may only be made on certain grounds:
- place of origin
- political belief
- marital status
- family status
- physical disability
- mental disability
- gender identity or expression
- sexual orientation
- criminal conviction
- lawful source of income
Note: Not all of these grounds of discrimination apply in each of the following areas of discrimination.
The areas of discrimination covered by the Code are:
- purchase of property
- employment advertisements
- membership in unions or associations
You can also file a complaint if someone retaliates against you because you made or might make a human rights complaint, are named in a complaint, or because you assisted or might assist someone else with their complaint.
To file a complaint you need to get a Complaint Form, fill it out, and file it with the tribunal within one year of the incident. (See contact information at the end of this guide for obtaining a Complaint Form.)
If the incident occurred more than one year ago, you may still file a complaint but the tribunal will have to decide whether to accept the complaint outside the time limit.
For more information on filing a complaint, see Making a Complaint.
If you file a complaint, you become a complainant. If a complaint is made against you, you become a respondent.
Once a complaint is filed, the tribunal decides whether it has the power under the Code to deal with the complaint. If the tribunal decides it has that power, the tribunal will send a copy of the Complaint Form to the respondent and will ask the respondent to provide the complainant and the tribunal with a written response on a Response to Complaint Form within a set time.
For more information on how to complete a Response to Complaint Form, see Responding to a Complaint.
The complainant and respondent will have chances to settle all or part of the complaint at any time during the tribunal process, including at an early settlement meeting before the respondent files a response to the complaint.
For more information on settlement at the tribunal, see Guide to the Settlement Meeting.
The tribunal will assign a case manager to the complaint. In longer or more complex cases, a tribunal member may manage the complaint.
Generally, once a Response to Complaint Form is filed, the parties will be asked to attend a settlement meeting and a pre-hearing conference, and hearing dates will be set. If the parties cannot agree on a settlement, the complaint will go to the next step in the tribunal process. The pre-hearing conference is meant to ensure that the parties are ready to proceed to a hearing.
At a hearing a member decides whether the complaint is justified and, if so, what the appropriate remedy is. The member may give an oral decision at the end of the hearing and will give a written decision some time later.
For more information on the tribunal’s hearings, see Guide to Getting Ready for a Hearing.
The parties to a complaint may have contact with any of the following people at the tribunal:
Case Manager: your main contact with the tribunal, checks that forms are complete, makes all arrangements for settlement meetings, pre-hearing conferences, pre-hearing applications and hearings, and conducts some pre-hearing conferences.
Tribunal Intake Officer: provides information to the parties and the public about the human rights process. Processes the tribunal’s mail, faxes and courier packages.
Registrar: manages the complaint process, supervises the administrative staff, and may hold some pre-hearing conferences.
Member: hears and decides complaints as well as any preliminary applications. Members may conduct settlement meetings and pre-hearing conferences.
The tribunal’s proceedings are public. Information contained in the complaint can be available to the public in tribunal decisions, at hearings, at a judicial review, and if a person makes a successful application under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The tribunal also allows public access to portions of complaint files (but not to the parties’ addresses and phone numbers) three months before the dates set for hearing.
Parties can ask the tribunal not to allow public access to the complaint file, or to hear certain information at a hearing in private. However, they must be able to show that their privacy interests are greater than the public interest in an open human rights process.
If you are a party to a complaint and you disagree with a tribunal decision, you may ask the BC Supreme Court to review the tribunal’s decision. You may need legal assistance with your judicial review.