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Human rights and discrimination protection

Human rights

British Columbia has a human rights law to help protect you from discrimination. Learn what it covers, and steps you can take if someone discriminates against you.

Common questions

Discrimination is when someone treats you differently because of who you are in a way that puts you at a disadvantage. BC’s human rights law prohibits discrimination on the basis of certain personal characteristics. They are:

  • your race, colour, ancestry, Indigenous identity, or where you’re from
  • your religion or political beliefs
  • your marital or family status (for example, if you have kids)
  • any physical or mental disability
  • your sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity
  • your age

The law calls these protected grounds. If you experience negative treatment on the basis of one of these protected grounds, it could be discrimination. For example, it’s discrimination if a landlord refuses to rent to you because of your race.

Discrimination can also occur where a policy or practice affects you differently than others because of a protected ground.

For more, see our primer on discrimination.

BC’s human rights law protects you from discrimination in these areas of everyday life:

  • employment, including hiring, the terms and conditions of your work, and getting let go from a job
  • housing, including renting a place, living in a strata, and buying a home
  • accessing a service available to the public, like shopping at a store, eating at a restaurant, or staying at a hotel
  • publications, like a public notice, sign, flyer, or article

We dig into the specifics in our coverage of discrimination in employment, housing, and accessing a service.

To establish discrimination, you need to show three things:

  • You have a personal characteristic protected from discrimination.
  • You were treated badly or suffered a negative outcome in a protected area.
  • The personal characteristic was a factor in the treatment or outcome.

The protected characteristic doesn’t need to be the only or most important factor. It just needs to be a partial factor.

If you can show these three things, then the other party (who your complaint is against) will have an opportunity to try and justify their conduct. If the conduct is justified, it’s not discrimination.

Where someone experiences a negative outcome in a protected area due to a protected characteristic, the law imposes an obligation on certain people to take steps to limit the negative impact. This is called the duty to accommodate. It requires landlords, employers, and service providers to remove the negative effect, to the best of their ability.

The duty to accommodate extends to the point of undue hardship. This recognizes that sometimes accommodation might cost too much, or would have negative consequences for others.

We dive deeper into the duty to accommodate in our guidance on discrimination.

If you’re discriminated against, you have options.

You can make a human rights complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal. The tribunal deals with complaints under BC’s human rights law. It operates like a court but is less formal. It has staff who can help you settle your dispute directly with the other party. If that’s not possible, there’s a hearing to decide if there was discrimination. We explain the process to make a human rights complaint.

If the discrimination is at your place of work and you belong to a union, your union may be able to help you. Or you may be able to complain to the Employment Standards Branch, the government office that administers BC’s main employment law. Depending on the context, you may be able to sue for wrongful dismissal. See our in-depth info on discrimination at work for more.

Who can help

BC Human Rights Clinic logo
BC Human Rights Clinic
Provides free assistance and representation to those who qualify for help with a discrimination complaint under BC law.
Call 1-855-685-6222Visit website
The Law Centre logo
University of Victoria Law Centre
Provides help with human rights claims for eligible people in Greater Victoria.
Call 1-250-385-1221Visit website

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in May 2022
  • Time to read: 3 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Laura Track, Community Legal Assistance Society and Sara Hanson, Moore Edgar Lyster LLP

Laura Track, Community Legal Assistance Society
Sara Hanson, Moore Edgar Lyster LLP

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

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