As a newcomer in Canada, you should be aware of your rights and obligations. Having the right to participate in Canadian society also means that you have a responsibility to respect the rights and freedoms of others and to obey the law.
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Human rights are the central part of Canadian law. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, also known simply as the Charter, contains the basic principles and values by which people in Canada live. The Charter protects your human rights and freedoms from the moment you arrive in Canada. It is a law and part of the Constitution of Canada.
The Charter guarantees certain political rights to Canadian citizens and civil rights of everyone in Canada. The rights under the Charter include:
- Democratic rights -- All citizens, whether born in Canada or not, can vote in an election or run for a government office if they meet the rules which apply regarding age and the place of residence.
- Mobility rights -- Every citizen has the right to enter, remain in, leave and re-enter Canada. Every citizen and permanent resident has the right to move, set up a home and work anywhere in Canada.
- Legal rights -- Everyone has the right to life, freedom and safety. These can not be taken away except by the due process of the law. Everyone has the right to be secure against 'unreasonable search or seizure' by authorities.
- Equality rights -- Everyone has the right to equal treatment. All people in Canada are protected from discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical ability.
The Charter allows for different treatment if it helps a disadvantaged group achieve equality. Its contents should always be interpreted in a way that helps preserve and enhance the multicultural heritage of Canadians.
The Charter also guarantees four fundamental freedoms to all people in Canada:
- freedom of conscience and religion
- freedom of thought, belief, and expression (including freedom of the press and other media of communication)
- freedom of peaceful assembly (for example participation in a peaceful protest)
- freedom of association (to join a group, for example to become a member of a union)
The Charter allows for the restriction of these freedoms under certain situations. For example, Parliament may restrict freedom of assembly during a time of war.
Canadian Human Rights Act
The Canadian Human Rights Act guarantees each of us an equal opportunity to live and work free of discriminatory practices. This act prohibits discrimination based on a person's race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, or criminal conviction for which a pardon has been granted.
Examples of discrimination could include the following:
- refusing to hire someone because of his or her age
- denying a promotion to a female employee
- having an office that is not accessible to people in wheelchairs
- using racist language in the workplace
- refusing to hire someone who cannot work certain days for religious reasons when his or her absences would not cause the employer any hardship
- paying female employees less than male employees for work of equal value
PEI Human Rights Act
The purpose of the PEI Human Rights Act is to promote equality and prohibit discrimination. In this law discrimination is defined as unequal, prejudicial treatment of persons. Discrimination can be a difference in treatment, such as a punishment, a denial of a service or employment, or a harassing behaviour towards someone because he or she belongs to a certain group.
Grounds of discrimination prohibited by this law are:
- colour, race, nationality or ethnic origin
- creed or religion
- sexual orientation
- gender identity
- gender expression
- marital and family status
- physical or intellectual ability
- political belief
- source of income
- criminal conviction for which a pardon has been granted
In PEI, regardless of whether you are a resident or a visitor, the PEI Human Rights Act protects you against discrimination in certain areas or situations. These include:
- accommodations -- staying at a hotel, motel or inn, or renting a campsite or an apartment
- lease or sale of property -- renting land or buying a home
- employment -- applying for a job, working on the job, being paid, being fired from a job, or being dismissed from attending work related social activities
- volunteer work -- applying to volunteer, volunteering, or being asked to step down from a volunteer position
- membership in professional, business, or trade associations and employee organizations -- participating in listed groups
- publications, broadcasts, public displays and advertisements -- posting hate symbols in public places or broadcasting hate propaganda
- services and facilities available to the public -- using public transportation, dining at a restaurant, attending school, or accessing a provincial government service
How to Deal with Harassment or Discrimination
Discrimination means treating people differently or negatively on grounds covered by the Charter and the federal and provincial Human Rights Acts. Harassment is any unwanted physical or verbal action that offends or humiliates you. Harassment and discrimination are illegal, but unfortunately still do occur.
It is not always easy to know what to do or where to go if you feel threatened or afraid. Because discrimination or harassment can take place in different circumstances (for example at work, in the street, public place, etc.) and can occur in different forms, there are many different ways to deal with them.
If you are experiencing discrimination or harassment:
- If possible, politely confront the person who has harassed you and tell them to stop their behaviour.
- If the behaviour continues, keep a written record of the offending behaviour and your actions. Write down names, dates, times, and places soon after the incident so it is easier to remember. The more detailed notes you can keep, the better. If the discrimination or hate is happening to you over a long period of time, it is useful to keep a written record so that you can show that there has been a pattern of discrimination.
- Find out about any anti-discriminatory or anti-harassment policies in your workplace or educational institution that can help protect your rights and correct an unfair situation.
- If there are no such policies in your workplace or educational institution to address the situation, you may choose to file a complaint with either the Canadian Human Rights Commission or the PEI Human Rights Commission.
- If you are unsure what to do, contact the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada and ask for help.