Do You Have Human Rights Protection in Public Spaces?

by | Oct 5, 2016 | For Employees

Racial slurs and other discriminatory comments continue to occur between members of the public. But when they happen within businesses or municipal spaces, there may be a human rights claim.

This issue was recently addressed in a decision of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (“the Tribunal”).

The Case

In Josephs v. Toronto (City), Mr. Josephs was accessing the services of the City of Toronto when he was called a “monkey boy” by another member of the public.  He complained about the racial slur to a staff member of the City. The staff member did not assist and stated that if the situation became violent he would call security.  Mr. Josephs then filed a complaint with the City about the racial slur and how the staff member dealt with the situation.  The City investigated.

The Tribunal reiterated that racial discrimination can be caused by unconscious beliefs, biases and prejudices and that it may not always be direct discrimination.  While the City was not responsible for the customer’s derogatory outburst, the manner in which the City staff responded to Mr. Josephs was a breach of his human rights. The Tribunal awarded Mr. Josephs damages for the treatment from the City staff member.

The Tribunal further clarified that services providers, like the City of Toronto, have a duty to investigate complaints of discrimination to ensure a discrimination-free service environment. However, the Tribunal found that after Mr. Josephs filed a formal complaint, the City did appropriately investigate.


Not every racial or derogatory slur can be remedied through a legal proceeding.  The Human Rights Tribunal does not have the power to police all mistreatment that occurs in our society.  However, if you complain about prejudicial comments that occur in a business or municipality setting and nothing is done about your complaint, you may have a claim. Businesses must take your complaint seriously, treat you with dignity, and investigate your concerns.  All people in Ontario are protected when accessing services and facilities.

If you have experienced mistreatment on the basis of your age, race, religious views, gender, sexual orientation or any other human rights ground, you should speak to a human rights lawyer.  If you would like to speak to a lawyer at MacLeod Law Firm, you can reach us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.



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