What is harassment?

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Harassment is a form of discrimination. It involves any unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that offends or humiliates you. Generally, harassment is a behaviour that persists over time. Serious one-time incidents can also sometimes be considered harassment.

Harassment occurs when someone:

  • makes unwelcome remarks or jokes about your race, religion, sex, age, disability or any other of the 11 grounds of discrimination
  • threatens or intimidates you. 
  • makes unwelcome physical contact with you, such as touching, patting, pinching or punching, which can also be considered assault.

Employers and service providers are responsible for providing an environment or service that is free of harassment. It is your employer’s or service provider's responsibility to take action when harassment occurs.

What can I do if I am harassed?

Do not ignore harassment. Report it. If you fear for your safety, or the safety of others, contact the police.

If harassment occurs at work, you should first contact the person listed in your workplace anti-harassment policy. If no policy is available, find out if there is a company grievance procedure to help you, or contact your union representative. If harassment occurs while receiving service from a business, contact the customer service department.

Keep a written record of the incidents, including times, places and witnesses.

You may also be able to file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

What is meant by hate messages or speech?

Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits speech (over the phone or the Internet) that is "likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt..." because of that person's race, religion or sexual orientation. 

Prohibiting hate speech on the phone or the Internet was a decision made by Canada's Parliament. The Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed the constitutionality of this limitation on freedom of expression, but only in cases of the most extreme language.

This is one reason why the Canadian Human Rights Commission has received relatively few complaints over the years regarding hate speech.

However, in recent years, the part of the Canadian Human Rights Act that sets limits on freedom of expression has been the subject of debate and controversy. 

In 2012, a Private Member's bill to remove Section 13 from the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed by the House of Commons. Currently (early 2013) it is still before the Senate. The bill requires approval by both the House and the Senate before it receives Royal Assent and is proclaimed as law. Even then, there may be a transitional period of one year before the change to the law takes effect.

* As of June 26, 2014, Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act will no longer be in force. 


Chapter 4: Harassment

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