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Discriminating means treating someone differently because of their personal characteristics AND thereby preventing them from exercising their rights.

Treating someone differently means differentiating, excluding or preferring them because of their personal characteristics. Examples of personal characteristics include age, origin and sex. There are 14 personal characteristics that are prohibited grounds for discrimination.

In Québec, discrimination is prohibited by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms

  • You do not have to accept discrimination
  • You cannot discriminate against others

No one can discriminate against you - this includes parents, police, teachers, organizations, institutions and businesses.

  • Examples of discrimination

    Examples of discrimination

    • Seating families with children in a separate section of a restaurant [Differentiating] 
    • Denying someone entry to a sports centre because they have their guide dog with them [Excluding] 
    • Renting to women only, because you believe they take better care of their housing [Preferring]
  • How to recognize discrimination?

    How to recognize discrimination?

    When behaviour (words or actions) has the effect of:

    • differentiating, excluding or preferring someone because of their personal characteristics, and
    • preventing them from exercising their rights

    This is discrimination and is prohibited by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
    Discrimination can be directed at a person or a group of people.

    Our actions can have discriminatory effects, even when we do not intend to discriminate. 

    Types of discrimination 

    There are three types of discrimination. All three types are prohibited.

    Direct discrimination

    Direct discrimination is carried out in an open and undisguised way.

    Example: Refusing to rent an apartment to someone because of their origins.

    Indirect discrimination

    Indirect discrimination is more subtle. Indirect discrimination is when a seemingly neutral rule, standard, policy or practice is applied equally to all people, but significantly disadvantages one person (or group) because of their personal characteristics. Even though the person or organization applying this kind of rule may not intend to discriminate, this is still discrimination.

    Example: The use of height as a hiring criterion may have an exclusionary effect on women.

    Systemic discrimination

    Systemic discrimination is when attitudes and decisions that are tinged with bias make their way into organizational models and institutional practices. When this harms or excludes people with characteristics that are protected by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, it is called systemic discrimination. Just because systemic discrimination isn’t intentional, doesn’t mean it isn’t discrimination.

    Example: Under-representation of racialized groups in certain employment sectors or in management and executive positions.

    Consequences of discrimination

    • Discrimination creates inequality between people.
    • Discrimination prevents people from exercising their rights. including their right to equality.
    • Discrimination can have material consequences, like homelessness and unemployment.
    • It can also have psychological consequences, like stigmatization, feelings of injustice and low self-esteem.

    Where does discrimination come from?

    Discrimination is generally fuelled by prejudice and stereotyping.

    • Stereotype: “a preconceived or caricatured image of a group that is transmitted by our community or culture and that we reproduce or act on without objective analysis”
    • Prejudice: “a pre-formulated and unverified judgment transmitted through community or educational pressures and often based on stereotypes”

    (These definitions have been translated from French and taken from L’éducation aux droits et aux responsabilités, Constance Leduc, Chenelière/McGraw-Hill et CDPDJ, 1998, p.17)

  • The 14 prohibited grounds for discrimination or harassment

    The 14 prohibited grounds for discrimination or harassment

    You are protected against discrimination and harassment that is based on these 14 personal characteristics. This is what ensures your right to equality.

    • Race
      It is a way of classifying humans according to physical or cultural criteria, without a scientific basis.

    • Colour
      It's the color of your skin.

    • Sex
      It is for example the fact of being a woman or a man. If you are discriminated against because you are a trans person, it is the reason "gender identity or expression".

    • Gender identity or gender expression
      It's the gender you identify with. For example, being a trans or non-binary person.

    • Pregnancy
      It's the fact of being pregnant and having a baby. This ground also includes everything related to pregnancy, such as health monitoring and maternity leave.

    • Sexual orientation
      It is the emotional or sexual attraction to someone. For example, being heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.

    • Civil status
      It's your family status. It includes several situations, including being single, married, divorced or in a common-law relationship and whether or not you have children.

    • Age
      The law may provide for a minimum age for certain rights, without discrimination. For example, you must be at least 18 years old to vote or buy alcohol.

    • Religion
      This may include your religion or beliefs, as well as not having a religion.

    • Political convictions
      These are the political ideas with which you firmly believe and with which you identify.

    • Language
      It may be your mother tongue or another language you speak at home, at work or elsewhere. It may also be your accent.

    • Ethnic or national origin
      These are your cultural characteristics or nationality.

    • Social condition
      These may include your occupation, income (e.g., being registered in a social assistance program), education or homelessness.

    • Disability
      Disability includes a person's physical, mental or psychological limitations. It also includes ways to reduce its effects, such as using a wheelchair or using a guide dog.

    There is no hierarchy between the prohibited grounds of discrimination and harassment. This means that none of them is more important than the others.

  • When is discrimination prohibited?

    When is discrimination prohibited?

    Discrimination is prohibited in all areas of life:

    • At work:
      • hiring and pre-hiring (job offers, application forms, interviews)
      • conditions of employment (salary, wages, probation)
      • professional development, promotions, transfers
      • layoff, suspension, dismissal

    • In housing:
      • when renting a home
      • while living there

    • In public services, transportation and places:
      • businesses, restaurants, hotels
      • parks, campgrounds, RV parks
      • schools, hospitals, places of worship

    • In juridical acts(legal agreements):
      • contracts
      • collective agreements
      • wills
      • insurance or pension contracts; employee benefits plans; retirement, pension and insurance plans; public pension or public insurance plans


    Although discrimination is prohibited in all areas of life, there are some situations where treating someone differently because of their personal characteristics is not considered discriminatory. 

    In employment

    • If a certain personal characteristic is necessary for the job
      Example: employers may require English proficiency if this is needed for the job.
    • If the employer is:
      a charitable, philanthropic, religious, political or educational non-profit institution
      dedicated exclusively to the well-being of an ethnic group
      there is a connection between the nature of the organization and the ground for discrimination

      • a shelter for abused women that hires female social workers only
      • a non-profit immigrant services organization that denies services to someone who is not an immigrant

    To use these exceptions, employers must demonstrate that the differentiation, preference or exclusion of an applicant is justified.

    In insurance and benefits plans

    • If health information is used to evaluate risk

Gracia's story

Discriminated against by a gym owner because of the presence of her guide dog, Gracia went all the way to the Human Rights Tribunal to have her rights recognized.

Read her story

Pierreson's story

Like many other racialized young people, Pierreson experienced racial profiling by the police.

Read his story

What can you do in cases of discrimination?

Do you think you have been treated differently because of your personal characteristics?

The Commission can help you recognize discrimination and take action to prevent or put an end to discriminatory behaviour.

File a complaint

This video explains discrimination in American Sign Language (ASL)