We all know no shirt and no shoes means no service, but stores,
restaurants, and some other businesses often find other ways to refuse
service or even sometimes bar customers.
Generally, a private business has broad rights to ban customers
or impose restrictions on them as long as those policies are legal and
don’t violate anyone’s human rights.
Each province has its own human rights code and there’s also
the federal Human Rights Act, which say there are certain grounds on
which a person can’t be discriminated against. Those include:
- national or ethnic origin;
- sex (includes pregnancy);
- sexual orientation;
- marital status;
- family status;
- conviction for an offence for which they’ve been pardoned or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered;
Included in disability is the use of service animals. They’re
not seen as “pets,” and a business can’t deny a customer who has one.
They likewise can’t levy any surcharges for a service animal, although
they could charge for any damages it incurs as long as those charges are
part of an existing policy.
The act also says it is discriminatory to deny any good, service, facility, or accommodation based on any of those grounds.
Retail stores often ban people caught shoplifting; casinos turn
away known cheaters; or a workplace could protect an employee by
banning their abusive ex-spouse from entering
It’s not unusual to see stores impose limits on customer entry,
often relating to large groups of young kids or teens, who are seen as a
shoplifting threat. This veers into thornier legal territory as it
could be classified as age discrimination.
However, discrimination isn’t always as simple as “I was denied
service, so I was discriminated against.” There can be more nuance and
mitigating factors in the law.
Of course, there are situations where businesses must discriminate, even on otherwise prohibited grounds.
A minor couldn’t claim age discrimination if a shop won’t sell them cigarettes or they’re turned away at a liquor store. Businesses serving alcohol are typically expected to deny service to someone who is clearly intoxicated.
Even if you appear to have been discriminated against, you might have to prove that it actually impacted you in a negative way.
In 2004, B.C. resident Ralph Stopps was denied membership at a
women’s-only gym. It may sounds like discrimination, but the B.C. human
hights tribunal rejected his claim. While it found he was clearly denied
membership based on his gender, he failed to demonstrate two important
things: that his human dignity was adversely affected by the rejection
and that he somehow suffered as a result.
The tribunal also concluded his case was basically a political
stunt, he fully expected to be rejected, and did it only to make a human
Competing rights can also complicate a discrimination claim.
In the Stopps case, the tribunal also considered that some
members went to that club specifically for a female-only space where
they feel more comfortable and safe. Stopps had rights, but so did the
In 2012, a Toronto woman complained after she being denied a
haircut by a barber whose religion forbid him to touch a woman outside
his family. While the woman was clearly turned away because of her
gender, the barber’s religion is also an important human right.
Your rights are constitutionally enshrined, but business owners
have their rights as well. Check your province’s or territory’s human
rights code and seek legal advice if you want to launch a discrimination
The Canadian Human Rights Act: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/h-6/FullText.html