What does “discrimination” mean?

Word Discrimination under a magnifying glass

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Have you ever been treated unfairly?

Have you ever felt belittled or dismissed without even doing anything? Or perhaps you’ve been treated negatively or made fun at because of your race or age? This is called discrimination.

Discrimination is when someone is treated unfairly because of who they are. This could be because of their race, age, or gender.

Discrimination is wrong and should not be tolerated.

In Canada, it is illegal to discriminate against people. The government created laws, codes, and acts to protect people from unfair treatment.

Do these sound familiar?

(Examples do not use real names)
Ben is an immigrant. He wanted to rent an apartment. The landlord asked for a security deposit that was three times the amount of rent. This was too much money for Ben to pay.

Ella had the same job as her male co-worker. However, she was getting paid less money for it.

Jorge and Manuel’s son, Mario, was not allowed to go to pre-school. The director found out that his parents were both the same sex. This was not right.

Ben, Ella, Jorge, Manuel and Mario all faced discrimination. They were treated unfairly because of who they are. This can happen in many different places. For example, when someone is looking for a place to live, asking for a service, or when they are at work.

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 the following grounds:

  • 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

The Canadian Human Rights Commission made a video to explain discrimination further. It is in American Sign Language (ASL) with captioning and voice-over. This makes it easier for people who are deaf or have difficulty hearing to understand:

Types of discrimination

The Human Rights Code explains three types of discrimination:

Differential treatment is when someone is treated differently because of the group they belong to. This is not based on the individual’s qualities, but on what people think about the group.

For example, people might think that all members of a certain group are bad. So, they treat everyone in that group unfairly. This is not right because their perception may not be true. Also, individuals each have their own qualities.

Failure to provide reasonable accommodations means that someone (like an employee, landlord, or service provider) does not give everyone the same opportunities. This could be something like a process, feature, or service that is not available to everyone.

“Reasonable accommodations” are changes that must be made for people with certain characteristics. These characteristics are protected by the code. (e.g. disability, religion, ethnic background). These are often simple and inexpensive. For example, someone with low vision might need brighter lights. A person with a learning disability might need information to be read out loud.

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 is when someone is treated badly because of their group or how they look. It can be done in different ways, such as:

  • Verbal: making jokes, calling names, insulting, or making sexual remarks.
  • Displays: putting up posters, cartoons, or sending emails.
  • Physical: touching, staring, or pushing.

Humiliation can happen once or multiple times. The purpose is to make the person feel bad, or leave them feeling embarrassed, insulted, or degraded.

What to do if you experience discrimination

The first step is to talk to your employer, landlord or the service provider to resolve the situation. Your workplace may have internal processes in place that could help you find solutions. Similarly, stores or business establishments may have customer service desks that handle complaints. If your issue cannot be resolved this way, file a complaint. This is a way to officially tell someone about your problem.

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is part of the Government of Manitoba. MHRC makes sure people follow the Human Rights Code.

  • If you have a complaint against an employer, business, or federally regulated organization, you can go to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC).
  • You must follow a process. This starts by seeing if the issue can be solved where it happened and if the complaint is covered by the code or act.
  • You can file a complaint online. Go to the the CHRC website: Make complaint. You will need to answer simple questions on the site.

Article updated February 10, 2023.
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:

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