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Activity #6: Debriefing the answers to the human rights quiz

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If there’s time, students can re-do the human rights quiz and compare their answers with those from their first attempt. Discuss their answers to the quiz. Provide information as required to ensure that everyone understands the concepts shown in each situation. The story and discussion points for each situation appear below. You may wish to read or have students read from these discussion points.

Make sure that the Preamble and the charts listing the social areas and prohibited grounds covered by the Code are posted prominently in the classroom.

Question #1: Anthony

Anthony, who is 18 years old, applies for a job as a clerk in a sporting goods store. The store manager is impressed with Anthony's maturity and ability and says that he would like to hire him, subject to reference checks. Later, the manager calls Anthony to say that he will not be hired. On checking his references with a former employer, the manager found out that Anthony was convicted of careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act when he was younger. Has the store manager violated Anthony's human rights by refusing to hire him?

Discussion points:

Yes, the manager has violated Anthony's human rights. The Code covers employment (area) and prohibits discrimination in hiring based on having a record of offences (ground).

The Code says that “every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of ¼ record of offences.”  In other words, an employer cannot discriminate against someone convicted of a provincial offence or who has been pardoned for a federal offence. But each situation must be judged on its own merit.

In this scenario, Anthony's offence is unrelated to the job duties he would have to do. However, if the job involves driving a car for delivery and no other employee could be given that duty, then the manager might be able to show that he had a good reason for not hiring Anthony. Or, if he had had a conviction for theft, then the manager could likely prove that the store would be at financial risk to have Anthony work with cash. In either case, the manager would have to prove that driving the car or taking cash were bona fide—or necessary—occupational requirements (BFOR) and that no one else could reasonably be assigned the duties.

Question #2: The women’s hockey team

Naomi and several of her friends play in a women's hockey league at the local community centre. Whenever they play, the male rink attendants never give them their full allotted ice time, even when there are no scheduling conflicts. The attendants jeer every time one of the young women falls and there are often pin-up pictures of women in the dressing rooms. Naomi has complained but the manager has done nothing, saying that women should “stick to figure skating” and “leave hockey to boys.” Have the rink attendants violated the young women's human rights?

Discussion points:

Yes, the rink attendants and manager have violated the young women's rights. The Code covers facilities (area) and prohibits discrimination based on gender or sex (ground).

The Code says that “every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities without discrimination because of ¼ sex.” Factoring scheduling and rink availability, if there is free ice-time and the women are not given equal consideration by not receiving their allotted ice time, Naomi and her team are being treated differently.

What about the jeering, pin-ups and manager's comment that they should not be playing hockey? Taken together, these actions create a poisoned environment that is threatening and demeaning to women. Such a poisoned environment takes away the rights of women to take part without discrimination in the community facility.

What do you think should be done? Both the manager and the rink attendants should be made aware of their responsibilities under the Code. They must give the women their full share of ice time, stop the jeering and remove the pin-ups. As well, management must take steps to make the facilities more receptive to both genders.

Question #3: Yvon

After years of fighting, Yvon's parents are getting a divorce. Things are so tense that Yvon feels he must live on his own if he is to successfully complete his school year. He has been a good student and stayed out of trouble. At 16, he has qualified for social assistance and has put in an application at a rooming house near his school. The property manager refuses to rent Yvon a room, saying that he does not rent to “welfare kids.” Has the property manager violated Yvon's human rights?

Discussion points:

Yes, the property manager has violated Yvon’s rights. The Code covers discrimination in the area of accommodation (housing), prohibiting it on both the grounds of age and receipt of public assistance.

The Code says that “every sixteen or seventeen year old person who has withdrawn from parental control has a right to equal treatment with respect to occupancy of and contracting for accommodation without discrimination.” In addition, no one can be discriminated against in housing simply because he or she receives social assistance.

In this case, the property manager based his decision on a subjective opinion. If Yvon makes a complaint (called making an application) with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, it would consider the evidence presented including comments or actions made by the property manager. Even if the property manager had not made a comment about “welfare kids,” Yvon may have been discriminated against based on the property manager’s assumptions.

Question #4: Maya and her friends

Maya and several Black friends go to a local restaurant after school. They are laughing and carrying on like others in the restaurant. Things start to get out of hand between their group and several White students sitting at another table. Food is thrown and the groups exchange angry remarks. When the restaurant staff ask Maya and her friends to leave the restaurant, they feel angry and discriminated against. Have the restaurant staff violated the group's human rights?

Discussion points:

“Maybe” is the correct answer for this scenario. Assuming that the White students took part equally in the fight, Maya and her friends' rights may have been violated. This would depend on whether the White students were also asked to leave. The Code says that “every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of ¼ race.” If the staff asked only the Black students to leave, they would be treating Maya and her friends differently. This would be an example of direct discrimination.

Would you say that neither group has been discriminated against if the staff asked both groups to leave? The service provider does have the right to ask anyone to leave the premises for being unruly or disruptive to business. So, by asking both groups to leave, he or she would be protecting the business and preventing further disturbance to other customers.

However simple this scenario might appear at first glance, it requires a great deal of analysis to understand what happened and what should be done. Would it make a difference if the White students had been harassing Maya and her friends before the fight? The Code says that the service provider also has the responsibility to make sure that all its customers are free from discrimination while on the premises. Staff would then be correct in asking only the White students to leave.

Question #5: Meerai and Sean

Last week, Meerai and her friend Sean organized a school group to raise funds for AIDS research. Yesterday, on their desks, they both found crudely-drawn cartoons making fun of people who are gay and lesbian. Last night, several students shouting anti-gay comments verbally attacked them on the street opposite the school yard. Their teacher saw the cartoons and has heard rumours of the verbal attack, but feels that nothing can be done because the attack took place off school premises. Neither student has complained to school officials. Have the students violated Meerai’s and Sean's human rights?

Discussion points:

Yes, the students have violated Meerai and Sean's human rights. And so has the teacher and the school.

Do we know whether Meerai is a lesbian and Sean is a gay man? No, we don't. If they are not, is there a prohibited ground? Yes, there is. Regardless of their sexual orientation, the other students are discriminating against them because of their "perceived" sexual orientation and/or association with a group protected under the Code (sexual orientation). This means that someone incorrectly thinks that a person is a member of a group protected under the Code, and treats the person differently because of a Code-related ground. Here, Meerai and Sean are involved with an LGBT event and have LGBT friends. Some people may discriminate against them because they perceive that they are gay or lesbian.

Is there an obligation for the teacher to act? Yes, under the Code schools have a duty to maintain a positive, non-discriminatory learning environment. As an education provider, the teacher has a responsibility to take immediate remedial action once made aware of harassing conduct. The teacher could be liable in a human rights claim if he knew about the harassment and could have taken steps to prevent or stop it, but did not.

The students have discriminated against Meerai and Sean because of their participation in a school activity associated with AIDS, a condition wrongly identified by some people as a “gay disease.” In addition, the derogatory cartoons in the classroom create a poisoned environment for Meerai and Sean, and for LGBT students in general. As a service provider, a school is required to make sure that everyone is treated equally, without discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation.

If Meerai is lesbian and Sean is gay, why might they hesitate to complain to school officials or file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario? By taking such action, they might think they would have to publicly disclose their sexual orientation. They would not have to, however, because the Tribunal would still take the application based on their association with the LGBT community or because they were "perceived" to be lesbian, gay or bisexual.

Although today’s society is more progressive, homophobia continues to exist. Many people still feel they have to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid rejection, ostracism and possibly violence from friends, family, work colleagues and others around them.

Question #6: Chantal

A local optician's office has an opening for a part-time receptionist. The position requires excellent communication skills, as the person will answer customers' telephone calls and receive patients who enter the clinic. Chantal, who was born and raised in Quebec City, applies for the job. The owner does not hire her, because she feels customers may not understand her because of her accent. Has the owner violated Chantal's human rights?

Discussion points:

This may be a violation of the Code, if it could be objectively shown that Chantal did not satisfy a bona fide occupational requirement that she be understood by customers. However, we all have accents. Does her accent truly affect her ability to communicate effectively or is this an excuse by the owner not to hire her because of her ancestry/ ethnicity/place of origin? If Chantal filed an application with the Tribunal, a hearing would probe whether the owner's decision was purely subjective or had some objective basis, such as the results of an objective test of Chantal's communication ability. What if the owner argued that customers would not like to deal with her because of her accent? Under the Code, people can’t use customer preference to defend discriminatory acts.

Question #7: Michael

Last Saturday, Michael and his friends attended a movie theatre they had never been to before. The theatre staff told Michael, who uses a motorized wheelchair because he has muscular dystrophy, that he would either have to transfer into a theatre seat or watch the movie from the only area available for the wheelchair 
– in front of the first row of seats. When he complained about this arrangement, the theatre staff told him he was entitled to the same service as everyone else
– a ticket and a seat to watch the movie. Has the movie theatre staff violated Michael's human rights?

Discussion points:

Yes, the theatre has discriminated in providing services, on the ground of Michael's disability.

This scenario is based on a case heard by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in 1985 (Huck v. Canadian Odeon Theatres Ltd.), which established that treating people the same does not necessarily give them an equal result. The theatre argued that it provided Michael with the same services as all other patrons – a ticket and a seat – and had no intention of discriminating against him.

However, Michael’s lawyers argued that, unlike other patrons, he could not take any seat in the theatre, because with his disability he could not transfer out of his wheelchair. The area offered to him in front of the front row of seats was restricted and inferior to the range of seating offered to other theatregoers. The Court found that even though the theatre management did not intend to discriminate, its actions had a discriminatory effect on Michael.

Many actions or seemingly “neutral requirements” are not intentionally discriminatory. That is why human rights legislation, such as the Code, is concerned with equality of results and not the intent of the respondent. As a result of this decision, theatres all over the country now offer a variety of spaces throughout their cinemas for people with wheelchairs. 

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