Harassment and discrimination


Whether you study or work at the University of Ottawa, it’s important to respect others and to feel respected in return. Your study or work environment definitely has an important place in your life. If you feel that your rights are being violated, or that you’re experiencing harassment or discrimination, know that you can change this situation.

The Human Rights Office serves University of Ottawa students, support staff and faculty. We handle complaints of discrimination and harassment under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act, with full impartiality. We strongly believe that raising awareness is the best way to prevent incidents.

If you, or someone you know, is dealing with a situation of harassment or discrimination, feel free to contact us. Our services are confidential and we make every effort to advise and assist you.

Statement on sexual violence

The Human Rights Office seeks to help maintain an environment of understanding, respect and trust.


What is harassment?


Harassment is engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct known, or that ought to reasonably be known, to be unwelcome. Individuals who engage in harassment use comments, actions or threatening or abusive language in an attempt to intimidate, humiliate, belittle, embarrass, demean, undermine or dominate the person targeted. In general, harassment involves repeated action. However, one unwelcome incident, if serious enough, can be considered harassment if it is experienced as such and causes lasting harmful effects.

Morever, harassment affects the dignity or psychological or physical intregrity of a member of the University community and results in a harmful work, learning or service environment for that member.

Workplace harassment

On June 15, 2010, changes were made to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) such that measures that protect workers from workplace violence and workplace harassment were strengthened. By “workplace harassment”, we mean:

the act of engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.

Workplace harassment is included in the scope of Policy 67a. Note that workplace harassment does not include the legitimate management of employee performance (see section “Examples of what does not generally constitute harassment” below).

Unionized employees should refer to their collective agreements for more information.

Examples of harassment

Harassment may take place between individuals of different status or between peers. Some examples of what generally constitutes harassment are:

  • intimidation, threats, verbal abuse, blackmail, yelling or shouting;
  • actions or comments destroying a person’s reputation, prestige or influence (repeated insinuations or unfounded accusations);
  • repeated attempts to exclude or isolate a person;
  • persistently asking someone out, despite being turned down;
  • making inappropriate telephone calls;
  • sending or posting inappropriate electronic content (text messages, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.);
  • regularly following or constantly waiting for someone, watching that person’s comings and goings;
  • telling or circulating offensive jokes;
  • systematically interfering with normal work or learning conditions, sabotaging places or instruments of work or learning;
  • abuse of a situation of formal or informal authority or power to threaten a person’s job or undermine his or her performance.

Examples of what does not generally constitute harassment

  • the normal exercice of management rights (so long as the manager's attitude is respectful, fair and open and that the management rights are exercised professionally with the aim of correcting rather than punishing an individual);
  • managing disciplinary issues;
  • supervising the quality of work;
  • allocating or organizing work;
  • assessing performance;
  • work-related stress*;
  • conflicts*

* Unresolved conflicts and build-up of stress inducers can be harassment risk factors.

Defining conflict

A conflict or conflict situation may arise due to contradictory, incompatible or oppositional feelings, opinions or interests between individuals. Sometimes, a conflict may arise due to a problem in communications. Although there are various forms of conflict, all conflicts are emotionally charged (anger, fear, sadness, etc.) Conflict may sometimes result in a physical or verbal assault on an individual.

It is vital that the conflicts that inevitably arise at work or in a learning environment be effectively resolved. The sooner the problem is addressed, the less of an impact these behaviours will have on the work or learning environment.

Please consult us in such cases: our aim is to find common ground between the parties and not to target the differences behind the conflict.

Harassment may stem from a conflict or an accumulation of unresolved conflicts, disagreements, failure to communicate effectively or difficulty in respecting or including others.

Sexual harassment

What is sexual harassment?


Policies No. 67 & 67a provide the following definition of sexual harassment:

  • unwanted sexual attention from a person who knows or ought reasonably to know that such attention is unwanted; or 
  • implied or expressed promise of reward for complying with a sexually-oriented request; or 
  • implied or expressed threat of reprisal or actual reprisal for refusal to comply with a sexually oriented request: or 
  • a sexual relationship which constitutes an abuse of power in a relationship of trust; or
  • sexually oriented remarks or behaviour which may reasonably be perceived to create a negative psychological and emotional environment for work and study.

Explaining the definition

Sexual harassment encompasses a wide assortment of behaviours ranging from sexist remarks to sexual assault. Harassing behaviour can be verbal (foul and vulgar language, inquiries or comments about an individual's sex life, teasing because of unattractiveness), physical (brushing up against the body, inappropriate touching, sexual assault), visual (display of pornographic pictures) or can consist of gestures (leering and ogling).

For sexual harassment under clause a), the unwanted attention must not have been solicited by the complainant. The perpetrator "must know or ought reasonably to have known" that such behaviour was unwelcomed. Unless the circumstances are such that the offender "ought reasonably to have known" the complainant has to indicate that the behaviour is unwanted. This need not entail active resistance or an outright no as long as the conduct or body language of the complainant demonstrates "unwelcomeness" to a "reasonable person". Clauses b) and c) describe situations where one person, in a position of power with respect to the other, promises rewards in return for sexual favours or threatens reprisal if sexual advances are not accepted or returned. The inclusion of the word "implied" recognizes that requests and/or threats might be couched in ambiguous terminology or stereotypical language. The fact that a person participates in the sexual behaviour does not preclude the finding of sexual harassment if the compliance was obtained through the use of threats or promises. Under clause d), sexual harassment consists of a breach of trust and/or the creation of a negative environment for work or study resulting from sexual relationships between faculty members and students or between supervisors and employees or students.

Under clause e), sexual harassment is also the creation of a hostile environment through the use of sexually-oriented behaviour. In contrast to the first three clauses of the definition, the sexually-oriented behaviour need not target one person in particular. Usually the objectionable behaviour must be persistent or repeated to constitute sexual harassment. However, the severity of the behaviour can result in a finding of sexual harassment on the basis of one incident.

Examples of sexual harassment
  • Making sexist, sexually suggestive or offensive remarks, insults or comments;
  • Telling jokes of a sexual nature;
  • Persistent invitations or solicitations
  • Display of offensive images of a sexual nature;
  • Caressing, kissing or fondling someone against his or her will;
  • Invasion of personal space (getting too close for no reason, brushing against or cornering someone);
  • Unwelcome sexual advances which may or may not be accompanied by explicit or implicit promises or threats;
  • Inappropriate questions, suggestions or remarks about a person’s sex life;
  • Spreading rumors or gossip of a sexual nature;
  • Making repeated remarks about someone’s appearance;
  • A teacher is using a pseudonym and sends a comment to a student about her outfit.

It is considered an aggravating factor if the person committing the harassment is in a position of authority.

Consult the Ontario Human Rights Commission's guide on sexual harassment for other examples.

Romantic and sexual relationships between professors and students

General guidelines

The University's objective is to create an environment of mutual respect. Members of the University community are free to pursue relationships based on mutual consent. The Ontario Human Rights Code does not prohibit consensual sexual relationships between faculty members and students or between supervisors and employees.

That said, the University recognizes the potential for abuse in sexual relationships where an imbalance of power exists between the parties, such as in relationships between faculty members and students. Issues of consent, conflict of interest and a negative study environment are potential concerns.

Those in positions of authority (professors, supervisors, etc.) should be aware that they could be held accountable should a student with whom they had what they thought was a consensual sexual relationship file a complaint of sexual harassment. In sexual relationships where there may be a power imbalance between the two parties, the burden rests with the person in authority to ensure that the relationship has been and continues to be welcome.

Because of these serious risks, the University strongly disapproves of romantic or sexual relationships between faculty members and students, and it expects members of its community to refrain from engaging in them.


Students with questions or concerns, or who wish to file a complaint of sexual harassment, can contact the Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Officer. They may also consult Policy 67a — Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment.


What is discrimination


Discrimination means that a distinction has been made based on an individual's personal characteristics. This distinction can be intentional or unintentional, direct or indirect. Personal characteristics include but are not limited to, a person's race, ancestry, ethnic origin, creed, place of origin, colour of skin, citizenship, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, sexual identity, age, marital status, family status, record of offences, political allegiance or disability.

Discrimination results in erecting barriers or creating obligations, disadvantages or situations of unequal treatment that withhold or limit access to privileges, advantages or political, social or economic rights available to other members of society.

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission « discrimination »is generally considered to be :

  • not individually assessing the unique merits, capacities and circumstances of a person;
  • instead, making stereotypical assumptions based on a person's presumed traits;
  • having the impact of excluding persons, denying benefits or imposing burdens.

Unionized employees should refer to their collective agreement for more information on this topic.

Systemic or institutional discrimination

One of the more complex forms of discrimination is systemic or institutional discrimination.  It refers to a situation that unintentionally singles out particular people and results in unequal treatment. It also refers to a situation where a requirement, qualification or factor exists that is not overt discrimination, but results in the exclusion, restriction or preference of a group of persons who are identified by personal characteristics specified below. Systemic discrimination does not apply when the requirement, qualification or factor is in good faith and legitimate under the circumstances or is permitted by law.

Examples of systemic discrimination

  • Racialized students are being redirected towards technical programs rather than university programs;
  • A customer service employee from a visible minority in is not taken into consideration for promotion;
  • An older woman is being denied a job as a waitress because she did not fit the ‘’restaurant’s profile’’;
  • A job application is being rejected because of the candidate’s foreign name.
Examples of discrimination

Discrimination can be direct or indirect; it puts an individual or a group at a disadvantage. Comments and action are considered discriminatory if they are made based on any of the following prohibited grounds.

Prohibited Ground

  • Ancestry
  • Age
  • Record of offences (employment only)
  • Citizenship
  • Skin color
  • Creed
  • Marital status
  • Gender expression
  • Gender identity
  • Receipt of public assistance (housing only)
  • Place of origin
  • Sexual orientation
  • Etnicity
  • Race
  • Sex or pregnancy
  • Family status
  • Disability

Examples of discrimination based on these prohibited grounds

  • Offensive remarks
  • Displays of discriminatory material
  • Failure to accomodate based on a disability
  • Paying men and women who perform equivalent work a different salary based on their sex
  • Applying policies and practices that prevent certain individuals from being employed
  • Refusing to employ, or to continue to employ, a person or treating that person inequitably in the workplace
  • Refusing a person to access to goods, facilities or stuctures
  • Providing a person with goods, services, facilities or structures in a way that results in their being treated diffently and negatively
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