COVID 19 – The Impact on Your Children’s Rights
*The information provided in regards to COVID-19 is changing frequently. The same is true of the law. The law is constantly evolving as the facts surrounding us are changing rapidly. This Tip Sheet is not legal advice, but provides current legal information up to August 14, 2020*
Are you worried about how the recent rules and regulations surrounding COVID-19 are going to affect your child? Have you been unsure about what to do if your child cannot wear a mask? Are you aware of the Human Rights Code?
The purpose of this tip sheet is to provide you with background information about your child’s legal rights surrounding COVID-19. It is important to understand the Ontario Human Rights Code and the meaning behind ‘reasonable accommodation'.
In this new COVID world, many parents have had questions and concerns about their children. We hope to provide you with some answers by addressing some of the frequently asked questions. Please scroll down to the end of the page for more resources.
Human Rights Code
In Ontario, there is a law called the Human Rights Code (the “Code”) that protects the rights of people who, for example, have disabilities. This law is supposed to protect people from being treated differently and discriminated against because of factors such as:
Race or colour
Under the Code, people who provide services must do their best – within reason – to accommodate people with disabilities, so that they have the same access and benefits as everyone else.
What is reasonable accommodation?
Accommodation is something that is done or changed to help a person with a disability access a service or participate in it.
People who provide services are supposed to accommodate, or in other words, try their best, to find a way to help people with disabilities access the service they want to access.
For example, a service provider may require that customers wear masks, but some children with autism might find it difficult to wear a mask because of the way the mask feels on their face.
Under the Code, a community centre would have to accommodate a child with a disability as much as they could and would not be able to force them to wear a mask.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Does my child need to wear a mask?
In Ontario, many cities recently brought in mandatory mask laws, which require people to wear masks when they are inside. These laws are supposed to help slow the spread of COVID-19, but not everyone can wear a mask and not everyone has to wear one. For example, in Toronto, it is mandatory to wear a mask inside, but the following people do not have to wear a mask:
Children under the age of two;
Anyone with a medical condition that makes it difficult to wear a mask;
Anyone who can’t take off or put on a mask without help;
Anyone who needs accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Click here to read more about the Toronto bylaw that made it mandatory to wear a mask inside.
2. When does my child have to wear a mask? Does my child need a doctor’s note if they can’t wear a mask?
Many parents are wondering if they need to show a doctor’s note to prove that their child can’t wear a mask. The short answer is that in most cases, you do not need a doctor’s note!
For example, if your child has a disability that makes it difficult to wear a mask or stops them from wearing a mask, you do not have to show medical proof.
In Niagara, for example, there is a face mask by-law, but you do not have to show a doctor’s note to be exempt from wearing a mask inside. The same is true in Toronto, and some information has been mistakenly shared that you need to show a “mask exemption card” to prove that your child can’t wear a mask. That is not true!
If you are going on an airplane, you will need a doctor’s note to show that your child has a medical reason for not wearing a mask. Please click here to read the more about the law for needing a doctor’s note if you cannot wear a mask and are going to fly on an airplane.
3. Is my child allowed to visit recreation centres, playgrounds, stores and other areas that have opened during the reopening phases if they can’t wear a mask or because they are using a wheelchair?
Under section 17 of the Code, discriminating against people with disabilities is not allowed, as all service providers have a duty to accommodate, which applies during the COVID-19 pandemic as well.
People with disabilities have the right to be free from discrimination when they receive goods or services or use facilities. “Services” can mean a lot of things. It is a broad category and can include privately or publicly owned or operated services. Some examples are:
Stores, restaurants and bars
Hospitals and health services
Schools, universities and colleges
Public places, amenities and utilities such as recreation centres, public washrooms, malls and parks
Services and programs provided by municipal and provincial governments, including social assistance and other benefits, and public transit
Both public and private organizations have the responsibility to recognize their human rights obligations and consider the potential disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on the vulnerable groups they employ or serve.
The organizations have the duty to accommodate persons in relation to COVID-19, unless it would amount to undue hardship based on cost or health and safety.
Therefore, your child is not prohibited from accessing public places, unless the organization can demonstrate undue hardship.
The institution or service provider has the responsibility to provide an explanation of undue hardship, and in a vast majority of the cases that does not pose as an obstacle.
4. What are my child’s rights with respect to how COVID-19-related information is communicated to them, e.g., using Braille, audio recordings, or using ASL or other sign languages?
In this new COVID world, persons with disabilities are definitely experiencing barriers to accessing public health information. The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities has advised that “information from national health authorities must be made available to the public in sign language and accessible means, modes and formats, including accessible digital technology, captioning, relay services, text messages, easy-to-read and plain language.”
The Government of Canada introduced the Accessible Canada Act (the “ACA”) in 2019 to benefit everyone in Canada, especially persons with disabilities.
The goal of the ACA was to help create a barrier-free Canada through the proactive identification, removal and prevention of barriers to accessibility. In relation to this Act, the Government of Canada consulted directly with the individuals to understand how to make Canada more accessible. During the consultations, accessibility to information and communication was identified as one of the significant areas for improvement. As a result, the Government of Canada is working on initiatives to improve accessibility and remove barriers between Canadians with and without disabilities.
As noted above, the spirit of the legislation and policy direction by the provincial and federal governments has been to remove barriers and increase accessibility by providing alternate formats of information to persons with disabilities. Some of the organizations that provide accessible information are :
Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work: COVID-19 Resource Library
National Network for Equitable Library Service: Accessible COVID-19 Charts and Information.
Other Relevant Resources
ARCH Disability Law Centre - For more information about your legal rights.
Created by SMILE's Summer Law Interns.