Rights of LGBTI persons

Same-sex sexual attraction, sexual behaviour and/or relationships have been subject to discrimination (or discriminatory attitudes, actions, regulations and laws) in many societies around the globe.

In Canada, same-sex sexual activities between consenting adults were considered crimes punishable by imprisonment before 1969. That year, the Canadian government passed an omnibus bill decriminalizing private sexual acts between two people over the age of 21 – a breakthrough in treating gay men, lesbians and bisexuals equally under the law.

Almost ten years later, in 1977, Quebec became the first jurisdiction in Canada to amend its provincial charter of human rights to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination.

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Legal protection

In 1996, the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to specifically include sexual orientation as one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination. This inclusion was a clear declaration by Parliament that gay, lesbian and bisexual Canadians are entitled to “an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives they are able and wish to have [...]” (section 2).

The Canadian Human Rights Commission, which is responsible for monitoring the application of the Act, gives further information about human rights and sexual orientation. Complaints, progress and other activities are all included in the Commission's annual reports.

Within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 15 states that every individual is to be considered equal regardless of religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, sex, age or physical or mental disability.

In Egan v. Canada, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 513, the Supreme Court of Canada held that although “sexual orientation” is not listed as a ground for discrimination in section 15(1) of the Charter, it constitutes an equivalent ground on which claims of discrimination may be based. In Vriend v. Alberta, [1998] 1 S.C.R. 493, the Court held that provincial human rights legislation that left out the ground of sexual orientation violated section 15(1).

In 2000, Parliament passed Bill C-23 which gives same-sex couple the same social and tax benefits as heterosexuals in common-law relationships.

The enactment of the Civil Marriage Act in 2005 marked a milestone in sexual orientation equality rights, by allowing same-sex couples to be married anywhere in Canada.

Provincial and territorial legislation

Most provinces and territories have included sexual orientation in their human rights legislation as a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Learn more about provincial and territorial human rights legislation:

Resources

A number of national organizations work to promote and protect sexual orientation rights, including the following groups:

  • The charity Egale Canada has contributed to advancing gay and lesbian equality issues by:
    • pressing for the addition of sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act; and
    • intervening in front of the Supreme Court of Canada for the recognition of same-sex relationships.
  • The LAMBDA Foundation is a non-profit organization that promotes research of gay and lesbian issues and lifestyles for the purpose of public education. Developed on the principle that sexual orientation does not matter, the organization’s philosophy is to encourage non-discrimination by tearing down negative stereotypes and misconceptions.
  • The Welcome Friend Association provides support, training and outreach for other organizations and communities to promote awareness and understanding of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender (LGBQT) community. They provide youth camps, events and fundraisers, seminars and have other resources easily available for anyone to use.
  • PFLAG Canada provides support, education and resources on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. It assists in the recognition and growth of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, intersex, queer and questioning persons and their families in Canada.

Canada also supports the human rights of LGBTI persons on the international stage.

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