Government services: What you need to know

The Alberta Human Rights Act protects members of the public against discrimination when they use government services. The AHR Act does not protect against poor treatment or bad service, unless it flows from any protected ground of discrimination. The protected grounds are race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation.  

Examples of discrimination covered by the AHR Act:

  • discriminatory access to government programs based on the protected grounds
  • lack of access to government facilities or buildings for people with mobility disabilities
  • lack of language and deaf interpreters for government-sponsored meetings and legal processes
  • lack of TTY services for people with hearing impairments
  • discriminatory treatment by municipal police officers based on an individual's disability, race, ancestry or place of origin

However, there are three exceptions that allow specific types of age restrictions that do not contravene the AHR Act: benefits for minors or seniors; seniors-only housing; and age-restricted condominiums, co-operative housing units and mobile home sites that existed before January 1, 2018. You can read more about age as a protected ground and about all protected areas and grounds.

Examples of issues not covered by the AHR Act:

  • court orders of any kind, including those regarding custody of children
  • complaints against members of the RCMP
  • complaints against the federal government or federal crown corporations such as the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

Government service providers are responsible for ensuring that their services do not discriminate against members of the public based on any of the protected grounds. To meet this obligation, government service providers need to review their services regularly to identify and eliminate any potentially discriminatory aspects of their service. For example, a government service provider might review the criteria for qualifying for a government program to see whether there is any discriminatory effect based on a protected ground such as religious beliefs or mental disability. Government service providers might also have to review their capacity to provide interpreters for individuals unable to communicate effectively in English, or for those with vision or hearing disabilities.

If a government service has a requirement that would discriminate against people based on a protected ground like mental disability or gender, the service provider has a duty to accommodate those affected to the point of undue hardship. Accommodation means making changes to any rules, standards, policies or physical environments to ensure that they don't have a negative effect on anyone based on any protected ground. For example, a government service that requires all users to attend weekly meetings discriminates against persons with physical disabilities that limit their ability to travel. The government service provider could accommodate such clients by allowing participation by telephone.

Individuals who require accommodation based on a protected ground have a responsibility to inform the government service provider of their needs. Doing so gives the service provider the opportunity to make any changes necessary to accommodate the individual making the request, as well as anyone else with the same or similar needs. For more information about the duty to accommodate, see the Commission human rights guide Duty to accommodate.

In some circumstances, discrimination may be reasonable and justifiable. A government service provider may refuse to offer services to some people based on one or more protected characteristics if providing the service would be an undue hardship. For example, a government agency that issues driver's licences may refuse to license applicants who cannot meet a vision test unless they can demonstrate their ability to drive.

Revised: July 4, 2018



Our vision is a vibrant and inclusive Alberta where the rich diversity of people is celebrated and respected, and where everyone has the opportunity to fully participate in society, free from discrimination.