Glossary of Terms
Action – A court process between opposing parties whereby the initiating party seeks to enforce a right, prevent or compensate a wrong, or punish a criminal offence through the formal legal system.
Administrative Law – The area of law dealing with the rules and procedures followed by government agencies as they relate to the public. These agencies often take the form of boards, commissions, and tribunals (see Administrative Agency below).
Administrative Agency - Any board, tribunal or commission created under federal or provincial legislation to implement government policies (for example, (for example, the Immigration and Refugee Board, the Alberta Human Rights Commission or Tribunal).
Affidavit – A written statement of a person who signs and swears to the truth of the statement. Affidavits are a very common mechanism by which evidence is put before the Court, especially in civil cases.
Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench- The superior Alberta Trial Court. The Queen's Bench hears trials in civil and criminal matters and appeals from decisions of the Provincial Court. It has inherent jurisdiction to settle a full range of legal disputes.
Alberta Human Rights Commission - An administrative agency established by the Alberta Human Rights Act to receive and investigate discrimination complaints pursuant to the Alberta Human Rights Act. The Alberta Human Rights Commission investigates discrimination complaints against the Provincial government and private businesses operating in Alberta. If necessary, it will refer a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal.
Alberta Human Rights Tribunal - The Alberta Human Rights Tribunal is the administrative agency authorized to legally determine if discrimination occurred within the meaning of the Alberta Human Rights Act. It conducts formal hearings on human rights complaints that have been referred to it from the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
Appeal – An official challenge to a lower court decision or (when permitted by a tribunal's enabling legislation) a tribunal’s decision.
Bona fide Occupational Requirement – This term arises in human rights law when discussing an employer's defence to a discrimination complaint. A bona fide occupational requirement describes a requirement that may be or may appear discriminatory on its face, but is genuinely necessary to perform that job and therefore is permitted to continue. For example, for positions in heavy manual labour, it may be a bona fide occupational requirement to be able to lift heavy objects, despite the fact that this may disqualify persons with physical disabilities.
Canadian Human Rights Commission - An administrative agency established by the Canadian Human Rights Act to receive and investigate discrimination complaints pursuant to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Canadian Human Rights Commission investigates discrimination complaints against entities within the legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada (including federal government departments and agencies, Crown corporations, banks, airlines, and other federally regulated employers and service providers.) If necessary, it will refer a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
Canadian Human Rights Tribunal – The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is the administrative agency authorized to legally determine if discrimination occurred within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It conducts formal hearings on human rights complaints that have been referred to it from the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms - A bill of rights that forms part of Canada’s constitution. It protects individual rights and freedoms from unreasonable and unjustified government action.
Chief of the Commission and Tribunals - The Head of the Human Rights Commissions. This person oversees the Commission’s goals and directions, and has the power to review and reverse decisions made by the Director. There is a Chief of the Commission and Tribunal for both the Alberta Human Rights regime and the Canada Human Rights regime.
Civil Actions – A court action between private parties to settle a dispute (for example, a contract dispute, a divorce, or a negligence case). Imprisonment is not a feature of civil cases -- typically monetary compensation is awarded to a wronged party.
Complainant – This term is used in human rights law to describe a person who launches a formal complaint.
Damages - The monetary compensation awarded to a party who has suffered damage, loss or injury by another.
Defendant – This term arises in civil actions. It is the name of the person or entity to against whom an action is commenced. This party is defending themselves against the action.
Director - The person responsible for resolving complaints brought before Human Rights Commission. Directors of Human Rights Commissions have the authority to make various determinations about your complaint before they reach the tribunal stage. For example, a Director may decide that your case should be dismissed or continued. The Directors' decisions are subject to review by the Chief of the Commission and Tribunals.
Discrimination – A distinction, whether intentional or not but based upon grounds relating to personal characteristics of the individual or group, which has the effect of imposing burdens, obligations or disadvantages on such individual or groups not imposed on others, or which withholds or limits access to opportunities, benefits, and advantages available to other members of society.
Duty to Accommodate – The obligation of an employer to change a workplace or its policies to address the particular needs of employees to the point that it would be too onerous or expensive to do so.
Enabling Legislation - The statute (written law passed by legislature) that grants an administrative board, tribunal, or commission the authorization for it to take certain actions. For example, the enabling legislation of the Alberta Human Rights Commission is the Alberta Human Rights Act.
Federal Court - Canada's national trial court that hears and decides legal disputes arising in the federal jurisdiction. Federal court is a statutory court, meaning it only has the authority to determine issues that have been specifically delegated to it by a written law. Presently, it hears cases involving the federal government, intellectual property rights, admiralty and maritime disputes, and appeals against decisions of federal boards and tribunals (including the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal).
Judicial Review – The mechanism by which judicial supervision of administrative agencies occurs. On application, courts can review administrative decisions to ensure that the government and its agencies act reasonably, fairly and within the power granted to them.
Jurisdiction - The area over which a given entity's (court, board, tribunal) legal authority extends.
Party – A participant in an action (civil actions or human rights complaints).
Plaintiff – A party who commences a civil action, seeking compensation or redress for a wrong done to them.
Pleadings – A document written by each party to a civil dispute outlining their legal position and the facts relevant to the dispute. Pleadings must be filed with the court and formally served on all other parties. The most common pleadings are the Statement of Claim (filed by a Plaintiff), and the Statement of Defence (filed by a Defendant).
Privative Clause - A section in an act or piece of legislation that seeks to eliminate or limit the ability of Courts to review that decision.
Procedural Law - This term stands in contrast to substantive law (defined below). Procedural law consists of the technical rules by which a court hears and determines what happens in a civil lawsuit, or criminal or administrative proceedings. For example, the rules for serving documents are procedural.
Quasi-judicial – A term used to describe the actions of an entity that is not part of the judiciary, but functions like the courts.
Remedy – The means used to redress or compensate a wrong or injury. Remedies can take many forms: monetary compensation, striking down or amending a law, demanding that a service provider take certain steps to comply with human rights laws or reduce discrimination.
Respondent - This term arises in (among other places) human rights complaints. The respondent is the person against whom a human rights complaint is launched.
Small Claims Court – Alberta Provincial Court (Civil Division). Small Claims court hears civil claims up to $50,000. It offers a simplified procedure from the Court of Queen's Bench, and is meant to be accessible for people who do not have a lawyer (although lawyers are increasingly appearing in this court).
Standing - The legal right of a person or group to bring an action against another person or the government.
Service – Delivery of communication of a pleading, a notice, or other documents in an action to the opposing party.
Settlement – An agreement reached between opposing parties in a civil matter before the final judgment
Substantive Law - This term stands in contrast to procedural law (defined above). Substantive law is the content of a statutory, or written law. Substantive law includes the rights, duties and defences that exist to prove your claim (or defend your claim). For example, the steps needed to prove negligence are part of substantive law. In addition, assault and self-defence are matters of substantive law.
Tribunal - An administrative body authorized to settle judicial or quasi-judicial matters.
Undertaking - A formal pledge or promise to do something (usually a promise to provide an answer or produce records in a civil action)
Undue Hardship - When raised in the context of human rights claims, undue hardship occurs when an accommodation to alleviate a discriminatory practice is disproportionately burdensome. For example, significant financial costs or serious disruption to business could constitute undue hardship.