Protected Grounds, ontario human rights code, discrimination, Human Rights Code

What Are Protected Grounds In Ontario?

You may have heard the phrase ‘protected ground’ thrown around every now and then. People may have been referring to a situation where a protected ground was not respected in a particular situation, or they could have been referring to a protected ground that they identify with.


The idea of protected grounds comes from Ontario’s Human Rights Code, which was enacted in 1962. It was the first Human Rights Code to be enacted in Canada at the time.


This article will cover what a protected ground is, which protected grounds there are in Ontario, and what they mean for you.


What is a Protected Ground?


In Canada, everyone has the right to be free from discrimination. To protect this right, however, a clear definition of what discrimination actually is, including what constitutes it and its intended scope, must be properly understood and made available to the public.


A protected ground is a status that someone has, or a group they identify as belonging to, that is protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code. These grounds consist of 17 different identifiable social classifications, based on personal attributes, characteristics, or traits that either society deems a person as belonging to or a person personally identifies with. The Code prohibits anyone from taking actions that discriminate against someone based on one of the protected grounds in a protected social area.


Protected social grounds include the following:

  • Age
  • Ancestry, color, or race
  • Citizenship
  • Ethnic origin
  • Place of origin
  • Creed
  • Disability
  • Family status
  • Marital status (including single status)
  • Gender identity or gender expression
  • Receipt of public assistance (in housing only)
  • Record of offenses (in employment only)
  • Sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding)
  • Sexual orientation


What is a Protected Social Area?


A protected social area is a location, place, or situation that mandates and requires a certain level of tolerance or respect for an individual person’s attributes, characteristics, or traits that make up a protected ground. A person’s right not to be discriminated against can and will only be protected under the Code if the occurrence happens in this said protected space. Simply put, you cannot claim that you were discriminated against if a stranger merely comes up to you on the street and makes a derogatory or disrespectful comment, or if a family member does not respect one of the social grounds you identify with.


Protected social areas include:

  • Accommodation (public housing)
  • Contracts
  • Employment
  • Goods, services, and facilities
  • Membership in unions, trades, or professional associations


Goods, services, and facilities apply to places where you have the right to receive goods or services somewhere, or when you have a right to access the facilities. This includes:

  • Stores, restaurants, and bars
  • Hospitals and other healthcare providers
  • Schools, universities, and colleges
  • Public places such as recreation centers, public parks, washrooms, malls, etc.
  • Services provided by municipal and provincial governments
  • Services provided by insurance companies
  • Classified ads in newspapers


What are some examples of discrimination under the Code?


Examples of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code might include:

  • An employer choosing not to hire someone due to their disability (disability)
  • A worker repeatedly harassed a coworker due to the color of their skin (race)
  • Someone being fired for being pregnant and wanting to take pregnancy leave (sex)
  • Someone not receiving an apartment because they receive social assistance (a receipt of public assistance)
  • A doctor refusing to treat someone because of their religion (creed)
  • Someone being denied housing because they have children (family status)
  • Someone refusing to sign a contract to buy a house with another person because they are gay (gender identity and expression)
  • As well as many more


How can I prove that I have been discriminated against?


If you want to establish that you have been discriminated against under the Ontario Human Rights Code, you must prove:

  1. That you have a characteristic that is a protected ground under the Human Rights Code (such as sex, gender identity, race, etc.);
  2. That the adverse treatment that you experienced was within a protected social area (for example, at work or when trying to access a social service); and
  3. The adverse treatment that you received was due to your protected ground.


To file a Human Rights Application based on discrimination, you must be at least 18 years of age. If a child under the age of 18 has experienced discrimination, their parent or guardian can file an application on their behalf. 


You will not be able to claim that you were discriminated against if you cannot connect the adverse treatment you experienced to a protected ground. This includes situations where you may feel that you were treated differently simply because of a personality clash or a disagreement with someone. 


What do I do if I know I am being discriminated against?


If you feel you are being discriminated against, you should contact a human rights lawyer to discuss the situation and try and resolve the matter. They will also be able to advise if an application should be filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), or if the matter would fall under federal jurisdiction. If it is appropriate to do so, you can bring your issue in front of the HRTO and seek compensation for harm suffered. A good human rights lawyer can help advise on the path to take to see the best outcome for your matter.


How do I prevent human rights abuses?


If you are someone in charge of a protected social area such as a workplace or an apartment complex, you can get protect yourself from potential human rights abuses by ensuring comprehensive workplace policies are in place and visible around the protected grounds. Read more here about how to address discrimination in the workplace


If you have further questions about creating policies or employee relations, be sure to reach out to a human rights lawyer for advice and tips for comprehensive workplace policies.




Under Ontario’s Human Rights Code, people cannot be discriminated against based on any of the protected grounds listed above if the occurrence is within a protected social area. If you are concerned that you have experienced discrimination based on a protected ground, make sure to reach out to a qualified human rights lawyer at Achkar Law for help. 


Contact Us


If you are experiencing discrimination in any of the protected social areas, our team of experienced human rights lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at 1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to assist. 


If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support with a same-day response, visit our Chief Legal Officer Program page for our strategic solutions.