Dealing with Discrimination

If you think you have experienced discrimination on the basis of your religion, or some other human rights violation, please contact us immediately.

You may also contact our legal counsel, Balpreet Singh Boparai, directly at [email protected]

Discrimination is unfair differential or negative treatment of certain individuals or groups based on grounds such as race, gender, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, age, disability, citizenship, etc. Discrimination can include denial of service, refusal to hire, differential wages, or a refusal to accommodate such as refusing to accommodate religious clothing or articles of faith in a uniform.

Harassment is a type of discrimination and includes comments or behaviour that is insulting on the base of race, gender, religion, place of origin, etc. Examples of harassment include racial jokes and insults and displaying insulting posters or cartoons.

A person’s right to freely practice their faith is protected in Canada at 2 different levels. Where discrimination is alleged to have occurred by a governmental organization or agency, protection may be afforded under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”). Where discrimination is alleged to have been done by an individual, employer, public facility, or other group or agency, protection may be afforded under the federal or provincial Human Rights Codes. Click on this link to visit the websites of the provincial human rights commissions and to read their Codes.

What To Do About Discrimination or Harassment?

If you believe you have been discriminated against or harassed, the first step is to explain to the person engaging in the discriminatory conduct (the “offender”) why you find the behaviour or comments offensive and ask him/her to stop.

If there is an issue concerning your kakaars or other articles of faith, explain to the person concerned that you are wearing these items due to your religion and their significance to you.

If you are not satisfied with the response, then you should proceed with speaking to the offending person’s superior. If this does not result in a satisfactory response, then you should consider taking the matter further.

If the discrimination or harassment occurs at work, see whether there are company or union policies forbidding this type of behaviour and whether there are any internal complaint procedures. You may want to speak with your manager, union representative or some other authority.

You can also contact the WSO for advice in regards to your situation. WSO has encountered many cases of discrimination and harassment and may be able to guide you as to which steps you need to take and what options are available to you.

It is important to put your experience in writing. Be sure to record:

  • What happened
  • When it happened
  • Where it happened
  • Who was involved and what was said
  • Others who may have seen the incident
  • What you did and said

WSO encourages the amicable resolution of disputes. It is easiest and most efficient to resolve such issues without the necessity of proceeding to a human rights hearing. You have more control over the outcome, and you can use the opportunity to educate the offender in a non-adversarial setting.

However, some matters are not suitable for informal resolution, and may require the intervention of a Human Rights Tribunal or the Courts. Prior to undertaking such a complaint procedure, you should make sure that it is the right course of conduct for your case. WSO’s legal team is available to speak to you and provide you with the information necessary to determine the best course of conduct for you.

Human Rights Complaints

If the discriminatory conduct or harassment cannot be resolved at an institutional level, it may become necessary to contact the Human Rights Commission. Each province has a provincial Commission and there is also the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). The CHRC can be contacted for issues involving:

  • Federal government departments, agencies and Crown corporations
  • Canadian forces
  • Canada Post
  • Chartered Banks
  • Airlines, inter-provincial transportation and shipping
  • Tele-communications companies, including internet service providers
  • Television and radio stations
  • First Nations employers
  • Some other bodies including credit corporations, grain companies, museums, nuclear power operations and uranium minds.

For all other areas, your provincial Commission will likely have jurisdiction.

The time limits on complaints vary with each Commission. The CHRC allows complaints to be filed within one year of the event offensive conduct occurring, but provincial Commissions (such as the Ontario Human Rights Commission, B.C. Human Rights Commission, etc.) have much shorter time periods. These are typically only 6 months from the date of offensive conduct. You should check with a lawyer or the applicable Commission about the time period to file a complaint, to ensure that you do not miss it. A missed limitation period could prevent you from proceeding with your complaint.

When you contact the Commission, you will need to explain your situation in detail. You will then be asked to send your complaint in writing. Your complaint will then be served on the party you are complaining about.

The Commission will work with you and the party you have filed the complaint against to bring about a resolution. Mediation may take place where the parties meet face to face and a neutral mediator appointed by the Commission will attempt to find possible solutions. Mediation is completely voluntary and confidential and the mediator cannot decide the matter or force any action. If no resolution can be reached, two different outcomes can result, depending on the Commission.

In most provinces, the Commission will begin an investigation to find evidence of discrimination/harassment. If sufficient evidence is found, the Commission will refer the complaint to a Board of Inquiry or Tribunal. In a legal setting, both parties will present their arguments, witnesses and evidence and a decision will be reached by the Board.

In British Columbia however, after attempts at mediation have failed, the complaint will go directly to Tribunal but you will either represent yourself or need to hire counsel. If you decide to represent yourself, you will need to do your own investigation, organize your argument, identify and prepare your witnesses, present your documents and also prepare opening and closing statements. WSO can be of assistance in advising you at this stage. For more information on how to prepare for a Tribunal hearing please visit the Tribunal’s website.

It may also sometimes be necessary to file a complaint about the discriminatory conduct, before the courts, rather than the human rights Tribunals. Your lawyer or the WSO can assist you in determining if this is the appropriate course of conduct.

Human Rights and Canadian Sikhs

Canadian Sikhs have gone before various human rights commissions to struggle for their rights to wear their articles of faith, specifically the kirpan and dastar (turban). The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of religion and guarantees equality rights to all persons in Canada. Canadian courts have found that there is a duty to accommodate differences to the point of “undue hardship”. This is a very high standard and means that unless accommodating differences (religious, physical, etc) is essentially impossible, every step must be taken to make the required changes.

Can I wear my dastaar in legion halls?

There have been several cases and instances across Canada where Sikhs were initially banned by Legion Halls to enter with their dastars. Following intervention by the WSO, and some successful human rights cases, the wearing of dastars in Legion Halls is no longer an issue.

Can I wear my dastaar with a uniform?

Canadian courts have found that restrictions on the dastar due to uniform requirements are unacceptable. In Sehdev v. Bayview Glen Junior Schools Ltd. (1988), it was found that a prohibition of the dastar in a public school was religious discrimination. That same year, in Khalsa v. Co-op Cabs and Grewal v. Checker Cabs Ltd., human rights commissions in Ontario and Alberta ruled that a restriction on the dastar due to uniform requirements on the job were discrimination and unacceptable. The issue seems completely resolved after the 1995 Federal Court of Appeal decision in Grant v. Canada (Attorney General) (also known as the RCMP Turban case, where WSO appeared as Interveners), where the Court upheld an RCMP decision allowing Sikh officers to wear dastars. If you or someone you know is facing difficulty wearing their turban, chuni, rumaal, or patka while on the job or in school, you should contact WSO.

Can I wear my dastaar while riding a motorcycle?

While British Columbia has upheld the right of Sikh motorcyclists to be exempt from helmet requirements, and has in fact created a legislative exemption for the dastar, the issue has not been resolved in other provinces. Ontario’s government is taking a radically different approach, and vehemently opposes a Sikh riding a motorcycle without a helmet.

Can my employer stop me from wearing my dastaar?

This issue is still undecided, and the main consideration is safety. Since the 1990’s, WSO has worked with individual employers across the country, such as sawmills, to grant exemptions to their employees from the wearing of hard hats. Presently, employers from diverse regions across the country are willing to accommodate the dastar. In Bhinder v. Canadian National Railway Co., the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a policy making hard hats mandatory could be upheld. Subsequent Supreme Court of Canada judges have commented that they might have decided the Bhinder case very differently had it been commenced after the coming into force of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As yet, no case has gone back before the Supreme Court of Canada dealing with the hard hat and dastar issue. If you or someone you know is having difficulty, with your employment due to hard hat requirements, you should contact the WSO.

Can I wear my dastaar while playing in sports leagues?

Sikhs participating in amateur sports, such as boxing, have successfully been able to win the right to wear their dastar’s and keep unshorn beards. Local soccer, basketball and other sports leagues around the country have permitted Sikhs to participate freely wearing their articles of faith. However, where issues have arisen, these have been addressed on a case by case basis by the WSO. Most recently, WSO expressed its support to a Muslim girl who was prevented from playing soccer with her hijab. The WSO knows of no prohibition against the wearing of the dastar or other Sikh head covering, in amateur soccer.

Is my kirpan considered a weapon?

The kirpan is not a weapon but an important article of faith for the Sikhs, and is not considered a weapon according to the law or by Canadian courts.

Due to efforts by the WSO, and courageous Sikhs who have fought for freedom of religion, the right of Canadian Sikhs to wear the kirpan has been confirmed in a number of different settings.

Can I wear my kirpan in a hospital?

Since the early 1990’s, the kirpan has been allowed in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. The WSO knows of no current restrictions on the kirpan in these venues.

Can I wear my kirpan into a courthouse?

The Supreme Court of Canada allows kirpans into the courtroom, as do many other jurisdictions across Canada. Since 1990, Sikh lawyers have had full access in B.C. to wearing their kirpan inside courtrooms. Similar accommodations have been achieved for lawyers and staff working inside courtrooms. However, there are still many jurisdictions which may place restrictions or prohibitions on witnesses, litigants, jurors, or members of the public, in wearing their kirpan inside the courtroom. If you or someone you know is facing difficulty in accessing the courthouse with your kirpan, you should contact the WSO immediately.

Can I wear my kirpan into a school?

While Ontario schools, and most other provinces, have allowed Sikhs to wear the kirpan on school premises since 1990, the right was confirmed by Canada’s highest court in Singh-Multani c. Marguerite-Bourgeoys (Commission scolaire), in 2006 (commonly known as the Multani case, where WSO participated as Intervenors). The court found that any attempt to call the kirpan a weapon was “contradicted by the evidence regarding the symbolic nature of the kirpan, it is also disrespectful to believers in the Sikh religion and does not take into account Canadian values based on multiculturalism”. Presently, Sikhs enjoy an unfettered right to wearing the kirpan in schools across the country.

Can I wear my kirpan while riding public transportation?

After consultation with the WSO, Transport Canada guidelines were modified in the 1990’s to accommodate the kirpan. However, following 9-11, most airlines operating out of Canada restrict passengers wearing a kirpan. While kirpans have been allowed on trains and buses, following 9-11, there have been isolated cases across Canada of train conductors and bus driver’s preventing passengers from boarding with a kirpan. WSO has taken these issues on a case by case basis, with success, and may be able to help you if you or someone you know.