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The Language of EDI - Glossary

“Why is it that…we have such difficulty even imagining a different sort of society from the one whose dysfunctions and inequalities trouble us so? We appear to have lost the capacity to question the present, much less offer alternatives to it. Why is it so beyond us to conceive of a different set of arrangements to our common advantage? 

Our shortcoming—forgive the academic jargon—is discursive. We simply do not know how to talk about these things.”

Tony Judt, October 19, 2009

Principles and Practices


Equity is a principle, condition, process, and outcome rooted in human rights and the inviolability of human dignity. It is integral to the legal principle of justice, and the ethical principle and practice of fairness and doing the right thing. It requires identifying patterns of inequities and making changes to systems, cultures, and processes that obstruct members of the community from achieving their full potential.

Equity enables proactive measures and reasonable accommodation necessary to identify structural, systemic and cultural barriers; discrimination, unfairness, and disadvantage; and ensure equitable pathways and opportunity structures for women, Indigenous peoples, visible/racialized minorities, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ2S+ in all spheres of life.


Diversity, difference, or variety is a characteristic of nature and human society. Efforts to increase representational or numerical diversity are enabled by the institutional commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Fundamental to education and employment equity is the cultivation of an environment in which those who have been historically disadvantaged and are currently under-represented, can gain access to, and flourish within the community.

Representational diversity is an outcome of proactive measures to correct systemic disadvantage, and to create equitable opportunity structures and pathways for a critical mass of those who are historically disadvantaged and under-represented. Diversity may also refer to philosophical or perspectival differences, institutional types, disciplinary fields, ways of knowing, theoretical and methodological variations. Identity-diversity shapes, and is shaped by: voice, representation, and experiences.


Inclusion encompasses norms, practices, and intentional actions to promote participation, engagement, empowerment, and a sense of belonging for members of historically underrepresented and disadvantaged groups in all aspects of life. It is about promoting an institutional culture and practices to ensure all can experience a welcoming space of fairness, dignity, and human flourishing.

Where diversity may focus on the quantitative representation, inclusion focuses on the qualitative experience of belonging. Diversity may exist with inequity, isolation, and marginality, but social inclusion focuses on culture and practices that deepen participation and engagement. Inclusion requires institutions to design spaces of leadership and governance, teaching and learning, research, scholarship, artistic inquiry, and community engagement so that there are no impediments to full participation by members of equity-deserving groups. Inclusion requires proactive measures to transform cultures and relations of power and privilege, resulting in the social exclusion of under-represented groups. 


Accessibility is a foundational principle necessary for the removal of barriers to equitable participation in all aspects of life by people living with diverse visual, motor, auditory, learning, and cognitive abilities. It requires designing environments, programs, services, and products from the outset, so they are accessible to people living with various abilities.

Accessibility is grounded in the recognition that what constitutes a disability barrier varies across visible and invisible ability differences. As an approach it enables equitable access to, and success within for persons living with diverse visual, motor, auditory, learning, and cognitive abilities, as well as for low-income people. 

EDI Terms

Aboriginal/Indigenous Peoples

‘Aboriginal’ as defined by the Government of Canada in section 35 of the constitution includes First Nations (Status, Non-Status), Métis, and Inuit peoples. The term Aboriginal is used in Canada interchangeably with the term Indigenous in alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007). Indigenous peoples in Canada are diverse in culture, language, and belief systems and often identify with specific nations, communities and/or traditional languages. Examples of such include, but are not limited to: Cree/Nehiyaw, Ojibway/Anishinaabe, Blackfoot/Niitsitapi (Kainai, Piikani, Siksika), Stoney Nakoda (Bearspaw, Chiniki, and Goodstoney), Tsuut’ina, Dené, Inuit, Métis, Mi’kmaq, Mohawk, and, etc. Additionally, Aboriginal or Indigenous peoples and nations in Canada have communities, traditional lands, and tribal/kinship affiliations that cross over the 49th parallel, which was established as a colonial border between Canada and the United States of America. Examples of cross border nations include the Iroquois Confederacy and the Blackfoot Confederacy.

Statistics Canada

Employment Equity Act

The Employment Equity Act, 1986 (amended in 1995), emerged out of the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment chaired by Judge Rosalie Silberman Abella, who coined the concept and approach as a contrast to affirmative action in the United States. “The purpose of this Act is to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person shall be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability and, in the fulfillment of that goal, to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities by giving effect to the principle that employment equity means more than treating persons in the same way but also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences.” 

Employment Equity Act

Equity Deserving Groups (EDGs)

Equity Deserving Groups (EDGs) refer to those groups who, by virtue of their identity, face discrimination, disadvantage, and institutional barriers to access and opportunity unrelated to ability that require proactive ameliorative measures. They are identified in the federal Employment Equity Act as Federally Designated Groups (FDGs) and include women, Indigenous peoples, visible/racialized minority persons, and persons with disabilities, as well as LGBTQ2S+ persons. These groups may also be referenced as equity groups, equity-seeking groups and equity denied groups.

Wisdom Tettey, “Inspiring Inclusive Excellence” (February 25, 2019)

Federally Designated Groups

The language of “designated groups” emerged out of the Royal Commission on Equality and Employment (chaired by Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella) in 1984, The Employment Equity Act, 1986, and the Federal Contractor’s Program, 1986. The Canadian Race Relations Foundations defines “designated groups” as follows: “Social groups whose individual members have been historically denied equal access to employment, education, social services, housing, etc. because of membership in the group.” The four “federally designated groups” include women, Aboriginal peoples (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit), persons with disabilities (visible and invisible), and members of visible/racialized minorities (Arab, Black, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Latin American, Korean, South Asian, Southeast Asian, West Asian). Employment Equity

Gender (Gender Identity, Gender Expression)

Gender is defined as how a person feels internally (gender identity) and/or how a person expresses their self-identity publicly (gender expression) in their daily life, including at work, while shopping or accessing other services, in their housing environment or in the broader community. A person’s gender may change over time. A person’s current gender may differ from the sex a person was assigned at birth and may differ from what is indicated on current legal documents. Statistics Canada defines gender as inclusive of gender identity and gender expression.

Statistics Canada


The acronym refers to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Two-Spirit (Indigenous) and “plus” to signify that these letters in the “Queer Alphabet” are inclusive of, but not limited to, the possibilities encompassed by these letters. For example, the letters in the acronym may be differently ordered, for example as 2SLGBTQ+, LGBT, LGBTI and 2SLGBTQIA.

Government of Canada LGBTQ2S Secretariat and Action Plan

Persons with Disabilities and Deaf Persons

A person with a disability is someone who has a “long-term or recurring physical, mental, sensory, psychiatric or learning impairment(s)” (for the purposes of this questionnaire “long-term” is defined as lasting more than six months). A person considers themselves to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of that disability, or believes that an employer or potential employer is likely to consider them to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of that disability. This also includes persons with disabilities who have been accommodated in their current job or workplace (e.g., by the use of technical aids, changes to equipment or other working arrangements).


Queer has been reclaimed to refer to identities and a community. It is an umbrella term that encompasses persons across a spectrum of gender and sexual identities and orientations. Some use queer primarily to refer to pangender and pansexual identities, genderqueer, and others to also include persons who are non-monogamous and non-binary. Queer is an expansive term that captures the heterogeneity, complexity, fluidity, and changing dimensions of gender and sexual identities over time and space. identities.  

Religion, Spirituality or Belief System

Persons may variously self-identity by religion, religious affiliation, spirituality, or belief system. Religion may include a person's self-identification as belonging to a community of faith, as having a connection or affiliation with any organized religion, denomination or other religiously defined community or system of belief; that person may or may not hold membership in a specific religious body or organization. Persons can also self-identify by belief systems that include, among others, atheist, agnostic, spiritual or humanist. The 2021 Canadian Census identifies various religions, religious groups, and denominations.

Statistics Canada

Sex (Sex Assigned at Birth)

The sex of a person typically refers to sex assigned at birth (e.g. male, female, intersex) by a medical practitioner based on physiological or biological attributes, and that may appear on current legal documents. Since the incorporation of gender identity into the Canadian Human Rights Act, there has been a shift from ‘sex’ to ‘gender’, or to ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’.

Sexual Orientation or Sexual Identity

Refers to a person’s self-identity as a member of a community that shares an enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other persons who may be of the opposite sex or gender (heterosexuality), the same sex or gender (homosexuality), to two sexes or genders (bisexuality), to more than one sex or gender (pansexuality or polysexual), or to no particular sex or gender (asexuality). A person`s sexual orientation is not synonymous with their gender identity.


Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to the self-identification of a person whose gender identity and/or gender expression is different from social and cultural expectations based on the sex assigned at birth by a medical practitioner. Being transgender is not synonymous with a specific sexual orientation. Persons who are transgender may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, straight, polysexual, and so on.

Visible/Racialized Minority

A visible minority is defined by The Employment Equity Act as a racialized minority who is non-white in colour, and who is not an Aboriginal/Indigenous person, regardless of birthplace or citizenship. The visible minority communities include Arab, Black, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Latin American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and West Asian. Members of these communities may also self-identify as a ‘person of colour’, ‘racialized person’ or by an ethnocultural group.