Jul 9, 2015

Genetic Information and Discrimination

On June 9, 2015, Peter MacKay, the then Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada announced legislative changes aimed at protecting Canadians from discrimination on the basis of genetic information.

What Rights are currently protected?

 Currently, the human rights of employees who work in Ontario for a provincially regulated company are protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code (“Code”). The Code protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of race, ancestry, place of origin, color, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability during their employment.

Similarly, the Canadian Human Rights Act protects employees across Canada who work for federally regulated employers like banks, airlines and the federal government from discrimination on the same grounds.  The Canadian Human Rights Act does not included gender identity and expression.

How is genetic information used to discriminate?

 There is significant research conducted daily in Ontario and across Canada which allows individuals to understand certain genes that they may be carrying and seek preventative treatment for diseases caused by those genes.  For example, in this high profile case, Angelina Jolie described her decision to have a preventative double mastectomy as a result of carrying the gene mutation BRCA1.

Currently, in Ontario insurance companies, employers or service providers can use the knowledge that an individual has a specific gene to decide not to employ that person, or deny him or her insurance coverage.

What will change?

 If the changes proposed by Minister MacKay are passed into law, the Canadian Human Rights Act will be amended to include that ground of genetic test results. Specifically, the Act would say that discrimination on the basis that an individual may be more likely to have a disability, is discrimination on the basis of disability.

 We will be keenly watching to see whether the bill is passed into law and whether governments like Ontario follow suit and amend the provincial human rights legislation.

If you have experienced discrimination because of a disability, please contact us at [email protected] or 1-888-640-1728 (toll free) or 647-633-9894 (within the GTA).


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