This section provides a brief description of the laws that pertain to smoking and the creation of no-smoking policies in housing co-ops in Ontario.

Co-operative Corporations Act

Ontario’s housing co-operatives are governed by the Co-operative Corporations Act. Members of co-operatives democratically elect their boards of directors as well as move and vote on bylaws, including those related to smoking, at members meetings (e.g. Annual General Meetings). Since June 2014, co-operatives can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board to enforce their bylaws, which can include bans on smoking.

Members served with an eviction notice may appeal to have that decision overturned at a members’ meeting only if their co-operative’s bylaws allow it.

Download the Co-operative Corporations Act.

Smoke-Free Ontario Act

In Ontario, smoking is banned in all indoor public places and workplaces, including restaurants and bars. Under this law, smoking is prohibited in the common areas of multi-unit dwellings including foyers, elevators, stairwells, laundry rooms, corridors, etc. This is true regardless of the number of units. However, the Act does not apply in situations where people are sharing “common areas” within private units such as kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms.

In certain situations, such as the provision of daycare or home health care, the Act recognizes private dwellings as workplaces and smoking is also prohibited.

The law allows certain types of residences that are also workplaces to provide “controlled smoking areas” (also known as designated smoking rooms) for the use of residents only, provided they are separately enclosed, meet strict ventilation requirements, and are only used by residents who are able to smoke independently. By law, the following types of multi-unit facilities are permitted to have controlled smoking areas:

  • Nursing homes, charitable homes for the aged, supportive housing residences;
  • Retirement homes that provide care;
  • Psychiatric facilities; and
  • Residential facilities for veterans.

Hotels and other types of temporary guest accommodations are explicitly exempted from Ontario’s smoke-free legislation, meaning that smoking is permitted in private rooms unless the hotel has adopted a no-smoking policy.

Download the Smoke-Free Ontario Act.

For more information, visit Smoke-Free Ontario online.

Ontario Human Rights Code

Every province and territory in Canada has a piece of legislation governing human rights. In Ontario it is called the Human Rights Code and it exists to give Ontarians equal rights and opportunities on such matters as employment, housing and services. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario is a quasi-judicial body that exists to resolve discrimination claims filed under the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Code provides protection from discrimination on the basis of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, marital status, family status, being a recipient of public assistance and record of offences. When there is a conflict between the Code and another Ontario law, the Code usually has priority.

In a housing context, the Human Rights Code contains some provisions of interest concerning smoking and no-smoking policies–sections 2 (1), 11 (1) (a) and 17 (1) and (2):

“Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to the occupancy of accommodation, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status, disability or the receipt of public assistance.”

and

“A right of a person under Part 1 is infringed where a requirement, qualification or factor exists that is not discrimination on a prohibited ground but that results in the exclusion, restriction or preference of a group of persons who are identified by a prohibited ground of discrimination and of whom the person is a member, except where (a) the requirement, qualification or factor is reasonable and bona fide in the circumstances…”

and

“A right of a person under this Act is not infringed for the reason only that the person is incapable of performing or fulfilling the essential duties or requirements attending the exercise of the right because of disability.”

and

“No tribunal or court shall find a person incapable unless it is satisfied that the needs of the person cannot be accommodated without undue hardship on the person responsible for accommodating those needs, considering the cost, outside sources of funding, if any, and health and safety requirements, if any.”

It is possible that a housing co-op member with asthma, allergies, COPD or any other disabling health condition that is being made worse by involuntary exposure to second-hand smoke could file an application at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on the basis that the housing co-op corporation did not take reasonable steps to resolve the problem. The member could argue that the corporation has a responsibility to limit or ban smoking in the building in order to accommodate their disability.

We are not currently aware of any such cases in Ontario, although in British Columbia we know of a couple of cases where tenants have filed human rights applications against social housing providers for failure to eliminate second-hand smoke or to provide smoke-free housing. One of the cases, which involved the Greater Vancouver Housing Authority, was settled before it went to a full hearing and no further details are available. However, the case is important as the adjudicator denied the landlord’s application to have the tenant’s application dismissed, and determined that the tenant’s application had merit which deserved a full hearing.

The second case involved thirteen tenants filing a discrimination complaint against Kiwanis Park Place in Crescent Beach for being exposed to other tenants’ second-hand smoke. More…

On the flip side, smoking is not identified in the Code as a ground for protection. In 2007 the Ontario Human Rights Commission held a series of public hearings to examine the issue of human rights and rental housing. It subsequently published a report entitled Right at home: Report on the consultation on human rights and rental housing in Ontario. On the issue of smoking, the report concluded that “there are conflicting decisions as to whether or not smoking can be considered a disability and whether allowing people to smoke is an appropriate accommodation.”

Further, in the summer of 2009 the Ontario Human Rights Commission published guidelines to help improve equal access to rental housing in Ontario. The document, Policy on Human Rights and Rental Housing, is Canada’s first comprehensive look at how barriers to housing can be indentified and eliminated.

Section 6.1 deals with smoking, and concludes by stating:

A housing provider has a duty to explore accommodation requests from tenants with any form of disability. Tenants may also be asked to cooperate and help facilitate the provision of accommodation for themselves, and where appropriate, for their fellow tenants as well.

However, given the inherent risks associated with smoking, a housing provider may have little or no obligation to accommodate a tenant’s need to smoke when to do so would amount to undue hardship, for example, by negatively affecting the health and safety of other tenants.

This issue of smoking as a disability has been considered a number of times over the years, and Canadian courts have consistently ruled–with one exception–that addiction to nicotine is not a disability. The one exception was a British Columbia Labour Relations Board decision in an employment context. Cominco, a nickel smelter, had banned smoking on the plant site, and while the Board found that the ban discriminated against heavily addicted smokers, it also recognized that the employer’s no-smoking policy was reasonable and was adopted to protect non-smokers from a known hazard. The matter was referred back to the parties to resolve how to accommodate the heavily addicted smokers and Cominco’s smoking ban remains in effect today. More on Cominco…

It is important to note that this decision applied to an employment situation. With respect to housing, it is unlikely that an arbitrator or judge would prefer to have residents be continually exposed to second-hand smoke rather than infringe on someone else’s supposed right to smoke. Just because someone exercises their freedom to smoke does not mean they have an absolute right to smoke.

The key issue is nicotine withdrawal. Even if in the future an adjudicator or judge ruled someone’s smoking as a disability, the focus then becomes one of reasonable accommodation by the corporation to the point of undue hardship. This could potentially include the provision of an outdoor smoking area, physical modifications to the smoker’s unit or provision of nicotine replacement therapy, etc.

It should also be noted that a disability designation is very individual. If a judge were to rule that a smoking co-op member was disabled, it does not mean that all smokers in the building (or in the rest of the province) would also be recognized as being disabled.

Download the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Download the Guide to Your Rights and Responsibilities Under the Human Rights Code.

Download the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association Human Rights and No-Smoking Policies for Multi-Unit Dwellings fact sheet.

Download more information on smoking and human rights case law.

Municipal Bylaws

Municipal governments have the authority to ban or restrict smoking in public places within their geographic limits and to create smoking bylaws that exceed Ontario’s smoke-free legislation. There is a growing number of municipalities in this province that have passed bylaws prohibiting smoking within a certain distance from doorways to public places and/or buildings owned or leased by the municipality.

Contact your local municipality to find out if any such bylaw applies to your building, or visit the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association online for more information.

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