About human rights
Human rights are the rights to which persons are inherently entitled to because they are human beings. Human rights describe how we instinctively expect to be treated as persons. They define what we are all entitled to – a life of equality, dignity and respect, to live free from discrimination and harassment.
In Canada, your human rights are protected by Canada’s Constitution and by federal, provincial and territorial legislation. These rights are consistent with those under international treaties to which Canada is a party.
On this page:
- The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
- Discrimination and harassment
- Principal United Nations human rights conventions and covenants
- The Forum of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Human Rights
- The Senior Officials Committee Responsible for Human Rights
- The Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets out those rights and freedoms that Canadians believe are necessary in a free and democratic society. The Charter is one part of the Canadian Constitution, which is a set of laws containing the basic rules about how our country operates. The Constitution is Canada’s most important law because it can render invalid any laws that are inconsistent with it.
Since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect in 1982, it has confirmed and strengthened our nation’s values. Canadian courts have turned to the Charter many times to make decisions that reflect our society’s values.
For more information on the Charter, see Rights and Freedoms in Canada and Your Guide to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The guide is an educational publication that explains the purpose and meaning of each of the Charter’s sections.
Discrimination and harassment
Discrimination is an action or a decision that treats a person or a group negatively for reasons such as their race, age or disability. These reasons are known as grounds of discrimination.
In Canada, you can file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission if:
- you work for or receive services from the federal government or a business or organization that is regulated by the federal government; and
- you believe you have been discriminated against based on one of the 11 grounds of discrimination protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Harassment is a form of discrimination if based on one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination. It involves any unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that offends or humiliates you. Generally, harassment is a behaviour that persists over time, however, serious one-time incidents may also be considered harassment. Harassment occurs when someone:
- makes unwelcome remarks or jokes about your race, religion, sex, age, disability or any other of the 11 grounds of discrimination;
- threatens or intimidates you;
- makes unwelcome physical contact with you – such as touching, patting, pinching or punching – which can also be considered assault.
Do not ignore harassment. Report it. If you fear for your safety or the safety of others, contact the police.
If harassment occurs at work, you should first contact the person listed in your workplace anti-harassment policy. If no policy is available:
- find out if there is a company grievance procedure; or
- contact your union representative.
If harassment occurs while receiving service from a business, contact the customer service department.
Keep a written record of the incidents, including times, places and witnesses.
You may also be able to file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Principal United Nations human rights conventions and covenants
Canada is a party to the seven principal United Nations human rights conventions and covenants. By ratifying each of these conventions and covenants, Canada agreed to implement them and is required to report back to the UN.
Learn more about how Canada works with the United Nations.
International human rights treaty adherence process in Canada
Under international law, a state may agree to be legally bound to – or adhere to – an international human rights treaty through signature and ratification, or through accession.
When a state signs a treaty, it agrees to refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty, even though the state is not yet legally bound by the specific terms of the treaty. Signature of an international human rights treaty also creates an expectation that the state will eventually ratify the treaty.
After signing, the next step is for a state to ratify a treaty. When it does this, it formally commits itself to implement the provisions of the treaty. Accession has the same effect as ratification; the only difference is that accession does not require signature or any other prior step.
Read more about the International Human Rights Treaty Adherence Process in Canada.
The Forum of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Human Rights
In November 2020, federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) Ministers responsible for Human Rights met virtually to discuss key priorities related to human rights in Canada. One of the outcomes of the meeting was the formalization of the Forum of Ministers Responsible for Human Rights, which Ministers agreed should meet every two years.
This forum’s role is to discuss matters related to Canada’s international human rights obligations, and give direction to the Senior Officials Committee Responsible for Human Rights and the Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights on new and ongoing collaborative work concerning the respect for, protection and fulfillment of Canada’s Human Rights obligations.
Consult the News releases for more information on discussions held at the November 2020 meeting of FPT Ministers Responsible for Human Rights
Senior Officials Committee Responsible for Human Rights (SOCHR)
The Federal, Provincial and Territorial Senior Officials Committee Responsible for Human Rights (SOHCR) was created following the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Human Rights in 2017 (Consult the News release to learn more on this meeting). It was formed to enhance high level Federal Provincial and Territorial collaboration on human rights by working to promote and to strengthen information sharing between governments and by providing leadership on Canada’s adherence to and implementation of international human rights instruments. The SOCHR is composed of designated representatives of FPT governments at the Assistant Deputy Minister level.
The SOCHR’s activities focus on, but are not limited to the following:
- Providing advice and support to ministers responsible for human rights regarding FPT ministerial discussions and ensures follow-up to ministerial decisions;
- Reviewing the human rights issues raised by international human rights bodies or civil society organizations and Indigenous groups and providing direction on priorities for discussion between and within governments;
- Communicating and collaborating with other relevant FPT tables, when pertinent; and
- Providing oversight and direction to the Continuing Committee of Officials on Human rights (CCOHR).
The Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights (CCOHR)
The CCOHR is responsible for consultation and collaboration among governments in Canada with respect to the adherence to and domestic implementation of international human rights treaties. It has operated for over forty years.
The CCOHR’s activities focus on, but are not be limited to, the following:
- facilitating consultation between federal, provincial and territorial governments with respect to Canada’s adherence to international human rights treaties
- encouraging information exchange among governments in Canada with respect to the interpretation and implementation of international human rights instruments
- providing views with respect to the development of Canada’s positions on the elaboration of new international human rights instruments and, where appropriate, on other international human rights issues or related events
- facilitating Canada’s international human rights reporting, including:
- preparing Canada’s reports on the domestic implementation of international human rights instruments, as well as other information requested by United Nations human rights bodies;
- supporting and participating in Canada’s appearances before United Nations human rights bodies;
- facilitating discussion within and between governments with respect to recommendations Canada receives from United Nations human rights bodies. To this effect, Canada developed the Protocol for Follow-up to Recommendations by International Human Rights Bodies, which outlines an approach for FPT governments in considering and responding to these recommendations and enhance the implementation of international human rights obligations and the protection and promotion of human rights in Canada;
- engaging with civil society and Indigenous organizations on matters related to international human rights reporting and instruments. To this effect, Canada developed the Engagement Strategy on Canada’s International Human Rights Reporting, which aims to foster a better understanding of FPT measures undertaken that support implementation of Canada’s international human rights treaties, and foster communication and collaboration to contribute to the enhancement of the protection and promotion of human rights in Canada.
- Providing general information to the public about its work in relation to international human rights reporting and instruments; and
- supporting and ensuring follow-up to decisions of federal, provincial and territorial senior officials and ministers responsible for human rights.
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