The Human Rights Tribunal is a specialized tribunal with jurisdiction to hear and judge litigations in matters of discrimination (s. 10 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms) and harassment (s. 10.1 of the Charter) based on race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap. The Tribunal also adjudicates cases regarding exploitation of the elderly or persons with a disability (s. 48 of the Charter) and affirmative action programs (s. 86 of the Charter).
With regards to discrimination, the Charter prohibits distinctions based on the grounds enumerated above and that have the effect of nullifying or impairing the full and equal exercise of a person’s rights and freedoms. The Charter also forbids discrimination in various sectors of activity, including the making of a judicial act, for example the lease of a dwelling (s. 12 of the Charter), the access to public transportation or public places (s. 15 of the Charter) as well as in employment, including the hiring, the duration of the employment and the termination of the employment (s. 16 of the Charter).
With regards to harassment, the Tribunal imposes sanctions on vexatious remarks, acts or demands, linked to a prohibited ground of discrimination, that are continuous over time, either by their repetitive nature or by their severity. As such, the Charter prohibits, notably, inappropriate remarks or behaviors related to the sex, race or sexual orientation of a person who, despite having stated his or her disagreement, suffers prejudice due to the persistence of the perpetrator or due to the harmful nature of the act, such as a physical assault. Consequently, a single act that is severe can lead the Tribunal to conclude the existence of harassment, in violation of the Charter.
The protection of the elderly and persons with disabilities against exploitation, due to their vulnerability, applies to all forms of exploitation: financial, physical, moral and psychological.
Furthermore, the State is bound by the Charter (s. 54 of the Charter). Therefore, in addition to adjudicating litigations concerning private disputes between individuals, the Tribunal adjudicates litigations arising from the activities of Québec’s legislature, government and public bodies.
Considering its specific jurisdiction, the Tribunal is part of a large forum of specialized institutions that promote the protection of Human Rights and Freedoms on the regional, national and international scale.
The Interpretation of the Charter
The Charter of Human Rights and Freedom, the constitutive act of the Tribunal, guarantees a diversity of rights, unequalled in Canada. The Charter is closely linked to various international instruments concerned with the protection of human rights, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
As international instruments inspired the framework and the wording of the Charter, they prove to be significant sources with regards to the interpretation of the Charter. In addition, the Tribunal interprets the Charter as per certain principles that have gained international approbation and that are considered essential references in both Canada and Québec.
The principle of human dignity is of foremost importance in the interpretation of the Charter. The respect of human dignity is not only a fundamental right guaranteed in section 4 of the Charter, it is in fact a notion that is at the heart of the human rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by the Charter.
The Tribunal favours a broad and liberal interpretation of the Charter. As the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Québec Charter is a fundamental law and no provision of any Act, even subsequent to the Charter, may derogate from the Charter (s. 52 of the Charter). Any exception that is allowed to derogate from the rights guaranteed by the Charter must be interpreted in a restrictive manner. These approaches provide the Charter with the dynamism required to respond to the evolution of Québec society and help assure the effective protection of the values and rights enshrined therein.
The Remedial Powers of the Tribunal
In case of unlawful interference with a right or freedom recognized by the Charter, section 49 of the Charter stipules that the Tribunal can order any necessary measure required to put an end to the interference, as well as condemn the guilty party to pay damages to the victim(s) for material and/or moral prejudice suffered. It is worth noting that, unlike other human rights legislation in Canada, the Charter does not set a maximum amount of damages that can be awarded to the victim by the Tribunal.
In addition, measures of a more systemic nature are sometimes required in order to effectively put an end to the unlawful interference and to prevent its repetition. Consequently, the Tribunal holds significant remedial powers, enabling it to issue diverse and creative remedial measures in order to cease the violation of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter.
Section 49 of the Charter also stipulates that the Tribunal can condemn the guilty party to punitive damages if the interference with the rights or freedoms is intentional.