Joyce is starting high school this year and she couldn’t be more excited!  As the reigning 100 meter regional track champion she is looking forward to the challenges that training on a high school team will bring.

Three weeks after the start of classes Joyce sees a posting on the Phys. Ed. bulletin board for track tryouts.  She quickly signs up for the 100 meter tryout which will take place after school that day.

When she arrives after school she stretches and warms up with the other candidates, but is a little surprised that there aren’t any other girls trying out for the team.

When the coach arrives at the field, he begins yelling instructions to divide everyone into groups of runners.  Joyce listens and joins the other 100 meter candidates.

When the coach approaches their group, he notices Joyce and says with a smile, “Honey, young ladies can watch and cheer from the bleachers.  You’ll have to let your boyfriend try out on his own.”  The other boys let out a little giggle at this.

“Oh no coach.  I’m trying out for the 100 meters team too.”

“Sorry, but this is a boys team,” the coach says, more seriously.

Joyce laughs at her own mistake.  “Oh sorry coach.  I didn’t know there was a separate tryout for the girls team.  In middle school everyone tried out together, and they would take the best runners for each of the teams.  Do you know when the girls tryouts are?”

“There is no girls team at this school.  Track is really a boys sport” the coach replied.

Stunned, Joyce has no response.  She is shocked that anyone would think that a sport could be for only girls or boys; she has always been taught that anything boys can do, girls can do too.

How can Joyce respond?

Human Rights Law in Ontario

In Ontario, we are all protected from discrimination as a result of a provincial law called the Human Rights Code.

However, not all discrimination is protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code.For example, the Human Rights Code does not legally protect discrimination that happens between two private individuals (such as ex-partners or friends). The Human Rights Code deals with discrimination in the following social areas: employment; housing; contracts; services, goods and facilities; and unions or occupational/professional associations.

School, including elementary, secondary and post-secondary is considered a “service”.  The result is that Joyce is legally protected from discrimination that occurs at school.  According to the Human Rights Code, her teachers, guidance counselors and school sports coaches are not allowed to discriminate against her.

What is discrimination?

Treating someone unfairly may be discrimination if the unfair treatment is because of one of the following characteristics or grounds: race; colour, ancestry, place of origin, citizenship, ethnic origin, creed (religion), receipt of social assistance (housing only), sexual orientation, marital status , family , status, record of offenses (employment only, must have been pardoned), age, disability, and sex (includes gender identity and being pregnant).

Discriminatory treatment includes denying someone a benefit, excluding someone from an opportunity and/or imposing a different obligation on someone, or harassing someone because of a characteristic listed above.

In order to make out a claim for discrimination under the Human Rights Code you need to show evidence of a link between the bad conduct and a protected ground.  And the discrimination had to have occurred in one of the protected social areas.

In Joyce’s situation, she experienced discrimination on the ground of sex and the discrimination occurred in the social area of services (ie school).  The link between the bad conduct and the protected ground is clear.  Joyce is female and she was told by the coach that she could not try out for the school track team because she is female. The coach imposed discriminatory treatment on Joyce by denying her the opportunity to try out for the team. He treated her differently only because she is female.

What can Joyce do?

Joyce can file an Application (commonly called a “human rights complaint”) to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.  A Tribunal is like a court, but it is specialized in a certain area of the law (in this case, human rights law) and is a bit less formal than court. 

Sometimes it is best to try and work it out with the person or organization causing the discrimination before filing at the Tribunal, as situations can sometimes resolve without having to take the serious legal step of starting a case.  For example, Joyce can talk to her Principal about this unfair rule and see if she or he is willing to talk the coach into letting girls try out for the team.

It is always best to speak to a lawyer if you feel you are experiencing discrimination.

If you are under age 18 and live in Ontario, you can call Justice for Children and Youth at 416.920.1633 (or toll-free at 1.866.999.5329) to talk to a lawyer for free.

If you are any age and live in Ontario, you can contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre:

To read the Ontario Human Rights Code click here.

This scenario was written by PLE Team volunteer Marsha Rampersaud.  Legal info was written by JFCY.