Equality before and under law and equal protection and benefit of law
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Affirmative action programs
(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
PURPOSE OF ACT
Purpose of Act
2. The purpose of this Act is to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person shall be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability and, in the fulfilment of that goal, to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities by giving effect to the principle that employment equity means more than treating persons in the same way but also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences.
The Abella Commission Report documented the practices Canadians have adopted that have negative effects on certain groups in society. The Report used the term systemic discrimination to refer to the unintentional barriers that screen out women, visible minorities, persons with disabilities and Aboriginal people from jobs they may be qualified to do. Systemic discrimination in the labour market produces high unemployment rates, lower than average salaries, and concentrations in low-status jobs for these groups of people. Clearly, systemic discrimination calls for systemic remedies that address the barriers that limit the full participation of these groups in productive work.
In addition to the term systemic discrimination, the Commission used employment equity and equality in particular ways. The Abella Report refers to equality as both equal and different treatment in order to achieve fairness; that is, treating people the same, in spite of their differences, as well as treating people as equals by accommodating their differences. The Commission coined the term employment equity to describe employment practices which eliminate discrimination and thereby provide equitable opportunities in employment.
In recent years, the concept of employment equity has evolved. The original goal of employment equity was to identify and remove barriers to equitable opportunities. That remains an important goal; however, employment equity is also valued as a means to enhance diversity. Removing barriers leads to greater diversity within an organization, which in turn can bring new perspectives and innovation. It is also recognized that the four groups designated in the Employment Equity Act are not the only groups who face discriminatory barriers resulting from historical disadvantage and who could, therefore, benefit from employment equity practices.