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February 26, 2000 09:00am
Updated Rights Code Aims to Protect Gays, Lesbians
Source: The Globe and Mail
by: Richard Mackie

(Toronto) -- A single incident of harassment of a gay or lesbian employee because of their sexual orientation could constitute a "poisoned environment" and violate Ontario's Human Rights Code, according to a new guideline released yesterday by the Human Rights Commission.

The guideline covers employers, landlords and those providing services, including governments, schools, shops, restaurants, hospitals and insurance companies.

It was drawn up to incorporate the changes to 67 different Ontario statutes in Bill 5, which was passed last fall. The changes eliminated discrimination against same-sex couples in the province's legislation and was passed by the government under an order from the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ontario's Human Rights Code was among the pieces of legislation updated by Bill 5.

Under the changes, "Any individual who believes that a right under the code has been infringed because of their same-sex partnership status may file a complaint with the commission," according to the commission's new Policy on Discrimination and Harassment because of Sexual Orientation.

In the area of harassment, the policy warns against "demeaning remarks, jokes or innuendo . . . about the person's sexual orientation or same-sex partnership status."

The policy also takes issue with "demeaning comments, signs, caricatures, or cartoons displayed in a service environment, such as a store, restaurant, or in a workplace or rental apartment building." It says these "may create a 'poisoned environment' in violation of the [Human Rights] Code."

Further, the policy says, "Comments or conduct do not need to be explicit to infringe a person's right to equal treatment without discrimination or harassment."

As an example, it cites a workplace where the only gay employee is repeatedly made the brunt of practical jokes by his co-workers. Even if the jokes do not contain any direct reference to the employee's sexual orientation, the fact that he is singled out because of it would be a violation of the code.

The policy warns, "There could be circumstances in which a single incident of inappropriate behaviour may be significant or substantial enough to constitute a breach of the code by creating a 'poisoned environment' for individuals because of their sexual orientation or same-sex partnership status."

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