A Brief History of Employment Equity in Canada

Mid 1970s

Canada’s major unions, including the Canadian Labour Congress, Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and others begin their work on workplace equality through Affirmative Action.


Parliament adopts the Canadian Human Rights Act,


The federal government launches a voluntary Affirmative Action Program aimed at private industry


The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is enacted.


The federal government introduces the Federal Affirmative Action Program which focuses on increasing the representation of women, Aboriginal Persons and persons with disabilities in the federal public sector.  These voluntary programs did not bring about significant changes.

The Royal Commission on Equality in Employment is established.  The Commission was instructed to explore  ways of “promoting equality in employment” for the four designated groups: women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and visible minority persons.


Royal Commission Report (“Abella report”) is released, which introduces the term “employment equity” and contains a number of recommendations, including the need for implementing mandatory employment equity laws.


Visible minorities are added to the groups covered by the federal government’s Affirmative Action Program.

Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms comes into effect,.  This “Equality Rights” section contains protection against discrimination and makes a provision for special programs whose purpose is the “amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged persons or groups” (employment equity programs).


The federal Employment Equity Act is passed.  This Act does not initially apply to the federal public service, but only to federally-regulated private sector companies and crown corporations.


The National Employment Equity Network is created by a coalition of equality-seeking groups. The mandate of this coalition is to lobby to the federal government to make the employment equity program more effective.


The Ontario Employment Equity Act is passed covering provincially regulated public and private sector workplaces.

The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement is formalized. Article 23 of the Agreement, Inuit Employment withinGovernment, provides that “each government organization shall prepare an Inuit employment plan to increase and maintain the employment of Inuit at a representative level.”


The Ontario Employment Equity Act is repealed by the Conservative government.

Parliament adopts a revised federal Employment Equity Act, which applies to the federal Public Service.


Settlement agreements are signed between the federal government, the assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.  The settlement provides for measures to increase the representation and retention of Aboriginal Persons in the federal public service.


The Embracing Change Initiative is launched in the federal public service, which includes a  1-in-5 hiring goal for racialized people, becoming the first such voluntary measure by an employer.  The initiative includes funding for employment equity initiatives to increase the representation of racialized workers. Unfortunately, the goal was never met and the funding was not renewed.


Quebec enacts employment equity legislation by implementing An Act respecting equal access to employment in public bodies and amending the Quebec Charter of human rights and freedoms.


The Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights begins studying “issues of alleged discrimination in the hiring and promotion practices of the federal public service and the extent to which targets to achieve employment equity for minority groups were being met”. The Committee begins hearings and calls several witnesses to testify about employment equity in the public service.


The new Public Service Employment Act is implemented, which contains provisions regarding employment equity in the staffing process in the federal public service.


The Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights delivers its first report, entitled “Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service – Not There Yet”, which finds that not enough progress is being made, and contains a number of recommendations.


After more in-depth study of the issue, the Senate Standing Committee releases its second report, “Reflecting the Changing Face of Canada: Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service”.   This second report is more critical of the failure of the federal public service to achieve employment equity after 15 years under the Act, and makes 13 detailed recommendations.

The Harper Conservatives cancel the mandatory long form census and replace it with the voluntary National Household Survey, which creates problems for EE data collection.


The federal government budget implementation legislation removes all legal requirements for employment equity for federal contractors, leaving it up to the Minister to determine the requirements


The federal government announces changes to the Federal Contractors Program, reducing the number of employers covered and reducing the requirements of the program. 


The Trudeau Liberals restore the mandatory long form census and introduce the Canadian Survey on Disability to collect data on persons with disabilities.




February 2, 2017