What are human rights?

Human rights are the fundamental rights which every person in the world is inherently entitled to. They include the rights to liberty, dignity and respect, and to live free from all forms of discrimination and harassment.

In Yukon, human rights are protected by Canada’s Constitution and by international, federal and territorial instruments discussed in more detail below.

International human rights

Respect for human rights requires the establishment of the rule of law above any arbitrary exercise of power at the national and international levels. A series of international human rights treaties and other instruments adopted since 1945 have developed the body of international human rights by conferring legal form on inherent human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, together with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols, form the International Bill of Human Rights, which is generally agreed to be the foundation of international human rights law. These instruments represent the universal recognition that basic rights and freedoms cannot be violated, are inherent to all human beings and equally applicable to everyone.

Over the years, a global commitment towards peace and prosperity has been translated into the law through international treaties and customary international laws under organisations such as the United Nations and the International Labour Organization. Through ratification of international human rights treaties, member states assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights.

In addition to supporting the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Canada is party to a number of multilateral human rights treaties and the seven principal United Nations conventions. These are the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (accession by Canada in 1970), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (accession by Canada in 1976), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ratified by Canada in 1976), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (ratified by Canada in 1981), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ratified by Canada in 1987), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified by Canada in 1991), and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ratified by Canada in 2010).
By ratifying (formally agreeing to) each of these conventions, Canada agrees to implement them and report back to the United Nations. The Supreme Court of Canada has also noted the importance of international human rights law in the country, including the influence of treaties on the interpretation of domestic legislation.

Federal human rights

By becoming a party to international treaties, a government undertakes to put into place domestic measures and legislation compatible with its treaty obligations and duties. In Canada, human rights are protected by constitutional entitlements and by federal and provincial statutory codes. These rights are consistent with those under international conventions and treaties to which Canada is a party.

There are two main federal pieces of human rights legislation in Canada; the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act. Forming the constitutional foundation of human rights in Canada, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 guarantees every Canadian broad equality rights and other fundamental rights such as the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. The Charter, however, only applies to governments, and not to private individuals, businesses or other organizations.

The Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977 protects people in Canada from discrimination when they are employed by or receive services from the federal government, First Nations governments or private companies that are regulated by the federal government such as banks, trucking companies, broadcasters and telecommunications companies. The Canadian Human Rights Act provides protection against harassment or discrimination when based on one or more grounds of discrimination such as race, age and sexual orientation.

Provincial human rights and the Yukon Human Rights Commission

Provincial and territorial human rights laws are very similar to the Canadian Human Rights Act and apply many of the same principles. They protect people from discrimination in areas of provincial and territorial jurisdiction, such as schools, housing, restaurants and most workplaces. Every province and territory includes slightly different prohibited or protected grounds for discrimination, covers different areas of society (e.g. employment, tenancy, etc.), and applies the law in a slightly different manner.

The Yukon Human Rights Act promotes and protects human rights in the Yukon. The act protects specifically from discrimination against people on the basis of ancestry, including colour and race, national origin, religion or creed, age, sex, including pregnancy, gender identity or gender expression, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, criminal charges or criminal record, political belief, association or activity, marital or family status, source of income and actual or presumed association with any of these grounds. People are protected from discrimination in areas of employment, receiving goods and services (including government and private business), housing, leasing or renting, membership in, or representation by, trade unions or professional associations and public contracts. For more information, please click here.

Established in 1987, the Yukon Human Rights Commission is responsible for enforcing and administering the Act. The Yukon Human Rights Commission also promotes equality and diversity through research, education and policy information on human rights.