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The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) writes policies to help people understand what types of discrimination are. In addition, these policies outline how to prevent and respond to different forms of discrimination. According to the OHRC’s Policy on Ableism and Discrimination based on disability, discrimination includes harassment. Moreover, the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) forbids harassment in employment and housing. Organizations must maintain an environment that prevents incidents of harassment, and respond to any incidents that do occur.


Harassment means unwelcome comments or actions based on the protected grounds of the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code). For example, people may harass others about their:

  • Age
  • Ancestry, colour, or race
  • Citizenship
  • Ethnic origin
  • Place of origin
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Family status
  • Marital status
  • Gender identity, or gender expression
  • Receiving government assistance (for housing)
  • Record of offences (in employment)
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

For instance, employers, colleagues, landlords, and neighbours must not harass people on the basis of their disabilities. Some examples of harassment based on disability could include:

  • Imitating the way someone moves, speaks, or behaves
  • Slurs, jokes, or nicknames based on someone’s disability
  • Messages or pictures that show disability in a negative way, including:
    • Texts or emails
    • Blogs or social media
  • Excluding someone from social events that all non-disabled workers or neighbours are invited to
  • Isolating someone, such as by communicating in ways that are not accessible
  • Purposely creating barriers, such as putting physical obstacles in someone’s path
  • Saying negative things about someone’s disability
  • Suggesting that someone should not receive accommodations, or refusing to provide them
  • Disclosing someone’s disability without their permission

Unwelcome Comments and Actions

The OHRC states that harassing comments or conduct “is known, or ought reasonably to be known, to be unwelcome”. In other words, sometimes people will know that the things they are saying or doing are unwelcome. However, at other times, they may not know that people object to their comments or actions. Nonetheless, those comments or actions are still harassment, even when people making them do not realize they are offensive. The OHRC expects people to be aware that certain comments or actions are never welcome. Even if a person does not know that a comment or action is unwelcome, they should know. Therefore, organizations must help workers recognize the kinds of comments or actions that people may not welcome.

Similarly, some people may say or show that they object to certain comments or actions. For instance, someone might say that they find a comment hurtful, or that an action is discriminatory. Alternatively, someone could show that they object by walking away. However, there are times when people do not feel safe objecting. For example, someone might not object if they are:

  • Hurt
  • Angry, but do not want to escalate the situation
  • Afraid that objecting will encourage the harasser to continue
  • Concerned that others condone the harassment and will not help confront the harasser

Consequently, even if no one clearly objects to an actor statement, that act or statement could still be harassment. Therefore, organizations must create environments that encourage people to treat each other’s personal backgrounds and abilities with respect.