Why Do Human Rights Matters Go Through The HRTO?

The HRTO’s Role: Human Rights Cases in Ontario

If you’ve ever had a human rights concern, whether it has been in or out of the workplace, you might have done some research into where you can go to have your claim heard. Or, you might have looked into similar cases to find out the steps that other people have taken to seek justice.

One question that is often asked by clients is: Why, for human rights complaints, do they have to make their claim through the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (“HRTO”) rather than through civil courts, such as the Ontario Small Claims Court or the Superior Court of Justice?

This article will describe the reason why the HRTO has an important place in Ontario’s legal system, and why human rights cases will usually be funneled through it.

Learn About the Human Rights Application Process in Ontario

Gain a thorough understanding of the Human Rights Application Process in Ontario through our exclusive webinar. This 30-minute presentation, including a Q&A session, guides you through the necessary forms and steps to file an HRTO application. It’s an invaluable resource exclusively available on our website.


What is Concurrent Jurisdiction?

Concurrent jurisdiction refers to situations where certain cases will be able to be pursued in multiple legal forums, which, in this case, means that human rights cases can often be pursued at the HRTO or through a civil court. Individuals with a human rights case will be able to choose which legal forum they would like to go to, though they will only be able to choose one or the other. 

That being said, when it comes to human rights issues, it is usually encouraged for individuals to take their cases to the HRTO. 

What is the HRTO?

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) is one of thirteen tribunals that make up Tribunals Ontario. These tribunals are meant to streamline cases with similar focuses to a single resolution method to reduce some of the strain on the civil courts. Cases that primarily focus on human rights are encouraged to apply to the HRTO, the same way that cases focused on tenancy issues are encouraged to apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board. 

Cases that come through the HRTO will usually involve a mediation process, where parties are brought together to attempt to solve the issue through an organized mediation. If the mediation is unsuccessful, the case will be presented to an HRTO adjudicator who will make a decision based on the evidence.

The remedies that are offered by the HRTO tend to be monetary but can sometimes include specific actions that the losing party has to take. However, the specific actions that the HRTO is empowered to order are limited in scope.

What is the Difference Between Civil Courts and the HRTO?

Civil courts like the Ontario Small Claims Court or the Superior Court of Justice focus on a number of legal topics, including family law, labour law, tort law, and criminal law. These courts have a more traditional structure involving litigation and judges rather than adjudication. These courts have fees associated with filing applications for cases.

The remedies that these courts can offer go beyond the ones that the HRTO can offer. They can sometimes include orders for specific actions from the losing party. 

There are minimal fees that come with filing an application to the HRTO, unlike filing a claim through civil courts in Ontario, which have higher fees. 

Why Might a Civil Court Throw Out My Case?

In order to stop a large number of applications coming to the civil courts in Ontario every day, cases without enough evidence, or that could be taken to tribunals instead can sometimes be thrown out by the court. There is a cost associated with filing an application to the court, which will be lost if the case is thrown out. There may also be a fee associated with having the case thrown out in some situations.

A court may decide that, if the focus of a case is exclusively a human rights issue, that case belongs at the HRTO, and therefore should have been brought there rather than through the civil court system. 

What Should I Consider When Choosing a Forum?

If a case is focused exclusively on a human rights claim, it should usually go through the HRTO. That would be the case, for example, where a worker is asking for compensation from their employer based on the discriminatory treatment that they suffered through at their workplace. 

However, if a case is focused on human rights in one area, but also has instances of other legal issues, such as a tort or an issue of employment law, then it might be a good idea to file an application through a civil court. That way, the issues can be addressed at the same time.

In either case, speak to a lawyer about how best to approach your particular situation and get the right result.


In Ontario, cases that focus exclusively on human rights issues are usually taken to the HRTO, which is a tribunal that addresses human rights concerns in the province. However, human rights cases have concurrent jurisdiction, which means that they can also be filed through the civil court system.

In situations where your case only deals with human rights, it is encouraged that you use the HRTO to avoid issues and save you time and money. However, if you are pursuing multiple claims at the same time, which are not exclusively human rights issues, your lawyer may recommend that you file your claim through Ontario’s civil court system.

You should always consult a lawyer as soon as possible if you believe that your human rights have been violated. If you have questions about this topic or about the various court systems, make sure to reach out to the talented team at Achkar Law.

Contact Achkar Law

If you are an employee or an employer with questions about a human rights complaint, our team of experienced human rights lawyers at Achkar Law can help.

Contact us by phone toll-free at 1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to assist. 

Further Reading