Establishing a common understanding of the terms and concepts of human rights is an important part of capacity building for welcoming, caring, respectful and safe schools and communities. This idea was repeated during the research and consultation for this Toolkit. This page includes terms and concepts that will help you understand the content in the Toolkit. You can use these terms to start and support conversations about human rights.

This page is a fantastic place to start your work for building schools and communities that are welcoming, caring, respectful and safe for all Albertans.

The Common Language Guide can be also found on:

What does cis-gendered mean?

Cisgender—a nontranssexual person whose gender identity, gender expression and natal (birth) sex align with conventional expectations of male or female.

The prefix ‘Cis’ is of Latin origin, meaning “on the same side as or of”; therefore someone who is cisgender has a gender identity that is the same as the gender they were assigned at birth. Cisgender is the opposite of transgender/trans*. “Cisgender” is preferred over terms like “biological”, “genetic”, or “real” male or female which set up cis people as the norm and trans* people as the inadequate other.

What is Citizenship Education?

UNESCO defines citizenship education as the practice of educating children from an early age to become clear thinking and enlightened citizens who participate in decisions concerning society. It is considered training children for adulthood and citizenship.

Citizenship education has three main objectives:
  • Education people in citizenship and human rights through an understanding of the principles and institutions [which govern a province or nation]
  • Learning to exercise judgment and critical faculty
  • Acquiring a sense of individual and community responsibilities

Citizenship Education [pdf] focuses on the cultivation of civility, ethical behaviours, self-management skills and personal attributes that our society values. It emphasizes core values such as respect, responsibility, fairness, empathy and self-discipline. Citizenship education nurtures these attributes by promoting, modelling, teaching, expecting, celebrating and consciously practising them in everyday actions.

A growing body of school-based research suggests that character and citizenship education provides significant benefits to students, school culture and the community-at-large, which directly supports the goal of schools and communities that are welcoming, caring, respectful and safe for all.

The potential of character and citizenship education, and the key goals that it fosters, include:

  • A climate of respect for self and others
  • Attributes of active citizenship
  • Higher academic achievement
  • Improved interpersonal relationships
  • Greater self-discipline
  • Fewer behavioural problems
  • Focus on safe schools
  • Positive school culture
  • Enhanced employability skills
What is Discrimination?

Discrimination is an action or a decision that treats a person or a group negatively for reasons such as their race, age or disability. These reasons are known as grounds of discrimination. Federal employers and service providers, as well as employers and service providers of private companies that are regulated by the federal government, cannot discriminate against individuals for these reasons.

Discrimination may be distinguished from prejudice which is made up of unfavourable or discriminatory attitudes (not actions) towards persons of different categories. Racial, sexual and other types of discrimination can exist between individuals as well as be institutionalized as legal or administrative policy.

Discrimination is unfavourable treatment of an individual or groups on the basis of: gender, race, colour or ethnic or national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, social class, age (subject to the usual conventions on retirement), marital status or family responsibilities. It can take a variety of forms and may include the following:

Direct discrimination is straightforward in most cases. It happens when you’re dealt with unfairly on the basis of one of the protected grounds (compared with someone who doesn’t have that ground) and in one of the areas covered by the human rights legislation.

For example, refusing to admit as students, employ or promote individuals because they are black, female, disabled or because of their sexual orientation.

Indirect discrimination is often less obvious. Sometimes, a policy, rule or practice seems fair because it applies to everyone equally, but a closer look shows that some people are being treated unfairly. This is because some people or groups of people, are unable or less able to comply with the rule or are disadvantaged because of it. If this policy or practice is not reasonable, it may be indirect discrimination.

For example, all the information about workplace health and safety is available exclusively in English. Those who don’t speak English will not have easy access to the important information.

Discrimination and Harassment refer to intentional or unintentional behaviour for which there is no reasonable justification. Such behaviour negatively affects specific individuals or groups on the basis of characteristics defined by the 1992 B.C. Human Rights Act. These characteristics include age, race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, and unrelated criminal convictions.

What is Equity?

Equity is defined as the quality of being fair, unbiased, and just. In other words, equity involves ensuring that everyone has access to the resources, opportunities, power and responsibility they need to reach their full, healthy potential as well as making changes so that unfair differences may be understood and addressed.

What is the difference?

The terms equity and equality are sometimes used interchangeably, which can lead to confusion because while these concepts are related, there are also important distinctions between them.

Equity involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives.

Equality, in contrast, aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things.

 between Equity and Equality?


Key Differences Between Equity and Equality

  • Treating individuals with justness and fairness is called equity. Equality is what we call the state where everyone is at the same level.
  • Equity is a process, while equality is the outcome.
  • While equity represents impartiality (distribution is made in such a way to even opportunities for all people) and equality indicates uniformity (everything is evenly distributed among people).
  • In equity, we recognize differences and make efforts to counteract the manner in which individual opportunities are not equal. Equality recognizes sameness and so it aims at treating everyone as equal.
  • In equity, everyone can access what they need. In equality, everyone gets the same thing, i.e. rights, resources and opportunities.

There are many terms that are used to describe First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada. This can become confusing for people, especially since each term has historical, legal and situational meaning. This list is a general guideline and not an exhaustive exploration of these terms.

If you are unsure of which term to use, ask the local community for their preference.

  • An acronym for First Nations, Métis and Inuit used in many Alberta educational publications
  • This acronym should not be used to refer to First Nations, Métis and/or Inuit peoples as it is considered offensive by many and often misunderstood.
First Nations
  • First Nations refers to status and non-status Indian peoples in Canada.
  • Not a legal term; the Canadian constitution and legislation still use the term Indian
  • Term used by the Assembly of First Nations
  • Refers to the over 617 distinct Indigenous groups in Canada
  • Each Indigenous group has its own distinct culture, language, traditions and protocols.
  • First Nation is also used to replace band when referring to communities.
  • The Métis are one of three distinct Indigenous peoples in Canada recognized under the 1982 Canadian constitution and have a culture, language and traditions distinct from First Nations and Inuit.
  • The historical term used to describe children born to First Nations women and European men; it has become the accepted term to describe all children born of First Nations women and European men.
  • The Supreme Court of Canada identified three broad factors in determining who is Métis: self-identification, ancestral connection to the historic Métis community and community acceptance (Source:
  • “The people” in Inuktitut language
  • Inuit is plural and the singular form is Inuk.
  • The Indigenous people in Northern Canada who live in Nunavut, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Northern Quebec and Northern Labrador. Specifically, Inuit originated in the central and eastern Arctic and Inuvialuit originated in the western Arctic.
Aboriginal Peoples of Canada
  • The first peoples in Canada and their descendants
  • Includes First Nations, Métis and Inuit
  • Each group is distinct and has its own history, culture, protocols, traditions and languages.
  • Usually used as a term in government policy
  • In November 2015, the Canadian government renamed Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development.
Indigenous Peoples
  • Term used globally to refer to the original inhabitants of any region
  • Includes the three groups of Indigenous people in Canada: First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
Non-status Indian
  • A First Nations person who is not registered or who has lost their status under the Indian Act
Status/Registered Indian
  • A First Nations person who meets the requirements and is registered with the Canadian government under the Indian Act

Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or QSA (Queer-Straight Alliance) is an official student club with lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirited, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) and heterosexual student membership and one or two teachers who serve as faculty advisors.

A GSA/QSA is a student-run group that provides a safe place for any and all students to meet and learn about all different orientations, to support each other while working together to end homophobia, and to raise awareness and promote equality for all human beings. In addition to being a group dedicated to support, it also strives to educate the surrounding areas and the community on different gender and equality issues.

In the province of Alberta, students are guaranteed the right to form a GSA/QSA in their school if they choose, and they can use whatever name they choose for their group. This right was embedded in the School Act in 2015.

What are human rights?
What is a human right? United Nations

Human rights have been described as all the things we are entitled to be, to do or to have simply because we are human.

We need human rights in order to live life in freedom and dignity. Human rights are the fundamental building blocks for building a life of well-being and the help to make sure we have our basic needs met.

Human rights are:
  • How we instinctively expect to be treated as persons.
  • What we are allentitled to — a life of equality, dignity, and respect.
  • A life free from discrimination.
  • Not earned. You are born with them. It’s the same for every man, woman and child on earth
  • Not given. But they canbe taken away.
  • Inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.
  • Interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.

Countries have human rights laws to make sure that people and governments are held accountable. Provincial, territorial, federal and international laws all protect your human rights in Canada.

Plain language information for understanding human rights in Alberta [pdf] from the Human Rights Commission of Alberta can help people to understand discrimination and human rights.

What are Human Rights – TedED video, discussion suggestions and links to lesson plans are available on this site.

What is a Human Rights Community?

A human rights community is any group of people – in a school, in a neighbourhood, in a town or city or in an organization – who work to understand what human rights involve and commit to undertaking projects to improve them. The process of developing a human rights community is based on the concepts of human rights and quality of life. A human rights community is one in which citizens commit to the importance of human rights to their daily lives. See Building Human Rights Communities [pdf] for more information.

Who is meant by Immigrant population?

Persons who are, or have ever been, landed immigrants in Canada. A landed immigrant is a person who has been granted the right to live in Canada permanently by immigration authorities. Sometimes referred to newcomers, minorities, or ethnocultural minorities, this group can face social exclusion.

What is an inclusive space?

We expect education to provide supports, services and quality instruction for all students. Inclusive spaces go beyond that and work to:

  • be welcoming, caring, respectful, safe and encouraging.
  • recognize each person as a diverse individual connected to a community.
  • recognize and accept diversity between (and among) individuals and groups.
  • offer equitable access, dignity and safety for all individuals and groups.

Providing visible signs of inclusion are important signs of equitable access. This may be particularly important to individuals who identify with a group who has experienced marginalization and exclusion. Within this Toolkit, those groups are identified as Vulnerable Groups.

It isn’t always obvious how actions (or inactions) may unintentionally exclude people where we work or learn.

Consider the following:
  • Is the physical space where I work/learn accessible to people with mobility issues?
  • Is it easy for someone with a wheelchair to navigate the space?
  • Do people make hurtful comments in your place of work (homophobic, racist, sexist, etc)?
  • When comments are made, do people address them?
  • Do people see themselves positively represented in the work/learning materials?
  • Do all people have access to the same opportunities for learning and working?
What is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality is an approach to understanding the impacts of multiple forms of oppression, and was first described by scholar and activist Kimberlé Crenshaw in in the 1980’s. It is based on the assumption that an individual’s experiences are based on multiple identities that can be linked to more than one grounds for discrimination. An intersectional analysis can become one of the lenses through which the social context of the individual can be examined.

Intersectionality understands that the intersection of various identity groups (such as race, gender, or disability) produces a unique experience of discrimination.

An intersectional approach to anti-oppression work considers the historical, social and political context of oppression and recognizes the unique experiences of the individual based on how their different identity groups intersect. This approach allows the particular, individual experience of discrimination, based on a person’s complex identity, to be acknowledged and addressed.

Those who work from an intersectional framework insist that it must be applied to all social justice work. It is a frame that recognizes the multiple aspects of identity that enrich our lives and experiences, and that also complicate oppressions and marginalizations. We cannot separate multiple oppressions, for they are experienced and enacted intersectionally.

What do all these acronyms mean? SGM, LGBTQ, etc.

Many acronyms are used, but the most recognizable and common is LGBTQ. While this acronym is useful and has important historical roots, it has been criticized for not being inclusive of all marginalized identities. A more inclusive version of that acronym is LGBTTTPQQAI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Two-Spirit, Pansexual, Queer, Questioning, Asexual, Aromantic, Ally, Intersex, etc.). However, this unwieldy acronym can make conversations about this topic cumbersome.

One acronym that is used by various organizations and in academic writing is Sexual and Gender Minority (SGM) to be inclusive of all identities and ways of being. In this Toolkit, you will find SGM used throughout, and occasional use of LGBTQ.

Outside of this resource, you may encounter other acronyms such as MOGAI (Marginalized Orientations, Gender Identities and Intersex) or QUILTBAG (Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans (Transgender/Transsexual), Bisexual, Asexual, and/or Gay).

What is an Online Toolkit?

You can think of an Online Toolkit much like a toolkit you would find in a garage. It is filled with many tools that are useful for different situations. The toolkit is ready for whenever you might need it to solve problems that arise.

Our Toolkit is similar. It contains online tools to support human rights work in Alberta. It connects the reader to items that they may find useful in a variety of situations where conversations about human rights may take place.

This is different from a website. While they are both found on the internet, a website is usually designed for a single purpose or a single subject. A toolkit helps solve multiple problems in multiple ways. You can use the Respectful Schools Online Toolkit in your family, school, community, or place of work to build a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe Alberta for all.

What is Oppression?

Oppression: The systemic and pervasive nature of social inequality woven throughout social institutions as well as embedded within individual consciousness. Oppression fuses institutional and systemic discrimination, personal bias, bigotry, and social prejudice in a complex web of relationships and structures that saturate most aspects of life in our society.

  • Oppression denotes structural and material constraints that significantly shape a person’s life chances and sense of possibility.
  • Oppression also signifies a hierarchical relationship in which dominant or privilege groups benefit, often in unconscious ways, from the disempowerment of subordinated or targeted groups.
  • Oppression resides not only in external social institutions and norms but also within the human psyche as well.
  • Eradicating oppression ultimately requires struggle against all its forms, and that building coalitions among diverse people offers the most promising strategies for challenging oppression systematically*. 

Oppression is the systematic mistreatment, exploitation, and lowering in status of a group (or groups) of people by another group (or groups). It occurs when a group holds power over others in society by maintaining control over social institutions, and society’s laws, rules, and norms. Those in the controlling, or dominant group, benefit from oppression through increased privileges and benefits in relation to the oppressed groups.

*Adams, Bell, and Griffin, editors. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.
What is meant by Racialized Groups?

“Race” refers to the invention of different subspecies of people based on physical and cultural characteristics such as skin colour, accent or manner of speech, name, clothing, diet, beliefs and practices, leisure preferences, places of origin and so forth. Racialization, then, is “the process by which societies construct races as real, different and unequal in ways that matter to economic, political and social life” (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2005, p. 11).

Recognizing that race is a social construct, this Toolkit describes people as “racialized persons” or “racialized groups” instead of the more outdated and inaccurate terms “racial minority,” “visible minority,” or “non-White.” First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people, while racialized, are included in their own group because of the distinct nature of the historical relationship between the settler population and indigenous peoples.

What is Privilege?

Our society is built on complex power dynamics which grant certain privileges to those who fit specific profiles of power. Those with the most privilege wield most of the power and influence in our society. This power and privilege manifests in multiple ways, but we see it most clearly in avenues of political agency, social influence and public perception.

Privilege can be defined as unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group. These benefits are considered unearned because they come automatically with membership in this group, and often include race, gender, class, sexual orientation, language, ability, etc.

Privilege sits opposite to oppression.

Questions to consider about privilege with regards to human rights:

Would overcoming the challenges in your life have been any different if you were a different gender?

Would overcoming the challenges in your life have been any different if you needed help with everyday tasks because of a physical disability?

Have you ever been excluded from a learning or working opportunity because of your (perceived) sexuality?

Do you feel accepted and safe in public places? Would this be different if people assumed you were of a different faith tradition?

What is social justice?

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, social justice refers to the concept that all individuals and groups within a society receive fair treatment and an equitable share of society’s benefits. In this context, social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equality. Social justice looking at the roots of inequality , which are often grounded in societal and historical legacies. Social justice is long term work that seeks to end various inequities, rather than short-term, band-aid like actions that only provide temporary relief.

According to the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, social justice is best understood by taking a look at what social ministry is. Social ministry has two key components: social service (also referred to charity or parish outreach) and social action.

Social Service is giving direct aid to someone in need.  It usually involves actions that fulfill a person’s physical and related needs.  For example, giving money to the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick or imprisoned, taking care of orphans and widows, visiting shut-ins, etc.

Social Action aims to alleviate human suffering by working to change those structures that cause or perpetuate the oppression, poverty, war, racism or sexism. Another name for this is Social Justice.

Activity for understanding the difference between charity and social justice: Charity or Justice? [pdf] – Development and Peace Canada (disponible en francais)

What is social justice education?

Social justice education helps learners recognize and act upon the power they have to make positive change in society and the world. Though teachers do this everyday in a multitude of ways, social justice education is the explicit practice of giving students opportunities for seeing how positive change happens and how they can be both actors and leaders in the change. Social justice education seeks to foster learning that leads students to advocate for structural change to create justice in our society.

Social justice education requires the modeling of the ideals of social justice and move beyond practices that come from, and maintain inequality. Teachers (and school communities) need to view students as people who are empowered to create change and make positive decisions for their learning and for society as a whole. While adults have more knowledge and experience than children, children have unique insights into their world and hold hope within them.  

Social justice education questions the status quo of education – how it has always been done is not necessarily the best way forward.  Students become active agents of change with teachers supporting and guiding as decisions are made for the good of all.

Social Justice Begins With Me – This year-round, literature-based resource is based on ten monthly themes including peace building, fighting prejudice, building self-esteem, and children’s’ rights. This document will assist teachers to address issues of equity and social justice in their classroom as well as assist their students in developing awareness and understanding of these issues. The complete resource kit consists of five books:

  • Primary (Early Years to Grades 3)
  • Junior (Grades 4 to 6)
  • Intermediate (Grades 7 to 8)
  • Teacher Resource Guide (all grades)
  • More Than A Play

Social Justice Begins With Me – Book Club is a tool that will allow educators to get to know the resource through a professional book club format. This facilitator guide takes educators through the program to build capacity and deeper understandings of social justice and social justice education.

A Social Justice Approach: Awareness! Activism! Engagement! [pdf]. This is an excellent resource for K-8 teachers that was developed by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and includes many well-developed lesson plans and activities.

What are Vulnerable Groups?

Groups that have been historically and structurally discriminated against. They face a higher risk of economic and social exclusion than the general population due to society and/or structural discrimination.

Vulnerability is the degree to which a population, individual or organization is unable to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impacts of disasters. Environmental health in emergencies and disasters: a practical guide. (WHO, 2002)

Children, pregnant women, elderly people, malnourished people, and people who are ill or immunocompromised, are particularly vulnerable when a disaster strikes, and take a relatively high share of the disease burden associated with emergencies. Poverty – and its common consequences such as malnutrition, homelessness, poor housing and destitution – is a major contributor to vulnerability.

Reach Out Refugee Protection Training Project: Lesson plans for understanding vulnerable groups [PDF].

Within the Alberta context, this Toolkit identifies 8 vulnerable groups with accompanying resources and background information organized under those headings. These groups have experienced exclusion historical and presently. Addressing the needs of those in each group is an aspect of building equity.