What does “discrimination” mean?

Word Discrimination under a magnifying glass

Image  by benjaminec.  © Used by permission

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Have you ever felt belittled or dismissed without even doing anything? Or perhaps you’ve been treated negatively or made fun of because of your race or age? You may have been discriminated against. In Manitoba and the whole of Canada, discrimination is not tolerated nor allowed. There are laws, codes, and acts that are in place to protect individuals from discrimination.

Do these sound familiar?

Ben, an immigrant, was applying to rent an apartment. When the landlord learned that he was a newcomer, he was required to provide a security deposit equivalent to three months of rent. Ella, on the other hand, discovered that she was being paid a lower salary compared to her male co-worker who had exactly the same job title and responsibilities. Meanwhile, Jorge and Manuel’s son, Mario, was denied enrollment to a pre-school when the director learned that the child’s parents were of the same sex.

Ben, Ella, Jorge, Manuel and Mario experienced discrimination (examples did not use real names). These situations exemplify the various grounds in which individuals or groups may be discriminated against. This can happen in instances such as applying for housing, requesting for services, or while at the workplace.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is “an action or decision that treats a person or a group negatively for reasons such as their race, age or disability.” In Canada, it is unlawful to treat another person negatively on such grounds as:

  • Ancestry, including colour and perceived race
  • Nationality or national origin
  • Ethnic background or origin
  • Religion or creed, religious belief, religious association or religious activity
  • Age
  • Sex (including sex-determined characteristics or circumstances, such as pregnancy, the possibility of pregnancy, or circumstances related to pregnancy)
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital or family status
  • Source of income
  • Political belief, political association or political activity
  • Physical or mental disability or related characteristics or circumstances, including reliance on service animal, a wheelchair, or any other remedial appliance or device
  • Social disadvantage


This video from the Canadian Human Rights Commission discusses in simple terms what discrimination is (in ASL, with captioning and voice-over):

Types of discrimination

The Human Rights Code lists three types of discrimination:

Differential treatment – this is when an individual is treated differently based on perceived stereotypes of the group to which he/she belongs to rather than on individual merit.

Failure to provide reasonable accommodations – this is when an employee, landlord or service provider fails to provide an accommodation (a process, feature, or service) that allows for equality of opportunity.

“Reasonable accommodations” must be based on characteristics protected by the code (e.g. disability, religion, ethnic background). These are often simple and inexpensive. Examples of these include using brighter lights at the entrance of the apartment of a tenant with low vision or reading out information from an application form for an individual with a learning disability. To know more about Reasonable accommodations and how to request for them, go to the Human Rights and Reasonable Accommodations page of Manitoba.ca.

Harassment – this includes a series of abusive and unwelcome behaviors or comments directed to people because of the group they belong to or to which they appear to belong. Harassment can be verbal (jokes, name-calling, insults, unwelcome/sexual remarks, or racist statements) or displays (posters, cartoons, emails) or physical (touching, leering, pushing) on a single or repeated basis, that humiliates, insults or degrades.

What do you do if you experience discrimination?

The first step is always to talk to your employer, landlord or the service provider to resolve the situation. For instance, your workplace may have internal dispute resolution procedures in place that could help you air your grievance and find solutions. Similarly, stores or business establishments have customer service desks that handle complaints. If it cannot be resolved in this manner, you can file a complaint.

You can ask the help of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission (MHRC), which is an independent agency of the Government of Manitoba that administers the Human Rights Code. However, there are instances when you can approach the Canadian Human Rights Commission or CHRC (such as when you are complaining against an employer, business or an organization that is federally regulated). A process is observed when you file a complaint. Whether federal or provincial, it usually starts by assessing whether it can be resolved where the issue took place and whether the grounds for the complaint are covered under the code or act. Read the CHRC’s What do I need to know before filing a discrimination complaint? to help you conduct a preliminary assessment.

Sources: What is discrimination? Canadian Human Rights Commission; Family Services page of Manitoba.ca; Your Human Rights in Manitoba, MHRC. Article updated June 14, 2019.

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Community Resources

Know more about your rights and responsibilities as they relate to the Human Rights Code. The Manitoba Human Rights Commission has compiled easy references for public education:
Fact sheets

You can also approach immigrant-serving organizations such as the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba Inc. (IRCOM) and the Immigrant Centre Manitoba for assistance if you have experienced discrimination.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has compiled Useful Links and Resources related to discrimination on the basis of citizenship, immigration or refugee status which is a growing resource on the topic.

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What does “discrimination” mean?

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