Information and Commentary About Discrimination

Readers may find it helpful to review this information in the context of the university’s Harassment and Discrimination Prevention and Response Policy

The following commentary is included for informational purposes; it is intended to provide context about the nature of discrimination and some of its causes/manifestations. It is not intended to be exhaustive, nor is it intended to alter or re-state the definitions in the Glossary of Terms. This Appendix may be amended from time to time on the advice of the Associate Vice-Principal (Human Rights, Equity & Inclusion)

Discrimination generally involves action, such as treating a person or group in a particular way, or a failure to make reasonable accommodation for a person or group, based on a ground protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code. Discrimination can be experienced on multiple, intersecting protected grounds. For example, a Muslim woman who wears a hijab may experience discrimination based on both creed and gender.

On the other hand, things such as ageism, racism, sexism, etc. are rooted in ideologies that position certain groups as marginal or inferior, and are manifest in general attitudes, values, and stereotypical beliefs. “Isms” will not always lead to discrimination and harassment, but they often create the conditions for discriminatory and harassing actions.

Discrimination can also arise from a poisoned environment. A poisoned environment refers to an environment that has become so hostile or intolerable, such that discriminatory conduct or attitudes permeates it entirely. A poisoned environment may exist if there has been a particularly egregious, stand-alone incident, or, if there has been serious and persistent wrongful behaviour, based on a ground protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code, sufficient to create a hostile or intolerable environment.

Ableism” is a belief system, analogous to racism, sexism, or ageism, that sees persons with disabilities as being less worthy of respect and consideration, less able to contribute and participate, or of less inherent value than others. Ableism may be conscious or unconscious, and may be embedded in institutions, systems, or the broader culture of a society. It can limit the opportunities of persons with disabilities and reduce their inclusion in the life of their communities. Ableist attitudes are often based on the view that disability is an “anomaly to normalcy,” rather than an inherent and expected variation in the human condition. Ableism may also be expressed in ongoing paternalistic and patronizing behaviour toward people with disabilities13.

Ageism” is a socially constructed way of thinking about older people based on negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging and a tendency to structure society based on an assumption that everyone is young, thereby failing to respond appropriately to the real needs of older persons.

Ageism is often a cause for individual acts of age discrimination and often more systemic in nature, such as in the design and implementation of services, programs, and facilities. Age discrimination involves treating persons in an unequal fashion due to age in a way that is contrary to human rights law14.

Anti-Asian racism is prejudice, attitudes, beliefs, stereotyping and discrimination that is directed at the people of Asia or of Asian descent. Negative attitudes towards Asian Canadians survive in characterizations of these Canadians as “foreigners” and “aliens” whose values and culture are incompatible with the Canadian way of life. Concerns about negative attitudes towards Chinese Canadians and South Asian Canadians came to the surface during the 2003 SARS outbreak and more recently in connection with the COVID-19 global pandemic15.

Anti-Black racism” is prejudice, attitudes, beliefs, stereotyping and discrimination that is directed at people of African descent and is rooted in their unique history and experience of enslavement and its legacy. Anti-Black racism is deeply entrenched in Canadian institutions, policies and practices, to the extent that anti-Black racism is either functionally normalized or rendered invisible to the larger White society. Anti-Black racism is manifest in the current social, economic, and political marginalization of African Canadians, which includes unequal opportunities, lower socio-economic status, higher unemployment, significant poverty rates and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system16.

Anti-Indigenous racism” is the ongoing race-based discrimination, negative stereotyping, and injustice experienced by Indigenous Peoples within Canada. It includes ideas and practices that establish, maintain and perpetuate power imbalances, systemic barriers, and inequitable outcomes that stem from the legacy of colonial policies and practices in Canada. Systemic anti-Indigenous racism is evident in discriminatory federal policies such as the Indian Act and the residential school system. It is also manifest in the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in provincial criminal justice and child welfare systems, as well as inequitable outcomes in education, well-being, and health. Individual lived-experiences of anti-Indigenous racism can be seen in the rise in acts of hostility and violence directed at Indigenous people17.

Antisemitism” is latent or overt hostility or hatred directed towards, or discrimination against individual Jews or the Jewish people for reasons connected to their religion, ethnicity, and their cultural, historical, intellectual and religious heritage. Antisemitism can take many forms, ranging from individual acts of discrimination, physical violence, vandalism and hatred, to more organized and systematic efforts to destroy entire communities and genocide.18.

Homophobia” and “heterosexism” are terms used to describe prejudice relating to sexual orientation. Both may be the basis for negative treatment of individuals and communities, based on their actual or perceived sexual orientations. “Homophobia” is the aversion to, or fear or hatred of, individuals and communities of diverse sexual orientations, or of behaviours stereotyped as belonging to diverse sexual orientations. It signifies a hostile psychological state on the part of those engaging in overt discrimination, harassment, or violence. “Heterosexism” refers to an underlying assumption or expectation that everyone is heterosexual. Discrimination based on that assumption may be unintentional and unrecognized by the person or organization responsible for the discrimination. Because it is based on unexamined assumptions, it supports the development of institutional and societal bias. Both “homophobia” and “heterosexism” can result in discrimination based on sexual orientation19.

Islamophobia” includes racism, stereotypes, prejudice, fear or acts of hostility directed towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general. In addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling. It has also been described as the dread, hatred and hostility towards Islam and Muslims perpetuated by a series of closed views that imply and attribute negative and derogatory stereotypes and beliefs to Muslims. Islamophobia can lead to viewing and treating Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systemic and societal level20.

Microaggressions” are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or the result of unconscious bias, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to targeted persons based solely upon their membership in a human rights protected group21. Microaggressions can be subtle. Microaggressions, cumulatively, may constitute Discriminatory Harassment. A single incident alone, particularly where the conduct results from unconscious bias, will rarely constitute Discriminatory Harassment, except where the conduct is particularly egregious and results in severe impact. A persistent environment in which microaggressions are permitted or tolerated can constitute systemic discrimination. The university’s goal is to foster an understanding of the impacts that microaggressions can have on those in equity deserving groups. As such, the initial focus in responding to a finding of Discriminatory Harassment or systemic discrimination based on allegations of microaggressions will often be educational and restorative.

Race” is a protected ground under the Ontario Human Rights Code, but like racial discrimination, it is not specifically defined. The Ontario Human Rights Commission explains race as socially constructed differences among people based on personal characteristics. Racialization is the process of social construction of race, by which people and societies construct races as real, different, and unequal in ways that matter to economic, political, and social life.

Racism” is inclusive of racial harassment and discrimination but is a wider phenomenon than racial harassment and discrimination. Racism is an ideology that either directly or indirectly asserts that one group is inherently superior to others. Racism plays a major role in fostering racial harassment and discrimination. Racism can be openly displayed in harassing and/or violent behavior such as racial jokes and slurs or hate crimes, but it can be more deeply rooted in attitudes, values, and stereotypical beliefs. In some cases, these are unconsciously held and expressed without intention to harm, yet the effect of racism is to perpetuate inequity and exclusion of historically marginalized groups including Indigenous, Black, and racialized communities. Racism operates at individual, systemic and societal levels. Although Canada has made much progress, unfortunately racism and racial discrimination remain a persistent reality in Canadian society. This fact must be acknowledged as a starting point to effectively address racism and racial discrimination22.

Transphobia” is the aversion to, fear or hatred of trans people and communities. Like other prejudices, it is based on stereotypes that are used to justify discrimination, harassment and violence toward trans people and has its roots in cisnormativity (the commonplace assumption that cisgender, having a gender identity that is in line with the biological sex they were assigned at birth, is the “norm”). Transphobia describes stereotypes, negative attitudes and prejudice towards trans people that are more widespread or systemic in society and its institutions. This form of prejudice may be unintentional and unrecognized by the person or organization responsible, making it all the more entrenched and difficult to address. Society’s bias that there is only one right, normal expression of gender underpins this form of prejudice and the discrimination that can result from it.23


[13] See OHRC Policy on Ableism and Discrimination Based on Disability

[14] See OHRC Ageism and Age Discrimination Fact Sheet

[15] See Ontario Human Rights Commission Report

[16] See Government of Ontario Data Standards for the Identification and Monitoring of Systemic Racism

[17] ibid

[18] See OHRC Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed

[19] See OHRC Policy on Discrimination and Harassment because of Sexual Orientation.

[20] See OHRC Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed

[21] Microaggression: More Than Just Race, 2010, Derald Wing Sue Ph.D.

[22] Adapted from OHRC Fact Sheet: Racial Discrimination, Race and Racism.

[23] Adapted from OHRC Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression