What are human rights?

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Canada is world-renowned for being a pioneer in human rights advocacy. Aside from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which stemmed from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), Manitoba also adheres to the Human Rights Code to protect individuals and groups from discrimination. According to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, “the underlying principle of The Code is the recognition of individual worth and the dignity of every person.”

But what exactly are human rights? If you wish to know, read on:

  1. What are human rights?

    Basically, human rights are “all the things we are entitled to be, to do or to have simply because we are human.” These are intrinsic rights you are born with to live a life of equality, dignity and respect. In Canada, your human rights are protected by provincial, territorial, federal and national laws. As mentioned, these are entrenched in the Constitution and the Manitoba Human Rights Code. There are federal organizations that uphold these laws, such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. In Manitoba, the main agency for this is the Manitoba Human Rights Commission (MHRC).

  2. The Human Rights Code (The Code)

    This is Manitoba’s human rights law administered by the MHRC (an independent agency of the Government of Manitoba). It was legislated to address discrimination based on specific grounds or protected characteristics (see #4). While the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of the Constitution and applies throughout Canada, The Code deals with unreasonable discrimination that may occur within Manitoba.

  3. What is discrimination?

    Based on The Code, discrimination is “treating someone differently, to their disadvantage and without a valid reason or failing to take steps to accommodate special needs that are based on the characteristics covered under The Code.” Discrimination is prohibited in the following areas: employment, housing, accommodation, the provision of services and contracts and signs and notices.

    Watch this video on Diversity Awareness for examples of discrimination and suggestions on the proper course of action should you experience any of them (you may want to forward to the 6:18 mark for the examples):

  4. Protected characteristics

    Protected characteristics are the grounds under which a human rights complaint may be filed. These are:

    • Ancestry
    • Nationality or national origin
    • Ethnic background or origin
    • Religion or creed, or religious belief, religious association or religious activity
    • Age
    • Sex, including sex-determined characteristics, such as pregnancy
    • Gender identity
    • Sexual orientation
    • Marital or family status
    • Source of income
    • Political belief, political association or political activity
    • Physical or mental disability
    • Social disadvantage
  5. Filing a complaint

    Any person who believes that they have been discriminated against may file a complaint. You can contact or go to any of the three MHRC offices in Manitoba in Winnipeg, Brandon and The Pas. The MHRC’s intake staff will assist you with the process, which begins with assessing your concern and determining if The Code covers it. Be ready with details and be clear and concise with your information so that the staff can offer you the best assistance to assess and resolve your complaint. You may have to fill out a form or provide information using a specific format. You can ask for assistance from the nearest immigrant serving organization if you need help in filing a complaint.

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    Community Resources

    The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is the first museum in the world solely dedicated to human rights themes.  If you wish to learn more about human rights the fun way, visit the museum with your kids.

    The following sites will help you understand human rights further: the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Manitoba Human Rights Commission, Youth for Human Rights, and Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies.

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    What are Human Rights?

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