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Is “accent” protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code?

human rights

The applicant, originally from India, initially filed an application at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleging reprisal in employment. The applicant alleged he had been offered a job and that during the training period, the trainer had made a number of remarks in regard to the applicant’s accent when speaking English. The applicant alleged the behaviour impacted negatively on his performance during the period of training, culminating in his termination.

The matter

In response to the application, the respondent filed a Request for an Order During Proceedings, specifically requesting that the application be dismissed as the application did not identify any ground of discrimination, and further, that the application lacked sufficient allegations of reprisal or threat of reprisal. [i]

The analysis

The applicant requested that he be allowed to amend his application. while the respondent argued that such a request should be denied.

In part, the relevant question becomes whether an accent should afford an applicant protections under the Ontario Human Rights Code?

The Human Rights Commission of Ontario’s Policy on discrimination and language asserts:

“Because a person’s accent is usually related to her or his ancestry, ethnic origin or place of origin, the Code can be infringed when someone is denied employment, service, housing, or is otherwise discriminated against because of an accent. In these kinds of situations, the underlying discrimination is often actually based on ancestry, place of origin and, or ethnic origin.”

The decision

The applicant was eventually granted permission to amend his application adding the grounds of race, place of origin, ethnic origin and ancestry. Further, the Tribunal in its interim decision elaborated on its decision to allow the amendments stating:

“Although the applicant did not check off the boxes of race, place of origin, ethnic origin and ancestry in the Application, they flow from the substance of the Application as language-based discrimination may give rise to these related grounds of discrimination.”[ii]

In regard to the respondent’s request to have the application dismissed, the Tribunal issued an interim decision stating that although the Tribunal does exercise discretion over applications, an application will only be dismissed at a preliminary stage if it is “plain and obvious” on the face of the application that it does not fall within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction.[iii]

In regard to the request to amend, the Tribunal has discretion taking into account various factors inclusive of reasons for the request as well as timing.

The respondent’s request to dismiss the Application was denied.

The takeaway

Under the “Code” protections may include accent, due to the strong link between accent and other protected grounds. Employers should remain cognizant of the evolving landscape in regard to human rights in Ontario.

[i] 2016 HRTO 1346, para. 11

[ii] Ibid., para. 11

[iii] Ibid., para. 8

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Kevin Sambrano, Sambrano Legal Services

Kevin Sambrano, B.A.A. is a paralegal who is passionate about law. Kevin has the distinction of being the first paralegal candidate to participate in the Community Legal Aid Services Programme at Osgoode Hall Law School. Sambrano Legal offers legal representation in human rights, landlord and tenant, employment, and Small Claims Court matters within the GTA. Kevin has been a regular contributor to First Reference Talks since 2014 with over 44 published articles relating to human rights and employment law.Read more
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