Overview of policy issues and background - Employment Equity Act review

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Purpose of the overview and backgrounder

This is an overview and backgrounder document for the following 3 policy issue briefs:

The briefing materials provide context and information to members of the Employment Equity Act Review Task Force (Task Force). While recognizing that the Employment Equity Act (the Act) is not the only way the federal government advances employment equity for Canadians, these briefing materials focus on the Act given the Terms of Reference of the Task Force.

Since the adoption of the Employment Equity Act in 1986 (amended in 1995), there has been meaningful progress towards equity in employment. However, designated groups (women, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities) covered by the Act continue to experience employment barriers.

Therefore, briefing materials recognize past foundations, present successes, but also look to improve the future.

This overview of policy issues and background provides information on:

It also contains a glossary of definitions currently used by the Government and useful to establish a common understanding of key equity concepts.

Understanding the intent of the Act

Under the Canadian Human Rights Acts (1977) and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom (1982), everyone is entitled to exercise their fundamental rights under conditions of equality and non-discrimination. However, systemic barriers may prevent certain individuals or groups of individuals from fully exercising their rights like other members of society.

This is when equity comes into play. Equity consists of recognizing differences within groups of individuals. In addition, it requires using this understanding to take proactive measures to remove systemic barriers. This is to achieve substantive equality in all aspects of a person's life.

Also, workers in Canada have the right to be treated fairly in workplaces that are free from discrimination. The Act is one way the Government of Canada promotes workplace equity in the federally regulated private sector and the federal public service.

The purpose of the Act is:

Recognizing that systemic discrimination calls for systemic remedies, the Act has 2 complementary goals:

Thus, the Act is designed to create equitable workplaces and combat systemic discrimination by requiring employers to:

This proactive approach recognizes the systemic realities of sexism, racism, and ableism. In addition, it places the onus on employers to identify and rectify them where they occur.

Employment Equity Act: Historical background

Key milestones are discussed in chronological order below as per the Timeline of the milestones of the Act.

Timeline of the milestones of the Act

Employment Equity Act of 1986

In 1983, Lloyd Axworthy, then Minister of Employment and Immigration in the Liberal Government of Pierre Trudeau, set up the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Equality in Employment(the “Abella Commission”). The Commission led to a 1984 report outlining the historical and systemic barriers to employment faced by 4 designated groups (women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities).

In 1985, Flora MacDonald, then Minister of Employment and Immigration in the Progressive Conservative Government of Brian Mulroney, responded to the Commission’s recommendations by tabling Bill C-62, An Act Respecting Employment Equity. Bill C-62 was passed in the House of Commons on April 23, 1986.The Employment Equity Act was ratified by the Senate and received royal assent on June 27, 1986.

The adoption of the Employment Equity Act of 1986 reflected a bipartisan consensus on the need for employment equity. At its core, the Act’s purpose is to break down systemic barriers leading to discrimination in the workplace. This is so that no person would be denied employment opportunities for reasons unrelated to ability. Its purpose is also to allow for all workers in Canada to contribute evenly to the economic and social well-being of all Canadians.

First parliamentary review (1992)

In 1992, a parliamentary report on the Employment Equity Act of 1986 was released. The report was based on findings from the Redway Commission. Alan Redway, then Member of Parliament and Minister of State for Housing, was Chairman. It examined how the Act of 1986 could be improved.

Employment Equity Act of 1995

The Act was amended in 1995. The new federal Employment Equity Act of 1995, which came into force in 1996, included many of the recommendations from the Redway Commission.

As a result, the previous legislation was strengthened in a number of ways. Most notably, the new Act:

Second parliamentary review (2001 to 2002)

On December 3, 2001, the House of Commons adopted the motion that the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of the Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) conduct a review of the Act of 1995. The Committee published its report in June 2002. The report put forward a set of 29 recommendations to improve employment equity in the federal jurisdiction.

The recommendations covered a number of topics, including the Act’s coverage, employer obligations, definitions and data, compliance and administration. The recommendations aimed to refine key parts of the Act, as opposed to fully redesigning the existing employment equity model. As a result, the changes to the Act that followed were not as outstanding as those made in 1995 following the Redway Commission.

In the years that followed the review, many non-legislative initiatives were introduced that addressed the recommendations. These included program investments aimed at improving education and awareness, increasing engagement, and leading to better outcomes for members of designated groups.

Changes to the Federal Contractors Program (2013)

Since the Standing Committee published its report in 2002, the most notable changes to federal employment equity policy were amendments to the Federal Contractors Program (FCP), which came into force in 2013.

Following a 2012 Strategic Review of the Act, mentions of FCP employer requirements were removed from the legislation. Moreover, the threshold for goods and services contracts covered by the FCP was raised from $200,000 to $1,000,000. In addition, FCP requirements were reduced to 4 key elements:

New pay transparency measures (2021)

As of January 1, 2021, federally regulated private sector employers covered by the Act are required to report their salary data using new methodology introduced by amendments to the Employment Equity Regulations. They must report in a way that shows aggregated wage gap information. Beginning June 1, 2022, employers will be required to include this new salary data as part of their annual reporting on employment equity.

These new pay transparency measures aim to raise awareness of wage gaps faced by members of designated groups working in federally regulated workplaces. By making employer wage gap data publically available, the Government of Canada expects these measures to:

The purpose of the review

Since the Act passed in 1986, some progress has been made in creating equitable workplaces, but inequities persist. The designated groups continue to experience barriers to employment. Meanwhile, key economic and social changes have occurred since the Act was originally adopted. The following have highlighted important challenges to the employment equity regime:

For example, there have been calls to include other groups amongst the Act’s designated groups, including members of LGBTQ2 communities.

In addition, certain sub-groups within the designated groups face larger gaps in standard employment indicators than others. These sub-groups include:

In addition, persistent inequities call for a collaborative approach with employers, stakeholders and partners. This collaborative approach aims at:

These challenges are pressing in light of the challenge to inclusive growth witnessed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Boosting the levels and quality of labour force participation of underrepresented groups is an important part of Canada’s long-term growth strategy. The COVID-19 recession has had significant negative effects on the employment of these groups. There is a risk that these groups’ labour market progress will be reversed. The setback of these progresses can also have negative long-term effects on the course of Canada’s growth trajectory and on social cohesion.

These factors led to the establishment of the Task Force, whose mandate consists of undertaking the review of the Act and its supporting programs. In addition, the Task Force will make recommendations to the Minister of Labour on how to modernize the Act and its supporting programs.


The Employment Equity Act Review Task Force will undertake a detailed review of the Act and its supporting programs. It will:

Annex 1 - Glossary

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) recently launched the 50-30 Challenge aiming at improving access to leadership positions on corporate boards and in senior management for women, racialized minorities, people who identify as LGBTQ2, people living with disabilities and First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

To undertake this work, ISED mandated the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), in partnership with the Ryerson University Diversity Institute (RUDY), to conduct consultations with key stakeholders on equity terminology.

The consultations started in May 2021 and consists of 14 to 16 focus groups. These groups are composed of members of diversity and inclusion communities and other key stakeholders. The process intends to develop a common understanding of equity terminology and to establish common modernized standards.

A consultation document was shared in May 2021 and a Report and Guidance document will be published and shared in August 2021.
As the mandate of the Task Force also concerns updating the terminology of the Act, the results of these consultations may also inform the work of the Task Force.

Anti-Black racism

Prejudice, attitudes, beliefs, stereotyping and discrimination that is directed at people of African descent and is rooted in their unique history and experience of enslavement. Anti-Black racism is deeply entrenched in Canadian institutions, policies and practices, such that anti-Black racism is either functionally normalized or rendered invisible to the larger white society. Anti-Black racism is manifested in the legacy of the current social, economic and political marginalization of African Canadians in society such as the lack of opportunities, lower socio-economic status, higher unemployment, significant poverty rates and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.Footnote 7

Attainment rate

Attainment rate refers to the extent to which representation approaches, meets or exceeds labour market availability (LMA). This is calculated by dividing the representation by the LMA.Footnote 8

Disaggregated data

Disaggregated data refers to data broken down by age, race, ethnicity, income, education, etc. This is sometimes referred to as sex- or gender-disaggregated data.Footnote 9


Discrimination refers to exclusion, prejudice or restriction of opportunity because of one’s belonging to a category of people or things (for example, gender, disability, religion, age, ethnicity, etc.).Footnote 10


Diversity consists of the conditions, expressions and experiences of different groups identified by age, culture, ethnicity, education, gender, disability, sexual orientation, migration status, geography, language and religious beliefs (and other factors).Footnote 11

Employment equity

The term “employment equity” was coined by the Abella Commission in its 1984 report. The Commission proposed that:

Section 2 of the Employment Equity Act on the purpose of the Act provides additional elements of definition:


Fairness, impartiality, even-handedness. A distinct process of recognizing differences within groups of individuals, and using this understanding to achieve substantive equality in all aspects of a person's life.Footnote 12

Gender-based Analysis Plus

GBA+ is an analytical process used to assess how diverse groups of women, men, and gender diverse people may experience policies, programs and initiatives. The “plus” in GBA+ is not just about differences between biological (sexes) and socio-cultural (genders). We all have multiple characteristics that intersect and contribute to who we are. GBA+ considers many other identity factors such as race, ethnicity, religion, age, and mental or physical disability and how the interaction between these factors influences the way we might experience government policies and initiatives.Footnote 13

Gender equality

Gender equality refers to equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities for women, men and non-binary people. Equality refers to the state of being equal while equity refers to the state of being just, impartial or fair. However, equality of opportunity by itself does not guarantee equal outcomes for women, men and non-binary people.Footnote 14

Gender equity

Gender equity refers to fairness, impartiality and justice in the distribution of benefits and responsibilities between women, men and non-binary people. Unlike gender equality, which simply provides for equality of opportunity, gender equity explicitly recognizes and actively promotes measures to address historical and social disadvantages. By ‘levelling the playing field,’ gender equity creates circumstances through which gender equality can be achieved. Gender equity means providing all social actors with the means to take advantage of equality of opportunity.Footnote 15

Historical disadvantage

Throughout history, diverse groups of women and men have faced both formal and social barriers and disadvantages in particular societies, based on gender, ethnicity, religion, age, and so on. Historical disadvantage refers to this systemic circumstance or condition.Footnote 16


Acknowledges the ways in which people's lives are shaped by their multiple and overlapping identities and social locations, which, together, can produce a unique and distinct experience for that individual or group, for example, creating additional barriers or opportunities.Footnote 17

Labour market availability (LMA)

LMA refers to the share of designated group members in the workforce from which the employers could hire. LMA is derived from the Census and post-censal survey on disability conducted by Statistics Canada. The most recent LMA data is from the 2016 Census and the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability. The LMA figures for women, Aboriginal peoples, and members of visible minorities include those aged 15 years and over who worked in their chosen occupation in 2015 or 2016. The LMA for persons with disabilities figures includes those aged 15 to 64 who worked in 2016 or 2017. Footnote 18

National Occupational Classification (NOC)

The NOC provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians and serves as a framework to define and collect statistics, manage information databases, analyze labour market trends and extract practical career planning information.Footnote 19


LGBTQ2 is an acronym standing for the categories of lesbian, gay, bisexual (those who are attracted to both men and women), transgender, intersex, queer (a self-identifying term used in some gay communities, typically by youth) and two-spirit. There are many different acronyms that may be used by various communities. Acronyms may combine sex, gender and sexual orientation attributes into one community. This combination may or may not be appropriate in all circumstances, and GBA+ analysis should be specific where appropriate.Footnote 20


Race is a "social construct." This means that society forms ideas of race based on geographic, historical, political, economic, social and cultural factors, as well as physical traits, even though none of these can legitimately be used to classify groups of people.Footnote 21


The process through which groups come to be socially constructed as races, based on characteristics such as ethnicity, language, economics, religion, culture, politics.Footnote 22


Racism is any individual action, or institutional practice, which treats people differently because of their colour or ethnicity. This distinction is often used to justify discrimination.Footnote 23


Representation is the share of designated group members in a given labour force (such as the entire federally regulated private-sector workforce, the banking and financial services sector or an individual bank).Footnote 24

Systemic discrimination

Systemic discrimination refers to a system-wide, yet often subtle, form of discrimination. It consists of distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of one’s belonging to a category of people. This can apply to gender, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, etc. It is often a mixture of intentional and unintentional actions that will have a more serious effect (or a disproportionate impact) on one group than on others.Footnote 25

Systemic or institutional racism

Consists of patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the social or administrative structures of an organization, and which create or perpetuate a position of relative disadvantage for racialized persons. These appear neutral on the surface, but have an exclusionary impact on racialized persons.Footnote 26

Workforce analysis

A workforce analysis is conducted to determine the degree of underrepresentation of each designated group in an employer’s workforce. The internal representation of the designated groups in the employer’s workforce is compared to their external representation or availability in the labour market (LMA).Footnote 27

Workforce availability (WFA)

WFA is a subset of the LMA that is used in the federal public service. To determine WFA, additional criteria are applied to the LMA population, for example, education levels, citizenship, and National Occupational Classification code comparisons.Footnote 28

Annex 2 – List of acronyms

Canadian Human Rights Act
Canadian Human Rights Commission
Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion
Core Public Administration
Department of Women and Gender Equality
Employment Equity Act
The Act
Employment Equity Review Task Force
Task Force
Employment and Social Development Canada
Federal Contractors Program
Federally regulated private-sector
Gender-Based Analysis Plus
Gross Domestic Product
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada
Labour Market Availability
Labour Program
Legislated Employment Equity Program
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirited, where the plus-sign signifies a number of other identities
Management Accountability Framework
National Occupation Classification
Non-governmental organizations
Public Service Commission of Canada
Report of the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment (1984)
The Abella Report
Ryerson University Diversity Institute
Standards Council of Canada
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat – The Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer
Workforce Availability

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