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Family status and human rights in Canada

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Protection against discrimination on the basis of family status is relatively new in Canada. Provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of family status were added to a number of human rights statutes in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Discrimination on the basis of family status is not prohibited in all parts of Canada.[25] For example, the human rights statutes of Newfoundland and New Brunswick do not contain prohibitions on discrimination on the basis of family status, although in some cases the prohibitions against age and marital status discrimination have been interpreted to cover issues that might in other jurisdictions be considered under the ground of family status.

Where human rights bodies have considered family status issues, the focus has often been on access to housing. ‘Adult only’ or ‘adult lifestyle’ housing is a common concern. In the area of employment, the bulk of the caselaw has focussed on nepotism and anti-nepotism policies, and on discrimination based on the particular identity of a family member. There is a paucity of material on discrimination on the basis of family status in the area of services.

In general, the Canadian caselaw on family status has focussed on direct discrimination. Little attention has been given to programs and policies that have an adverse impact[26] on families with children or with elder care responsibilities. [27] There has also been very little consideration given to what the duty to accommodate might mean in the context of family status. It may therefore be fair to say that Canadian human rights policy and caselaw on family status is somewhat underdeveloped.

[25] While Quebec does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of family status, the protections against discrimination based on “civil status” have been consistently interpreted to include family status.
[26] This Paper contains at the end a Glossary of legal terms related to human rights, such as forms of discrimination.
[27] The most important exception to this generalization is Kearney v. Bramalea (1998), 34 C.H.R.R. D/1 (Ont. Bd. Inq.), in which a Board of Inquiry found that rent to income ratios discriminated against tenants identified by family status, among other grounds.

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