In keeping with its mandate to promote greater understanding of human rights and encourage research to eliminate discriminatory practices, the Commission undertook a number of policy development initiatives in 2000-2001.
The Commission held public meetings and issued discussion papers to the public and media on emerging human rights policy areas. New policies were introduced and several policies were updated. The Commission also embarked on a major public education campaign.
The Commission’s policies and guidelines are approved public statements that set out the Commission’s interpretation of specific provisions of the Code. The purpose of these policies and guidelines is to help Commission staff, members of the public and those involved in human rights work to interpret and understand how the Code is applied.
Highlights of the past year are outlined below.
The Commission undertook significant work in the area of age discrimination. The Chief Commissioner noted that there appears to be a general acceptance that discriminating on the basis of age is less offensive than discrimination on the grounds of race or sex. As the population of the province is aging, this is becoming an important human rights issue. In July 2000, the Commission released a Discussion Paper entitled Discrimination and Age: Human Rights Issues Facing Older Persons in Ontario.
The Paper identifies trends and critical issues related to age and makes recommendations to promote the human rights of older persons. Currently, age is cited as a ground in nine per cent of complaints received by the Commission, a majority of which arise in the employment context. The Paper also raises the issue of mandatory retirement and suggests that older workers, who choose to work after the age of 65 and are able to do so, should have the benefit of human rights protections. The release of this Paper fulfills a commitment made in 1999 to undertake research and policy development on age discrimination.
Response to the Discussion Paper was so positive that the Commission decided to launch province-wide consultations on human rights issues facing older persons.
As a framework for the Consultations, the Commission released a Consultation Paper entitled The Changing Face of Ontario: Discrimination and our Aging Population. The Paper sets out specific issues on which the Commission sought input such as access to health care, social services, housing and protection for older workers. Interested individuals and organizations were invited to provide written submissions. In the late Fall, the Commission held public consultation sessions in London, Toronto, Ottawa and Sudbury. Members of the public participated and made submissions on human rights issues facing older persons. The Commission’s efforts in this area generated intense public and media interest.
This year, the Commission worked on several major initiatives related to disability rights. Forty per cent of complaints filed with the Commission are from persons with disabilities. Studies show that persons with disabilities continue to experience widespread and endemic discrimination in all aspects of their daily lives.
In the past fiscal year, the Commission released three key documents as a starting point to address the issue of disability.
Policy on Drug and Alcohol Testing
In 2000-2001, the Commission updated its Policy on Drug and Alcohol Testing to reflect the Ontario Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Entrop v. Imperial Oil Ltd. This was a human rights case involving the introduction of a workplace policy implementing random drug and alcohol testing. It required employees in safety-sensitive positions to disclose a past or current substance abuse problem.
The Commission’s revised Policy incorporates the Court’s rulings on a number of issues. It includes the legal confirmation that both drug and alcohol dependencies are disabilities within the meaning of the Code. The Policy also sets out guidelines on the use of drug and alcohol testing, including the requirements surrounding pre-employment drug testing, random drug testing, random alcohol testing, the use of breathalyzers, required disclosures of past substance abuse problems and automatic reassignment or termination.
Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate
Many employers and other organizations have little understanding of their legal obligations under the Code. In March 2000, the Commission released its Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate. This Policy replaces the previous set of guidelines established in 1989. In launching the new Policy, the Chief Commissioner emphasized that all parties involved – employers, corporations and individuals – need to work together and take the appropriate action to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities.
The new Policy creates a framework for promoting and clarifying the rights of persons with disabilities to ensure that they can be full and vital participants in community life and in the workplace. The development of the new Policy was based on consultations with over 150 stakeholders, including persons with disabilities, advocacy groups, employers, service providers and associations. The final document is the result of an extensive review process of existing Commission standards and the many submissions it received.
Key elements include:
- a focus on the dignity of the person and on the person’s full integration and participation in society;
- the obligation to design programs and facilities with persons with disabilities in mind;
- specific recognition of the rights of persons with non-evident disabilities, including mental disabilities;
- guidance for employers and unions, including how to handle return-towork situations and access to alternative jobs; and
- a high standard for meeting the requirements of the Human Rights Code and for accommodating persons with disabilities.
The Commission’s follow-up work over the next fiscal year will involve consulting with the public to develop workplace guides in plain language for both employers and employees. It will also initiate consultations on disability in the education sector.
Discussion Paper on Public Transit Accessibility
The Commission released the Discussion Paper on Accessible Transit Services in Ontario. The Paper analyzes the accessibility of transit systems in Ontario and the obligations transit service providers have under human rights law. Access to public transit services is an important human rights issue. When persons with disabilities, older persons and families with young children cannot use their local public transit system, they are effectively prevented from participating in community life.
The Paper follows a survey conducted in July 1999 on the accessibility of transit systems in Ontario. The survey revealed several gaps in the accessibility of mainstream transit systems and major discrepancies in the level of paratransit services across the province. In the Toronto area, entire portions of the transit system are completely inaccessible including Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) streetcars, most GO transit buses and the majority of subway stations. The current situation shows that more work needs to be done in this area.
Throughout the Spring of 2001, the Commission continued to solicit written submissions from individuals and organizations regarding the issues raised in this Paper. This will form part of the Commission’s work over the coming year.
As part of the Commission’s new approach to disability rights, six cases were sent to the Board of Inquiry challenging the lack of accessibility to the transit services in Hamilton, Ontario. The six cases are complaints by two people who have limited mobility and cannot use the regular public transit system. Yet, because of the uneven route schedules and restrictive eligibility criteria, they are also limited in using the paratransit system designed and maintained for people with disabilities.
Aboriginal Human Rights Initiative
In the fiscal year 2000-2001, the Commission undertook a key initiative relating to Aboriginal peoples. Historically, Aboriginal persons in Ontario have filed relatively few human rights complaints, many Aboriginal communities have little experience with the provincial human rights process and are either unaware of the Commission’s services or its ability to serve Aboriginal interests. Others view the human rights process as unresponsive or irrelevant to the needs of Aboriginal persons.
The goals of the initiative are to create and enhance awareness among Aboriginal communities of the Code, to develop appropriate and culturally sensitive ways to enable members of these communities to access the Commission’s services, and to develop a continuing presence within Aboriginal communities and organizations.
Two Aboriginal organizations, Grand River Employment and Training and the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres are involved in the development and delivery of this project.
First Phase of the Initiative:
The first phase involved consultations with 37 Aboriginal organizations across the province, many of which had little or no knowledge of the Commission and its work. In addition, over 80 percent of the organizations cited significant discrimination in housing for their off-reserve clients. Unequal treatment was also cited in the areas of policing, health, social services and legal services.
The high rate of discrimination in housing among the Aboriginal community members contrasts significantly with the experiences of Ontario’s general population. For example, at the Commission, three quarters of the complaints it receives occur in the area of employment. Yet, in the Aboriginal communities, employment discrimination is lower down on the list of Aboriginal human rights issues. Such information reinforces the need for this initiative in order for the Commission to appropriately respond to the unique human rights issues faced by Aboriginal Ontarians.
Racism, levels of literacy and a general mistrust of non-Aboriginal institutions were identified as key barriers that prevent Aboriginal persons from using the Commission’s services. In addition, the lack of visibility and accessibility of the Commission within the Aboriginal community is a main reason why Aboriginal people are not accessing the Commission’s existing programs. The report on the first phase also includes a number of important recommendations of measures that the Commission can take to increase its presence in the Aboriginal communities.
Second Phase of the Initiative:
The Commission is proceeding with the second phase of this project over the coming fiscal year, which will involve training workshops, public education programs and a pilot community-based awareness campaign program.
Following the release of a Discussion Paper on gender identity in October 1999, the Commission developed a formal policy that addresses the issue of human rights for transgendered people. These are people who do not identify or reject in whole or in part their birth-assigned gender identity.
The Policy on Discrimination and Harassment because of Gender Identity outlines the major barriers and issues transgendered people encounter. It also confirms that transgendered people have the right to equal treatment without discrimination under the Code on the ground of sex. The Policy is based on research, community consultations and interviews and seeks to dispel stereotypes and myths that foster discrimination and harassment of the transgendered.
Policy on Female Genital Mutilation (“FGM”)
FGM is the practice of female genital mutilation which has been recognized as a human rights issue under international law, and also as a health hazard and a form of violence against women and girls. The Commission’s Policy was updated with the addition of a new section that reflects recent developments under the Ontario Child and Family Services Act. It now includes a duty to report information with respect to a child who is in need of protection and references amendments under the Criminal Code that define the performance of FGM as aggravated assault.
The Commission developed a new three-year Public Education Strategy that sets out its public education activities for the years 2000-2003. Entitled, Getting the Message Out, the strategy supports the Commission’s mandate under the Code to promote and advance awareness of human rights through visible and effective public education. Community partners and stakeholders were invited to provide input into the strategy.
The use of thematic campaigns as an important public education vehicle is a key part of the strategy. In addition, the three-year strategy commits the Commission to developing and enhancing partnerships (public, private and not-for-profit) and highlights the need for a plan that will promote effective relations with various stakeholders.
The Commission also redesigned its Web site (www.ohrc.on.ca) in March 2001. The new site is more user-friendly and accessible and offers information on the complaint process, Commission’s policies and publications and case summaries.
Events & Presentations
For the sixth consecutive year, a larger audience has been present at events either sponsored by or involving the Commission.
During the 2000-2001 fiscal year, Commission staff participated in 103 public education events involving over 9,300 individuals.
In its ongoing efforts to maintain a high standard of excellence, the Commission instituted a process for evaluating its public education sessions. Using a standard evaluation form, participants were asked to evaluate the expertise of the presenters, effectiveness of the materials and the usefulness of the information presented on a scale of one to five. Eighty per cent of participants gave the Commission’s presentations four or five for excellence. This ongoing feedback will be used to improve the Commission’s expertise in delivering presentations.
The Chief Commissioner made keynote presentations at the Annual General Meeting of the Ontario Association for Community Living, Lancaster House Publishing and the conference, Diversity Update 2001. He also spoke at legal conferences, law schools, and elementary and secondary schools.
Number of Persons Reached in Public Education
National and International Initiatives
The Commission provides input from the province’s perspective to reports prepared by Canada in accordance with Canada’s obligations under international conventions. The Commission highlights relevant legislative, judicial and administrative policies, programs and activities during the given reporting period as they relate to particular articles in the respective conventions. During the past fiscal year, the Commission prepared comments for consideration in two reports:
- Canada’s Fifth Report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women;
- Canada’s Fourth Report under the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights.
Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA)
Staff representing all the human rights commissions in Canada who perform public education functions, meet regularly by teleconference to share information and plan new projects. Working with this network, the Commission led the development of a human rights poster. This poster was launched at CASHRA at its Annual Conference in Banff. The poster features the slogan “Human Rights are Everyone’s Business/Les Droits de la personne, c’est l’affaire de tout le monde”. The poster is being used by each of the commissions as a public education tool.
International Delegations and Visitors
The Commission’s involvement in international human rights continued to play a part in its work last year. It hosted representatives from human rights commissions and related agencies and groups from the following countries: Republic of Korea, Thailand, Jiangsu Province (China), Malawi, Norway, Uganda and Northern Ireland. In addition, Commission staff addressed two international conferences, one on Public Ethics and another on Law.