FAQ

FAQ

What is Discrimination?

Discrimination involves policies or practices that result in differential treatment based on certain personal characteristics, such as a person's race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or creed. Discrimination means treating someone differently and adversely based on one or any combination of the grounds listed below.

For example, denying a female lawyer admission to a firm's partnership because she took two maternity leaves is discrimination based on sex. The human rights grounds of discrimination that are prohibited in Ontario are:

  • race
  • ancestry
  • place of origin
  • colour
  • ethnic origin
  • citizenship
  • creed
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity
  • gender expression
  • age
  • marital status
  • family status
  • disability
  • record of offences (in the context of employment only).

Failure to reasonably accommodate a person who requires accommodation because of one or more personal characteristics listed above, such as a disability, pregnancy, creed or gender identity, may also constitute discrimination. For example, a law firm or paralegal firm that does not have a wheelchair-accessible washroom for its clients with disabilities, or that refuses to provide an ergonomically-adjusted workstation for its receptionist to accommodate her or his medical restrictions, could be liable for discrimination unless it could establish that the required accommodation would create an undue hardship on the firm.

Discrimination can exist even when the differential adverse treatment is unintentional and/or indirect. It is the impact of the practice, policy, decision or conduct in question, not the intention behind it that determines whether it is discriminatory.

What is Harassment?

Harassment involves vexatious comments or conduct that are known to be unwelcome or that ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome because they might reasonably be expected to cause insecurity, discomfort, offence, or humiliation to another person.

The DHC's mandate is restricted to harassment that is based on the prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Law Society's Rules of Professional Conduct or Paralegal Rules of Conduct.

Examples of prohibited harassment include:

  • racial or religious slurs;
  • homophobic jokes;
  • mocking a person's disability or accent; and
  • sexual harassment

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment may include:

  • unwelcome comments about a person's appearance;
  • sexual overtures;
  • demands for sexual favours;
  • sexually suggestive gestures; and
  • uninvited sexual touching.

Sexual harassment most commonly occurs in the form of behaviour by men towards women. However, it can also occur between men, between women, or as behaviour by women towards men.

Racial harassment

Racial harassment can take the form of unwelcome remarks, jokes, innuendos or taunting about a person's racial or ethnic background, colour, place of birth, citizenship, culture or ancestry. For example:

  • comments or conduct that ridicule a person's aboriginal ancestry, ethnic origin, place of origin or culture aboriginal ancestry, ethnic origin, place of origin or culture;
  • insulting gestures or jokes that relate to a person's race, ethnic origin, citizenship, culture or colour; or
  • mimicking a person's accent, speech, or mannerisms.

Racial harassment can also include displaying racist, derogatory, or offensive pictures or materials relating to a person's race or ancestry, refusing to speak or work with an employee because of his or her racial or ethnic background, or denying legal services to a client based on the client's race, colour or place of origin. Racial harassment most commonly occurs in the form of behaviour by Caucasians towards racialized individuals and Indigenous Peoples. However, it can also occur between members of different minority racial communities.

What is the impact of discrimination or harassment?

Discrimination and harassment are demeaning practices that poison relationships and attack the dignity of the victim. In the workplace, they can cause problems, such as low morale, reduced productivity, and the loss of valuable employees.

What do the Rules of Professional Conduct say?

Discrimination is illegal. It is prohibited by the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act. It also violates the lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct, in particular Rule 6.3, which prohibits sexual harassment, and Rule 6.3.1, which prohibits discrimination. Rule 2.03 of the Paralegal Rules of Conduct prohibits harassment and discrimination

Rule 6.3-3 of the lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct states:

A lawyer shall not sexually harass a colleague, a staff member, a client, or any other person.

6.3.1-1 states:

A lawyer has a special responsibility to respect the requirements of human rights laws in force in Ontario and, specifically, to honour the obligation not to discriminate on the grounds of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences (as defined in the Ontario Human Rights Code), marital status, family status, or disability with respect to professional employment of other lawyers, articled students, or any other person or in professional dealings with other licensees or any other person.

Paralegal Rules of Conduct

Discrimination and harassment also violate the Paralegal Rules of Conduct. In particular, Rule 2.03 (4) states: A paralegal shall respect the requirements of human rights laws in force in Ontario and without restricting the generality of the foregoing, a paralegal shall not discriminate on the grounds of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences, marital status, or disability with respect to the employment of others or in dealings with other licensees or any other person.

Rule 2.03 (3) states:

A paralegal shall not engage in sexual or other forms of harassment of a colleague, a staff member, a client or any other person on the ground of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability.

Are DHC services confidential?

Yes. All information received by the Discrimination and Harassment Counsel (DHC) is kept strictly confidential. The only information provided to the Law Society is anonymous statistical data showing the number and type of complaints, anonymous information and anonymous demographic data about complainants.

How much do the services of the Discrimination & Harassment Counsel Program cost?

The DHC's services are offered free-of-charge to students, lawyers, paralegals and the general public, including law firm and paralegal firm staff, and clients of lawyers and paralegals.

Can the DHC help me if my complaint deals with someone who is not a lawyer or a paralegal?

The mandate of the DHC is limited to dealing with discrimination and harassment complaints against lawyers, paralegals and student members of the Law Society. The DHC therefore cannot assist you with a complaint against individuals such as landlords, the police, judges, a non-legal employer, or someone studying to become a paralegal.

The DHC may, however, be able to assist you with a complaint that arises within a law firm, paralegal firm or legal clinic, even if the alleged perpetrator of the discrimination or harassment is not a lawyer or paralegal, because the firm or legal clinic bears ultimate responsibility for the conduct of its employees. If you experience discrimination or harassment by someone other than a lawyer or paralegal who works for a firm or legal clinic, and the firm or legal clinic does not take appropriate steps to address your concerns, then the DHC may be able to assist you with respect to the firm's or legal clinic's failure to deal with your complaint.

The DHC's mandate includes complaints against student members of the Law Society. The DHC can therefore assist you with a complaint against an articling student or LPP participant who is not yet called to the bar. The DHC cannot, however, deal with complaints against judges, since judges' membership in the Law Society is suspended while they are appointed to the bench. Nor can the DHC deal with a complaint against someone studying to be a paralegal, since they are not student members of the Law Society and their behaviour is ultimately the responsibility of the College at which they're studying.

Can the DHC help me if my complaint is not based on any human rights grounds?

No. The DHC Program is an equity initiative that is mandated to deal only with complaints of discrimination or harassment that are based on one or more of the following grounds:

  • race
  • ancestry
  • place of origin
  • colour
  • ethnic origin
  • citizenship
  • creed
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity
  • gender expression
  • age
  • marital status
  • family status
  • disability
  • record of offences (in the context of employment only).

What happens if my complaint doesn't deal with discrimination or harassment?

The Law Society of Ontario is responsible for all complaints about alleged professional misconduct of lawyers and paralegals in Ontario. If you have a complaint about a lawyer or paralegal that involves some other issue (for example your lawyer or paralegal is not returning your telephone calls, or you feel they breached your confidentiality), you can contact the Law Society's Complaints Services department.

Does the DHC work for the Law Society?

No. The DHC Program is funded by the Law Society but operates separately and at arm's length from the Law Society. The DHC is not an employee of the Law Society.

If I contact the DHC, do I have to file a formal complaint?

No. You are not required to file a complaint. This is a personal decision that only you can make. Some people who contact the DHC just want to tell someone about the problem. Others want information on their options so they can think about whether or not to file a complaint. Others are seeking an informal mechanism for resolving their concerns about a lawyer's conduct. The DHC will support your decision on how you want to handle your situation.