COVID-19 Tip #15: Discrimination under Human Rights Legislation

COVID-19 has resulted in many changes to employment standards and health and safety legislation (see our other COVID-19 posts), but it also has implications for human rights.  The Human Rights Commissions of several provinces have issued policy statements or provided guidance indicating that COVID-19 may engage certain grounds of discrimination.  Note that this post only covers those provinces that have provided explicit guidance regarding discrimination and COVID-19.  This does not mean that the other provinces do not consider COVID-19 to fall within the prohibited grounds, only that they have not provided specific guidance on this point.

Alberta

The Alberta Human Rights Commission has stated that COVID-19 is a disability since it covers medical conditions or perceived medical conditions that carry significant social stigma.  It has also stated that, depending on the circumstances, the grounds of place of origin, ethnic origin and race may trigger human rights obligations under the Code in respect of COVID-19.

The policy states that employers and housing and service providers should ensure any restrictions are consistent with the most recent advice from medical and Public Health officials, and are justified for health and safety reasons. See the Alberta Human Rights Commission’s Statement on COVID-19 and Human Rights.

British Columbia

The BC Human Rights Commission also takes the position that COVID-19 is a form of disability and therefore discrimination on the basis of COVID-19 is prohibited.  See the BC Human Rights Commission’s statement on COVID-19.

The Commission also states that employers should ensure that any restrictions on employees are consistent with up to date information from medical and public health officials and are justified for health and safety reasons.

New Brunswick

The New Brunswick Human Rights Commission has stated that anyone who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 or tests positive for the virus would, for the purposes of human rights, be considered as persons with a physical disability which is protected as a ground of discrimination under the New Brunswick Human Rights Act.

The Human Rights Commission has also stated that it is a violation of the Act to make any assumptions about a person’s exposure to the virus based on their race or national origin.  See the guidance and FAQs provided by the Commission.

Newfoundland and Labrador

The Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission has stated that you cannot discriminate because of COVID-19 and that this falls within the prohibited grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethnic or social origin and disability.

See the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission’s Statement on COVID-19 and Human Rights – Best Practices.

Nova Scotia

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission has not provided any guidance or policy statements with respect to COVID-19, but it should be noted that a prohibited ground of discrimination under section 5 of the Human Rights Act is “an irrational fear of contracting an illness or disease”.  This prohibited ground is unique to Nova Scotia and is not found in the human rights legislation of other Canadian jurisdictions.

Ontario

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has stated that COVID-19 is a disability since it covers medical conditions or perceived medical conditions that carry significant social stigma.  It has also stated that, depending on the circumstances, the grounds of place of origin, ethnic origin and race may trigger human rights obligations under the Code in respect of COVID-19.

Employers and housing and service providers should ensure any restrictions are consistent with the most recent advice from medical and Public Health officials, and are justified for health and safety reasons. See the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy Statement on the COVID-19 Pandemic.