Racism

The Commission receives inquiries about racism and accepts complaints about discrimination under the Alberta Human Rights Act. It also works with communities and organizations to help prevent discrimination and promote respectful behaviours.

What is racism?

Racism is a system of advantage and oppression based on race. It occurs when a more powerful or privileged group directs their racial prejudice towards a less powerful or privileged group. This can lead to a racial group being excluded, limited, oppressed, or discriminated against.

Racism exists in different forms:

  • personal, such as a person’s attitudes, biases, and behaviours
  • institutional or systemic, such as an organization’s polices or practices, or a society’s rules that create a power imbalance
  • cultural, such as social attitudes towards non-dominant ethnic and racial groups

Racism is discrimination under the Alberta Human Rights Act if it is based on one or more protected grounds and in one or more protected areas. Racial discrimination often relates to a person’s race, colour, ancestry, or place of origin.

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What you need to know

  • Racism can occur regardless of what someone intended.
  • The Commission can help with racism prohibited by the Act but may not be able to help with all racism issues, such as those between private citizens.
  • A person who experiences racial discrimination in a protected area and based on a protected ground can make a complaint to the Commission within one year of the incident.
  • Communities and organizations can play a role in preventing racism and encouraging respectful and inclusive behaviours.
  • The Commission can work with communities and organizations to help prevent discrimination and promote respectful behaviours.
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Racism as a form of discrimination

Racism can take many forms. Examples of racism as a form of discrimination include:

  • racial profiling by shopkeepers, employers, or law enforcement officers
  • making jokes about a co-worker’s race, ancestry, or place of origin
  • not hiring a person because of their skin colour
  • refusing to rent to or serve a person because of their Indigenous identity
  • displaying racial slurs or offensive cultural terms or images in a public place

The Commission can only deal with complaints about racism that are discrimination under the Act. It can accept complaints of racism if the incident:

  • is based on one or more protected grounds,
  • occurs in a protected area, and
  • leads to a negative effect.

The racism may have a negative effect for the person experiencing it, regardless of what was intended. Examples of negative effects include:

  • insulting or intimidating behaviours that makes someone uncomfortable, including feeling threatened, shameful, fearful, or awkward
  • negatively influencing decisions about someone’s job performance or decisions they make about their job
  • being refused a job, promotion, or training opportunity because of racism or for speaking out against racism
  • being refused a service
  • being refused housing, such as a rental unit

The Act does not protect against all issues of racism. For example, your neighbour may make a racist and hurtful comment towards you. While this behaviour is not acceptable, the Commission cannot deal with complaints about private conversations between neighbours. You may contact the police to see if the behaviour is criminal. You can also contact an agency that supports individuals who have experienced racism.

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The Commission's work on racism

Racism can exist within institutions or systems. For example, an organization may have policies or practices that exhibit racism. Or a society may have rules, even unspoken ones, that oppress, exclude, or discriminate against certain groups.

Communities and organizations can play an important role in influencing the beliefs and behaviours of groups of people. For example, a workplace that models and enforces a policy promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion is more likely to have more respectful and tolerant employees.

The Commission receives many requests from communities and organization who want to take steps to prevent racism. We can help groups develop strategies that prevent discrimination, eliminate barriers, and create respectful and inclusive environments. Refer to the Education and engagement page to learn more about the Commission’s work.

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FAQs

No. To be discrimination, the hate, racism, harassment, or bullying must:

  • be based on one or more protected grounds,
  • occur in a protected area (such as employment, housing, or goods and services), and
  • lead to a negative effect.

For example, discrimination occurs if someone is refused a job, promotion, or training opportunity because of their religious beliefs or any other protected ground.

Section 3 of the Act also covers statements, publications, notices, signs, symbols, emblems, or other representations that indicate discrimination or an intention to discriminate again a person or class of person or are likely to expose a person or class of persons to hatred or contempt because of any of the protected grounds. Read the Section 3 page to learn more about this area.

The Commission can only deal with hate or racism that is protected under the Act. Some examples include:

  • If someone at work says hateful things to you because you have different political views, this is not discrimination under the Act.
  • If your neighbour makes a racist and hurtful comment towards you, this is not discrimination under the Act because conversations between neighbours are not protected.
  • If someone at work harasses you because you have different political views, this is not discrimination under the Act, as political views are not a protected ground.
  • If someone publicly distributes a flyer that has hateful comments about a particular group.

Hate, racism, harassment, and bullying are not acceptable, even if the Act does not cover it.

If the complaint relates to an issue that is protected under the Alberta Human Rights Act, the Commission’s complaint process applies. Read the Am I in the right place? page to learn more about what kinds of complaints the Commission can deal with.

Some incidents are discrimination. The Act prohibits discrimination that occurs in a protected area and is based on one or more protected grounds. If you have experienced, witnessed, or are part of a workplace or organization responding to a complaint of discrimination, learn more by reading the Responding to discrimination page. You can also make a complaint to the Commission within one year of the discrimination occurring.

Hate and harassment that is criminal in nature is protected under Canada’s Criminal Code. You can contact the police, Victims’ Services, or Crime Stoppers to report your concerns. The police decide if they have enough evidence to lay charges and the Crown prosecutors bring the offence to court.

Other incidents may not be discrimination under the Act, a hate crime, or criminal. This behaviour is still not okay. Contact an anti-hate agency to report your concerns and receive support. Examples include StopHateAB, Act2endracism (to report hate and racism against people of Asian descent), and the Anti-hate Hotline (to report an anti-Semitic incident). You can also contact 211 Alberta to find local supports.

The term hate crime describes a criminal offence against a person or property where the suspect is motivated fully or partly by hate. Hate crimes are protected under Canada’s Criminal Code. While there is no specific hate crime offence in the Code, there are several offences that relate to hate, including advocating genocide, public incitement of hatred, and willful promotion of hatred or anti-Semitism. An example of a crime motivated by hate is assaulting a person based on their race.

The standard for a criminal offence is high. Based on the evidence, the judge must believe the person committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Even if the behaviour is not criminal, it does not necessarily mean the behaviour is acceptable.

Contact your local police to learn more.

Racial profiling happens when someone treats an individual differently because of negative stereotypes related to their race or another protected ground. The Act protects against racial profiling that leads to discrimination if it occurs in a protected area and is based on one or more protected grounds.

Read the Racial profiling page to learn more.

Individuals, organizations, and communities have the ability and responsibility to create environments where all people are included, respected, and treated equitably. There are many ways for individuals and organizations to prevent and address racism.

Some steps you can take include:

  • learning about the history of racism and systemic racism, how it impacts your organization, and how to dismantle systems that oppress people
  • creating or updating organizational policies and best practices on countering racism, including their implementation
  • providing anti-racism learning opportunities and training for staff, leadership, and board members
  • sharing helpful, credible resources with staff, leadership, and board members. This can include Commission resources on those topics.
  • forming diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) internal working groups or committees
  • hiring experts to provide support for developing and implementing DEI strategies
  • joining or getting involved with anti-racism organizations or in initiatives such as the Alberta Anti-Racism Advisory Council, Calgary Anti-Racism Action Committee, or Edmonton Anti-Racism Advisory Committee

To learn more about how the Commission can support your efforts, refer to the Education and engagement page.