Employment rights for new Canadians: Reasonable Doubt

The Ontario Human Rights Code prevents employers from discriminating against a job applicant based on his or her citizenship


More than half of Toronto residents are born outside of Canada. Still, employers continue to discriminate based on immigration status and citizenship. Muhammad Haseeb learned this in his search for employment with Imperial Oil Ltd.

Mr. Haseeb was an international student who graduated with an engineering degree from McGill University. He applied to work for Imperial Oil during his final semester, while he was on a student visa. Upon graduation, he would become eligible for a postgraduate work permit for a three-year term. This permit allows individuals to work with any employer anywhere in Canada.

Imperial Oil had a policy requiring project engineers to be able to work in Canada permanently in order to be eligible for a permanent and full-time position. Mr. Haseeb received an offer of employment with the condition that he provide proof of his eligibility to work in Canada “on a permanent basis.” Imperial Oil required proof in the form of a Canadian birth certificate, Canadian citizenship certificate, or a Canadian certificate of permanent residence. Since Mr. Haseeb could not provide such proof, the job offer was revoked.

What did the employer do wrong?

The Ontario Human Rights Code prevents employers from discriminating against a job applicant based on his or her citizenship. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario concluded that Imperial Oil’s policy of asking job applicants to prove that they could work in Canada permanently was discriminatory.

The “permanent basis” requirement effectively meant job applicants to Imperial Oil had to be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. But being permanent in Canada was not required for the essential duties of the position. For instance, Imperial Oil had occasionally hired experienced engineers in the past who did not meet their permanency requirement policy but did possess a skill set in high demand. Mr. Haseeb won his case.

Lessons For Employees

Rights for employees exist even if they have not been offered, or started a job. This includes human rights and other employment standards rights.

Employers can inquire about whether an employee can legally work in Canada, but their immigration questions should stop there. They are not allowed to deny a candidate a job based on citizenship status – or whether the candidate is a permanent resident, thanks to Mr. Haseeb. 

Overly restrictive criteria about immigration status also disproportionately affect young people. This is because many students find themselves in the same position as Mr. Haseeb – looking for employment after finishing school on a student visa. While the Tribunal did not address it in Mr. Haseeb’s case, he may have also had a discrimination claim under the Code on the basis of age.

Mr. Haseeb’s case expands the human rights protections for new Canadians searching for work in Ontario and we expect to see more cases like his, until employers cease discrimination based on immigration status.

Nicole Simes is a lawyer at MacLeod Law Firm, practising in the areas of Employment and Human Rights Law. Reasonable Doubt appears on Mondays.

A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.

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