Rights of people with disabilities

Canada seeks to reduce barriers and increase opportunities for people with disabilities, to ensure their full participation in our society. Our nation has a strong legislative framework that guarantees the equal rights of people with disabilities. In addition, a range of federal programs support the lives of Canadians with disabilities.

On this page:

Disability Rights in Canada

The main federal laws which protect people with disabilities from discrimination include the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a part of the Canadian Constitution, which is a set of laws containing the basic rules about how our country operates. Section 15 of the Charter makes it clear that every individual in Canada – regardless of race, religion, national or ethnic origin, colour, sex, age or physical or mental disability – is to be considered equal. This means that governments must not discriminate on any of these grounds in its laws or programs.

At the same time as it protects equality, the Charter also allows for certain laws or programs aimed at improving the situation of disadvantaged individuals or groups. For example, programs to improve employment opportunities for people with mental or physical disabilities may be protected under subsection 15(2).

For more information on the Charter, see 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.

The Canadian Human Rights Act

The Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977 protects Canadians from discrimination when they are employed by or receive services from:

  • the federal government;
  • First Nations governments; and
  • private companies that are regulated by the federal government like banks, trucking companies, broadcasters and telecommunications companies.

People can turn to the Canadian Human Rights Act to protect themselves against harassment or discrimination that is based on one or more of the 11 grounds of discrimination. The Act prohibits discrimination based upon physical or mental disability.

Additional resources

Information on rights in specific areas is also available:

Transportation rights

Employment rights

Voting rights

Rights in criminal proceedings

International disability rights

At the international level, Canada supports the protection and promotion of rights for people with disabilities through our relationship with the UN.

As a founding member of the UN, Canada has ratified seven principal human rights conventions and covenants, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Canada ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010, after consultations with the provinces and territories, Aboriginal self-government and Canadians – particularly those from the disability community. With ratification, Canada committed to apply the rights found in the Convention; it is also bound by the Convention under international law.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is available in American Sign Language and Langue des signes Québécoise.

The Convention:

  • protects the rights to equality and non-discrimination of persons with disabilities;
  • explains the types of actions countries should take to ensure that rights are enjoyed by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others;
  • calls on States Parties (countries that have ratified the Convention) to ensure non-discrimination for persons with disabilities in a variety of areas, including freedom of expression and opinion, respect for home and the family, education, health, employment and access to services;
  • complements Canada's existing protection for the equality and non-discrimination of persons with disabilities, such as the equality rights that are guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and
  • is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which reviews how the Convention is being implemented by all States Parties.

As part of our nation's commitment to this convention, Canada must submit a report to the United Nations every four years about how it has worked to further the rights of persons with disabilities.

For more information on topics related to disability and the work of the UN for persons with disabilities, visit the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

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