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Putting competing rights in perspective

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In our society we have different levels of rights – Charter rights, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Code rights, from Ontario’s Human Rights Code, statutory rights created by laws and other “perceived rights.” As people better understand their rights and wish to exercise them, some of those rights can come into conflict. For example, the right to be free from discrimination on the ground of religious creed, or sexual orientation or gender can sometimes appear to be at odds with other rights. Is health and safety (wearing a motorcycle helmet) more important than established religious practice (wearing a turban)? Can your employer require you to sign a pledge not to engage in certain sexual activity?

In March 2010, the OHRC, in partnership with the York University Centre for Public Policy and the Law, held a Policy Dialogue on Competing Human Rights Claims. This was our first step towards developing an OHRC policy on dealing with these kinds of competing rights.

Community and advocacy groups joined academics, lawyers and policy makers to discuss what competing human rights claims look like and how to handle them to protect the human rights of all.

As part of this dialogue, we invited a team of experts to submit papers on various elements of competing human rights. These papers were published in a special edition of Canadian Diversity, available online in both English and French at

Finding a workable balance between competing rights requires “considering the possibility of a solution.”

The essays in this special issue of Canadian Diversity help us to take that first step. Each contributor offers insights and different perspectives of the nature of competing human rights claims and ideas on how to build a framework for addressing them in Ontario and across Canada.

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