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Employment equity (Canada): Wikis


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Employment equity refers to Canadian policies that require or encourage preferential treatment in employment practices for certain designated groups: women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, and visible minorities. Employment equity goes beyond mere non-discrimination in requiring these specific groups be targeted for proactive treatment.



The roots of employment equity are in the 1984 Abella Commission, chaired by Judge Rosalie Abella. She considered the US term, affirmative action, but decided not to use that term because of the emotions and ill will surrounding affirmative action.[1] In its place she created the term “employment equity” for the Canadian context. Judge Abella’s report later became the foundation of the Employment Equity Act of 1986, later amended as the Employment Equity Act of 1995.

Protected groups

The Employment Equity Act designates four groups as the beneficiaries of employment equity:

1) Women

2) People with disabilities

3) Aboriginal people, a category consisting of Status Indians, Non-status Indians, Métis (people of mixed French-Aboriginal ancestry in western Canada), and Inuit (the Aboriginal people of the Arctic).

4) Visible minorities, a category defined as the following (using the nomenclature of the Canadian government): Blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans, Latin Americans, Pacific Islanders, South Asians, and West Asians/Arabs.

The term “non-white” is used in the wording of the Employment Equity Act and in employment equity questionnaires distributed to applicants and employees. This is intended as a shorthand phrase for those who are in the Aboriginal and/or visible minority groups. In this context, the use of the term non-white does open the door to ambiguity. For example, people who are Arabs or Latin Americans may consider themselves to be white, yet the federal government treats Arabs and Latin Americans as members of the visible minority category.[2]

Needless to say, this leaves white males as having the singular distinction of being the only ethnic group not protected by the legislation


The Employment Equity Act is federal legislation, and as such, applies only to certain industries that are federally regulated under the Canadian constitution, namely banks, broadcasters, telecommunication companies, railroads, airlines, maritime transportation companies, other transportation companies if inter-provincial in nature, uranium-related organizations, federal crown corporations (companies where the federal government owns the majority of shares), and corporations controlled by two or more provincial governments. Thus the scope of the Employment Equity Act is quite limited, and the vast majority of employers, including nearly all retailers and manufacturing companies, fall outside its jurisdiction. That said, many large employers use the Employment Equity Act as a model, and so the unofficial scope of the act is far larger.

The Canadian federal government also administers the Federal Contractors’ Program (FCP). This is not part of the Employment Equity Act, but rather is a non-legislated program that extends employment equity to organizations beyond the scope of the Act.[3] The FCP states that suppliers of goods and services to the federal government (with some specified exceptions) must have an employment equity program in place.

Some provinces use the term employment equity in conjunction with their enforcement of provincial-level human rights legislation (for example, British Columbia[4] and Saskatchewan[5]), but no province has a law that is an analogue to the federal Employment Equity Act. The government of Quebec requires that employers show preference to people with disabilities, which could be considered a form of employment equity legislation.


Employment equity is surrounded with controversy, as has occurred with similar programs in the US and other countries. Opponents of employment equity argue that it violates common-sense notions of fairness and equality.[6] It also raises the specter of institutionalized official discrimination similar to the way that apartheid was practiced in South Africa, as one ethnic group is selectively punished based on skin colour and gender alone. Additionally, because there is no termination clause in the Act that specifies how long it should remain in force, hiring patterns could become crystallized with the discrimination becoming the new norm. On the other hand, proponents argue that employment equity is necessary to amend historic wrongs and to ameliorate the economic differences among groups.[7][8] A particular point of controversy has been the category visible minorities, which lumps together numerous ethnic groups, some of which are affluent and some of which are severely disadvantaged.[9][10][11]

Distinct from other human rights concepts

The Canadian Human Rights Act has long prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, and certain other grounds. The Canadian Human Rights Act continues to be in force alongside the Employment Equity Act. The key distinction between the two laws is that the Canadian Human Rights Act merely prohibits discrimination, whereas the Employment Equity Act requires employers to engage in proactive measures to improve the employment opportunities of the four specific groups listed above. Note that the Canadian Human Rights Act protects a wider range of minorities (such as sexual minorities and religious minorities), while the Employment Equity Act limits its coverage to the aforementioned four protected groups. In Canada, employment equity is a specific legal concept, and should not be used as a synonym for non-discrimination or workplace diversity.

Employment equity should not be confused with pay equity, which is an entirely distinct concept. Pay equity, as a Canadian legal term, refers to regulations requiring that predominantly female occupations be paid the same as predominantly male occupations of equal importance within a given organization.

See also


  1. ^ Abella, R. S. (1984), Report of the Commission on Equality in Employment, Ottawa: Government of Canada, ISBN 0660117363, 
  2. ^ Mentzer, M. S. (January 2002), "The Canadian experience with employment equity legislation", International Journal of Value-Based Management 15 (1): 35–50, doi:10.1023/A:1013021402597, ISSN 0895-8815 
  3. ^ Federal Contractors' Program, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, 2003-05-07,, retrieved 2009-08-07 
  4. ^ British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, (within that website, look under the topic "Special Programs")
  5. ^ Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission,
  6. ^ Burke, R. J., & Black, S. (1997), "Save the males: Backlash in organizations", Journal of Business Ethics 16 (9): 933–942, doi:10.1023/A:1017991421416, ISSN 0167-4544 
  7. ^ Agocs, Carol (2002), "Canada's employment equity legislation and policy, 1987-2000: The gap between policy and practice", International Journal of Manpower 23: 256–276, doi:10.1108/01437720210432220, ISSN 0143-7720 
  8. ^ Jain, H. C., & Lawler, J. J. (2004), "Visible minorities under the Canadian Employment Equity Act, 1987-1999", Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations 59 (3): 585–611, ISSN 0034-379X, 
  9. ^ Hum, D., & Simpson, W. (September 1, 1999), "Wage opportunities for visible minorities in Canada" (PDF), Canadian Public Policy/Analyse de Politiques 25 (3): 379–394, doi:10.2307/3551526, ISSN 0317-0861, 
  10. ^ Mentzer, M. S., & Fizel, J. L. (1992), "Affirmative action and ethnic inequality in Canada: The impact of the Employment Equity Act of 1986", Ethnic Groups 9 (4): 203–217, ISSN 0308-6860 
  11. ^ Swidinsky, R., & Swidinsky, M. (2002), "The relative earnings of visible minorities in Canada: New evidence from the 1996 census", Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations 57: 630–659, ISSN 0034-379X 

External links



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