Introduction to Human Rights (6:I)

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by the Law Students' Legal Advice Program on August 1, 2023.

When faced with a human rights issue, the first step is to determine whether the provincial legislation, the BC Human Rights Code, RSBC 1996, c 210 (HRC or the “Code”), applies or whether the problem falls within federal jurisdiction under the Canadian Human Rights Act, RSC 1985, c H-6 (CHRA).

Section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867 30 & 31 Victoria, c 3 (UK), reprinted in RSC 1985, App II, No 5, lists the matters that fall under federal jurisdiction. If the complaint is covered by federal legislation, the matter would be handled under the CHRA by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). The limitation date under the federal legislation is 1 year. If the complaint against the respondent (the party who is being alleged to have contravened the Code) is based on an action they undertook in their capacity as an agent or employee of a body that falls under federal jurisdiction, then that complaint could be governed by federal legislation. However, a complaint involving a federally regulated employee who is alleged to have discriminated against a provincially regulated employee in a shared workspace may possibly be brought under the provincial HRC, depending on the circumstances. For more information, see the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal v Schrenk, 2017 SCC 62 in which the court confirmed that discrimination in the employment context “may include discrimination by [the complainant’s] co-workers, even when those co-workers have a different employer”: para 3.

Examples of some industries that are federally regulated and therefore fall within federal human rights jurisdiction are:

  • Banking – but not most credit unions (note Coast Capital Savings is now under federal regulation).
  • Telecommunications (internet, television and radio) – but not call centres.
  • Transportation that crosses provincial or international boundaries (airlines, trains, moving companies, couriers).
  • First Nations governments (but not necessarily all businesses or services provided on reserves)
  • RCMP

The CHRC has a useful assessment tool that can assist in determining if an entity falls under federal jurisdiction. It can be found at This tool is not always accurate, so if an entity is not found there but you have reason to believe that it is federal, follow up with further inquiries and analysis. See Section IV of this chapter for more on matters under federal jurisdiction.

Section 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867 lists the matters that fall under provincial jurisdiction, including property and civil rights in the province, as well as generally all matters of a merely local or private nature in the province. If a complaint is covered under the HRC, the matter will come before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal (BC HRT). Human rights violations that have taken place in BC will usually fall under the provincial legislation. In 2018, the limitation date under provincial jurisdiction was extended to one year from the previous six-month limitation period.

In either case, because human rights legislation is considered to be “quasi-constitutional” in nature, the legislation must be given a liberal and purposive interpretation to advance the broad policy purposes underlying it.

© Copyright 2023, The Greater Vancouver Law Students' Legal Advice Society.