Although all human rights laws prohibit discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, racism is still a daily and painful lived reality in Canada. Racism violates human rights. We must all speak out and take action against anti-Black racism, and racism in all its forms, wherever and whenever it happens.
How are human rights protected in Canada?
In Canada, our human rights are protected by the common law (legal rules developed by judges in court decisions) and by a variety of statutes. This includes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter), provincial human rights legislation, and the federal human rights legislation (the Canadian Human Rights Act). There are also international laws that deal with human rights.
Human Rights Legislation
Every jurisdiction in Canada has human rights legislation - that means each province and territory, and the federal government. This legislation, often referred to as human rights codes, is anti-discrimination legislation. There are both provincial and federal level human rights codes in Canada because of the constitutional division of powers in Canada. According to our Constitution, certain subject areas are assigned to the provincial government and others to the federal government. Most human rights complaints are covered under the various provincial codes. In Nova Scotia that is the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. Only complaints by federal employees or those who work in federally regulated industries – such as transportation, communications, and banking – come under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The various human rights codes in Canada are designed to protect equality rights. They forbid discrimination on certain listed grounds in certain areas, including:
- the provision of housing and accommodation, and
- the provision of goods and services to the public.
The grounds on which discrimination is forbidden are called “prohibited grounds”, or "protected characteristics". Protected characteristics under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act are linked to below.
Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, Call for Action to Address Anti-Black Racism, June 2, 2020. Go to https://humanrights.novascotia.ca for information about human rights in Nova Scotia, including how to file a complaint about discrimination or harassment, and go here to see a list of protected characteristics under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.
Canadian Human Rights Commission Anti-Black Racism in Canada: Time to Face the Truth, June 2, 2020. Go to https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng for information about human rights in the context of federally regulated workplaces, or in services from a business or organization that is regulated by the federal government, including how to file a complaint about discrimination or harassment, and a list of protected characteristics under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter) is part of the Constitution, and sets out our fundamental rights and freedoms. The Charter is the supreme law of Canada. It applies to all government actions, and protects people in Canada from government policies and actions that may have violated a person’s fundamental rights and freedoms. When your rights are limited or infringed (violated) by the law or by a government action, it is up to government to show that those limits are justified and consistent with the values of a “free and democratic society". The Charter applies to situations where one of the parties is the government or can be characterized as a public entity (for example, the RCMP). The Charter does not apply to purely private matters. This means that it does not apply to disputes between two private individuals, or between an individual and a corporation.
Learn more about the Charter here.
International Human Rights
How to get a lawyer and other legal help
Nova Scotia Legal Aid Statement on the Black Lives Matter Movement, June 4, 2020. Go to nslegalaid.ca for information about Nova Scotia Legal Aid services
Nova Scotia Barristers' Society Statement Against Anti-Black Racism, June 3, 2020.
How to file a complaint about police
You can make a complaint with or without a lawyer. The RCMP and municipal police forces have procedures for dealing with complaints against a police officer. They have information pamphlets on the procedures and information online. You can also get information from a lawyer.
Complaints about municipal police officers:
You can file a complaint with any member of the police force or with the Nova Scotia Police Complaints Commissioner's Office.
For complaints about municipal police, usually you must lay a complaint within 6 months of the incident that you are complaining about.
Nova Scotia Police Complaints Commissioner's Office
1690 Hollis Street, 3rd Floor
PO Box 1573
Halifax, NS B3J 2Y3
Complaints about an RCMP officer:
The head of your local RCMP detachment, or
You can make a complaint through the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP on-line, by mail or fax. The Commission is an independent agency that is not part of the RCMP. For more information call toll free 1-800-665-6878, or visit their website at www.crcc-ccetp.gc.ca
For more information:
- comment déposer une plainte contre la Gendarmerie royale du Canada (GRC) (en francais)
- how to make a complaint against the RCMP (in English)