If you choose to file a complaint of discrimination under the NWT Human Rights Act, you will be asked for an area and a ground. The Human Rights Act protects your equality human rights in five different areas based on a number of grounds.

It is against the law to discriminate against anyone in any of the following areas:

  • Employment including looking for work
  • Membership in a professional organization, workers’ association, or trade union
  • Access to public services such as health care and education, and to facilities such as stores and restaurants
  • Tenancy, which is renting a home or apartment, or leasing a business space
  • Published material such as newspapers, magazines, signs, or advertising


Grounds are characteristics or traits that people have by nature, circumstance, or choice. Many of these grounds are protected under the Act because it is your right to be treated equally no matter what characteristics you may or may not have. Below is a list of definitions that can help you understand what sorts of things fall under each ground. Please remember, these definitions are guidelines, not legal definitions. If you think you have been discriminated against, call us!

It is against the law to discriminate against anyone based on any of the following grounds:

Race, Colour, Ancestry, Place of origin, Ethnic origin, and Nationality: These grounds are related and, because it is often difficult to draw clear distinctions between them. They are generally intended to get at allegations of racism.

Religion or Creed: These include religious beliefs and practices, as well as sets of personal beliefs that can be categorized as spiritual or religious in nature.

Age: Age is not defined in the Act.  There are times when age discrimination is acceptable, such as a minimum age of driving, working, drinking and voting, or some services to seniors.

Disability: The Act provides examples of disability.  For the purposes of human rights complaints, a mental or physical condition is considered a disability when it:

• is permanent, ongoing, episodic, or of some persistence, and;

• imposes a substantial or significant limit in carrying out some of life’s functions or activities.

Sex: includes whether you are male or female and pregnancy.

Sexual orientation: includes gay, lesbian, heterosexual, or bi-sexual.

Gender identity: includes transgendered persons and those who identify with or live as a gender that is different from their biological sex.

Gender expression: is how a person publicly presents their gender and includes how they dress, wear their hair, use make-up, as well as their body language, and voice. Gender expression is separate from a person’s gender identity and sexual orientation.

Marital status: includes civil status – married, single, divorced, widowed – and discrimination based on whom you are married to.

Family status: includes whether you are a parent or not, and discrimination based on who you are related to.

Family affiliation: The NWT is the first jurisdiction to include this ground.  The Act does not provide a definition.  The definition of this ground will evolve with decisions and precedents set by adjudicators and the courts.

Political belief, Political association: includes political beliefs associated with a formal political party; membership in a political party; political persuasions such as socialism, neo-liberalism; and, opinions on current political issues.

Social condition: defined in the Act as, “inclusion, other than on a temporary basis, in a socially identifiable group that suffers from social or economic disadvantage resulting from poverty, source of income, illiteracy, level of education or any other similar circumstance.”

Pardoned criminal conviction or Record suspension: includes discrimination because of a conviction for which someone has received a pardon.  It does not include un-pardoned convictions.  This leaves it open for employers to screen out job applicants based on criminal records, regardless of whether the convictions are related to the job.

Area + Ground = Complaint


You might file a complaint alleging discrimination if a landlord refuses to rent to you because you are on income assistance. In this example, the AREA would be Tenancy and the GROUND would be social condition.

You might also file a complaint alleging discrimination if an employer refused to hire you because you have a mental or physical disability.  In this example, the AREA would be Employment and the GROUND would be disability.

For more examples of how areas and grounds work together, check out our Know Your Rights publication.

Still have questions? Let’s Talk!

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