BC Social Studies Lesson Plans

Discriminatory Laws and Reform Processes in Canada

Law 12


Discriminatory Laws and Reform Processes in Canada

Big Idea

Laws can maintain the status quo and can also be a force for change.

Essential Question

How has the legal system and its laws been used to maintain inequalities?

Learning Standards Content

Students are expected to know the following

  • Structures and powers of the federal and provincial courts and administrative tribunals

Curricular Competencies

Students are expected to be able to do the following

  • Analyze continuities and changes in legal systems or codes across jurisdictions
  • Make reasoned ethical judgments about legal systems or codes

Core Competencies

I can identify and discuss examples of past discriminatory laws in Canada and how they reinforced inequalities for the targeted group.

I can analyze the legacy of discriminatory laws, for the communities previously targeted, and for Canadian society.

I can explain how changing social values and community awareness influence the reform process of laws.

First People's Principles of Learning

Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities.
  • History of Racism in Canada (7:46 mins total). Show the first minute of the video. Stop after introduction with the First Nations young man. Discuss with students: What did you assume he was referring to? What stereotypes led you to that conclusion? Review the definitions of stereotypes, racism, and discrimination.
  • Before resuming the video, tell students that they will be shown a timeline of racism in Canada. Ask them to think about which of these examples are laws. Stop video at 5:19.
  • Before resuming, ask students: What responsibilities do we have to prevent racism? Show the rest of the video. After, introduce FPPL: “Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities”. Students can reflect on this idea through a journal entry.
  • Have students score themselves on the Discriminatory Laws and Policies Awareness Rubric of historical discriminatory laws in Canada. Explain that this is a learning tool, not an evaluation.
  • After completing the rubric, students can discuss their answers in groups and identify gaps in their knowledge.
  • Introduce the essential question - How has the legal system and its laws been used to maintain inequalities?

Part 1: Case Study—Modelled Example

  • Introduce discriminatory law case studies. The class will read the Canadian Encyclopedia article on the Indian Act. With the teacher moderating, the class will fill out the first case study sheet together.
  • Prior to filling out the legacy section, the teacher will discuss the First Peoples Principle of Learning that “Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities”. What is the legacy of this ongoing law for First Nations people in Canada? What responsibilities do other Canadians have, particularly in the context of truth and reconciliation? To what extent are new Canadians responsible for learning this history?


Part 2: Case Study—Individual Research



Part 3: Expert Groups

  • Hand out Class Discussion Questions. Have students meet in “expert” groups with others who completed the same case study topic.
  • Students should be “experts” in their topic and will be expected to contribute information, ideas and share reflections.


Part 4: Class Discussion

  • Facilitate a whole-class discussion of the case studies using the Class Discussion Questions.
  • As part of the discussion, prompt class to consider the following questions about the reform process:
    • How do social and political forces lead to change in the law? (Factors such as: popular support for change, response to historical events, changing social values or community awareness, expectations of the legal system)
    • What forces reinforce continuity and status quo? What forces affect change in the short and long term?


Part 5: Law Reform Process

  • Provide students with the Know-Wonder-Learn chart about the process of reforming laws.
  • Have students write down facts that they know about the process reforming laws in Canada in the “know” column.
  • Then, have students consider gaps in their knowledge and identify questions to write in the “wonder” column.
  • Finally, provide students with access to the Law Reform Resources section on the BC Law Institute page as their main source for the “Learn” section.

Written Reflection:

  • Identify and describe a discriminatory law and the inequalities it reinforced.
    • What political, social, and economic effects did the law have on those it discriminated against?
  • Explain the social and political forces leading to amendments or repeal of the law.
    • What were the main reasons for change?
    • Did popular support from dominant groups influence change or impede it?
  • Analyze the legacy of this law and the reform process.
    • What is the impact on the community previously targeted?
    • What is the impact on Canadian society as a whole?

Change the Law Assignment

  • Have students identify a current law they believe should be changed. Collect evidence and make a presentation to the class convincing them it should be changed
  • Have class do a “Parliament vote” in favour of changing a law


Investigate the Canadian Human Rights Act

  • What are some examples of protections we have?
  • How would one respond to discriminatory practices through this law?
  • Compare human rights laws in other countries. What is similar or different to the protections in Canada?

British Columbia Law Institute. 2020. "Law Reform Resources." British Columbia Law Institute. https://www.bcli.org/law-reform-resources.


British Columbia Teachers' Federation. [n.d.]. "Racism in Canada Timeline." British Columbia Teachers' Federation. https://bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/SocialJustice/Issues/Antiracism/RacismTimeline.pdf.


British Columbia. Ministry of International Trade. 2020. "History of Wrongs towards B.C.'s Chinese Canadians." September 1. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/multiculturalism-anti-racism/chinese-legacy-bc/history.


Centre for Race and Culture. [n.d.]. "Canada: A Living History: A Living Timeline of Canada's Race Relations for Canada150." Centre for Race and Culture. https://cfrac.com/initiatives/canada150/.


Clement, Dominique. “Human Rights Law.” Canada’s Human Rights History, 2020, https://historyofrights.ca/history/human-rights-law/


Décoste, Rachel. “The Most Discriminatory Laws in Canadian History.” HuffPost Canada, HuffPost Canada, 16 Nov. 2013, https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/rachel-decoste/most-discriminatory-canadian-laws_b_3932297.html?guccounter=1


Palmer, Howard, et al. “Prejudice and Discrimination in Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 4 Mar. 2015, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/prejudice-and-discrimination 


Roy, Jennifer. “Legalized Racism.” Canadian Race Relations Foundationhttps://www.crrf-fcrr.ca/images/stories/pdf/ePubFaShLegRac.pdf 


Tarnopolsky, Walter Surma. “Discrimination in Canada: Our History and Our Legacy, 1989.” https://ciaj-icaj.ca/wp-content/uploads/documents/import/1989/TARNOPOL.pdf?id=1591&1598877802

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Last Reviewed

October 01, 2020

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