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Proposed content for an OHRC policy on the discriminatory display of names, words and images

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September 23, 2021

The OHRC is proposing the following content for inclusion in a policy statement on the discriminatory display of names, words and images:


The purpose of the policy statement on the discriminatory display of names, words and images is to:

  • Recognize the enduring impact of colonialism on Indigenous peoples and Ontario’s historical links to slavery by promoting awareness about the negative impacts the discriminatory display of names and images has on individuals and groups
  • Promote understanding and compliance with legal obligations under the Code, including the duty to respond, investigate and resolve allegations of discrimination
  • Set out a human rights-based analysis and procedure framework for dealing with issues in the community and before tribunals and courts
  • Encourage municipalities and other obligated organizations to develop their own policies through community input
  • Help avoid situations that may lead to discrimination or a poisoned environment.

The policy would apply to:

  • Organizations that provide services within the meaning of section 1 of the Human Rights Code (the Code), including provincial and municipal governments, public- and private-sector organizations
  • Discriminatory situations under sections 1 and 13(1) of the Code involving the display of words and images, including names, terms, descriptions, depictions, symbols and other markers used for, but not limited to: street and road names; geographic areas, landmarks, buildings and outdoor facilities; commemorative statues, plaques and days; sports teams and their mascots; events; or other similar uses
  • Names and images that might involve current or historic persons known for their discriminatory views and actions
  • Derogatory terms and images that might represent or be linked with discriminatory views and actions
  • Names, terms and images that might also represent or negatively appropriate the culture of groups such as Indigenous peoples or racialized communities protected by grounds of the Code.

The policy would not take any position:

  • For or against the use of a specific name or image in a particular situation
  • To interfere with freedom of expression of opinion such as the use of words or images in news media opinion editorials.


Human rights principles

  • Duty to prevent and maintain a non-discriminatory environment, to be aware of a poisoned environment, and to take steps to respond to discrimination
  • Duty to make sure that rules, requirements, policies, procedures, practices and related decisions do not negatively affect Code-protected groups
  • Duty to respond reasonably and adequately to claims of discrimination, investigate allegations, and resolve situations when discrimination is found
  • Discriminatory treatment or impact includes harassment and a poisoned environment
  • Important to consider the social and historical context around discrimination claims, and the reality and experiences of people affected.


Proposed policy positions

  • Service providers must make sure that the words and images they display do not result in denial of service, harassment or a poisoned environment for individuals and groups identified by a prohibited ground of discrimination
  • Service providers have a legal duty to respond to and investigate complaints of discrimination involving the display of words and images within their service environments
  • Service providers must take steps to learn about the circumstances of the complaint. They must consider the surrounding social and historical context, and examine what negative impact the words or images have on individuals and groups identified by a Code ground
  • Service providers have a legal obligation to remedy situations where the display of words or images is found to have a discriminatory impact
  • In some cases, it may be necessary to revisit long-standing norms and change certain names, descriptions or images
  • In other cases, affected individuals and groups may not necessarily want derogatory names, words or images removed or changed, and may instead want other actions to promote awareness of historical rights violations
  • Training and public awareness may be necessary to help address misinformation, prejudice and other barriers that contribute to tension and conflict
  • Service providers may need to get professional guidance to help understand the surrounding context and negative impacts
  • A collaborative approach may be needed to help promote social inclusion of affected groups, and bring communities together to find the best solutions.