In keeping with its mandate to promote understanding of human rights and to conduct research to eliminate discriminatory practices, the Commission undertook a number of policy development initiatives in 2001-2002. Commission policies and guidelines are approved public statements that set out the Commission’s interpretation of specific provisions of the Code. The development of policies and guides helps the Commission to advance understanding of the Code and inform the public and those involved in human rights work how the Commission will interpret and apply the Code when dealing with particular matters. Highlights of the past year are outlined below.
The Commission continued to build on last year’s work in the area of age discrimination. In June 2001, the Commission released its Consultation Report, Time for Action: Advancing Human Rights for Older Ontarians. Time for Action is the result of extensive research and the Commission’s consultation with more than 100 organizations and individuals across the province.
Time for Action reports that a growing and significant proportion of the province’s population is facing formidable barriers because of age-based discrimination. The Report highlights the role of ageism in limiting rights and opportunities for older Ontarians. “Ageism” refers to two concepts. First, ageism encompasses myths and stereotypes about older persons that are not based in the actual ageing process but rather society’s reaction to older persons. The second component of ageism is the tendency to structure society based on the assumption that everyone is young. By doing so, the real needs of older persons are not met.
Time for Action identifies four key areas in which older persons are most likely to feel the effects of ageism and to experience age discrimination: employment, health care, housing and transit. The Report also contains the Commission’s commitments to do further work in this area as well as recommendations for government and community actions. One such recommendation is that the Ontario Legislature amend the Code to eliminate the blanket defence to mandatory retirement at age 65 and to provide protection against age discrimination to workers 65 and over. This recommendation has attracted a great deal of public and media attention.
In accordance with the Commission’s public commitments, on March 26, 2002, the Commission approved a Policy on age discrimination against older persons. In the next fiscal year the Commission will release the Policy and launch a public awareness campaign on ageism and age discrimination.
The Commission released Human Rights Issues in Insurance: Consultation Report in October 2001. The purpose of the consultation was to promote public awareness, understanding and advancement of human rights in the area of insurance and to examine alternatives to current practices.
The paper is the result of 19 submissions from representatives of the insurance industry, government and consumer groups offering their views on the Commission’s 1999 Discussion Paper, Human Rights Issues in Insurance. The Commission also initiated two round table discussions – one with insurance representatives from the life/disability sector and the other from the auto/property sector – in the preparation of the Consultation Report.
In the Report, the Commission promotes the principle that the insurance industry should strive to move away from using enumerated Code grounds, such as age, sex and marital status, for risk assessment in auto insurance. Industry research to date supports the use of such risk assessment criteria as still reasonably necessary. The industry also maintains that access to information on pre-existing conditions and flexibility in setting risk criteria are important for ensuring affordable products. Consumer representatives raised several concerns including: reasonableness of exclusionary periods and use of genetic information; access to affordable dispute resolution; lack of full policy disclosure; stringent and sometimes harassing medical reporting and policy discontinuance practices; and, claim-handling variations for so-called "softer" conditions such as mental illness. In the Report’s recommendations, the Commission takes the view that genetic testing and related information should not be used to deny insurance because of a disability or risks that might arise in the future.
The Commission is encouraging continued dialogue amongst the insurance industry, consumer groups and governments on the human rights issues in insurance.
An Intersectional Approach to Discrimination
Acknowledging that factors such as race, gender, age, place of origin and disability often intersect to produce unique effects is critical to ensuring that society meaningfully addresses people’s experiences of discrimination. Recent Commission policy and research initiatives have recognized that multiple grounds are often intrinsically linked and that discrimination is largely a product of the social construction of identity based on social, historical, political and cultural factors.
Building on the work that the Commission has already done, on March 21, 2002, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Commission announced the release of a Discussion Paper, An Intersectional Approach to Discrimination: Addressing Multiple Grounds in Human Rights Claims. The Discussion Paper explores how an intersectional approach applies to human rights claims and is the starting point in a process that will aim to develop some concrete tools for consistently applying an intersectional analysis in all areas of the Commission’s daily work.
Research Paper on Human Rights Commissions and Economic and Social Rights and Proceedings from Policy Dialogue
In 2001-2002, the Commission made public the results of two earlier initiatives to explore ways the Commission can be more responsive to emerging human rights issues and address Ontario’s responsibilities under Canada’s human rights obligations.
The summary of proceedings from the Commission’s Policy Dialogue, Human Rights Commissions: Future Directions, was made available on the Commission’s Web site in February 2002.
In addition, the Research Paper, Human Rights Commissions and Economic and Social Rights, explores ways in which human rights commissions can become more involved in protecting and promoting economic and social rights and in implementing international treaties to which Canada is a party. The Research Paper reflects the research undertaken by Commission staff and is not a formal policy statement. The Paper is available on the Commission’s Web site.
Policy on Discrimination Because of Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
The Commission undertook a revision and expansion of its Policy on Discrimination because of Pregnancy and Breastfeeding. This Policy has been in place since 1999 and these latest revisions incorporate changes to the Ontario Employment Standards Act that came into effect in September 2001. The revised Policy clarifies the interaction between the Employment Standards Act and the Code.
The revisions to the Policy also detail rights and responsibilities of all regarding breastfeeding, particularly in employment and in public places, and emphasize that breastfeeding is a health and human rights issue rather than one of public decency. The Policy is intended to provide guidance to employers, landlords, service providers and the general public on the rights of pregnant and nursing women.
Implementation of the New Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate
The Commission continued to actively implement its Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate, released in March 2001. It fulfilled its commitment to consult with stakeholders on the development of plain-language guides on the Policy to assist employers, unions and persons with disabilities in understanding their rights and responsibilities under the Code. The Commission held two focus groups to discuss drafts of the guides.
The first focus group included representatives of employee groups, legal clinics, unions, advocacy organizations and disability consumer groups. The second focus group included individual employers and groups that represent employers’ interests. The information and feedback will be used in the preparation of the guides.
At the launch of the Policy, Chief Commissioner Keith Norton signalled the Commission’s intention to examine the accessibility of the restaurant sector in Ontario. In this fiscal year, the Commission wrote to 29 high-profile restaurants, coffee shops and fast food chains to initiate a survey on the accessibility of their premises and their future plans to achieve accessibility. This initiative is ongoing and further measures are planned for the upcoming fiscal year.
In addition, the Commission has developed a strategy and Consultation Paper for its initiative on disability accommodation in the education sector. Public consultations will be conducted in the next fiscal year with a view to developing a consultation report as well as specific guidelines in this area.
Public Transit Accessibility
The Commission invited written submissions from individuals and organizations regarding the issues raised in its Discussion Paper on Accessible Transit Services in Ontario, released in February 2001. Over 30 responses were received from transit providers, seniors’ organizations, disability consumer groups, labour organizations, advocacy groups and individuals. The responses detailed concerns in a number of areas: funding for transit services, the setting of standards, transit service providers’ roles and responsibilities, and the effect of inaccessible transit services on persons with disabilities, older persons, families with young children and others protected by the Code.
Inaccessible public transit services are an important human rights issue because they impose barriers and prevent persons with disabilities, older persons and families with young children, from participating in community life.
A Consultation Report on these submissions will be released early in the 2002-2003 fiscal year.
Aboriginal Human Rights Program
2001-2002 is the second year of the Commission’s Aboriginal Human Rights Program. The goals of this important initiative are to create and build on awareness of the Code among Aboriginal communities and to enhance their access to the Commission’s services. Historically, Aboriginal people in Ontario have filed relatively few human rights complaints and many communities have little knowledge of the provincial human rights process.
The Commission is working in partnership with two Aboriginal organizations, Grand River Employment and Training (GREAT) of Ohsweken (near Brantford) and the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (NCCT), in the development and delivery of this project.
The first phase of the initiative involved consultations with 37 Aboriginal organizations across the province. The results of the consultations revealed that Aboriginal people face significant discrimination in housing. Discrimination in employment and services are also experienced but housing was identified as the most pressing concern.
In addition, Aboriginal communities and members were found to have little knowledge of the Commission’s services and did not fully understand its potential to remedy the discrimination frequently faced, for example, in housing off reserve.
The report on the first phase made several recommendations as to measures the Commission could take to increase its presence in Aboriginal communities. These recommendations included strategies to enhance awareness in the Aboriginal community and improve access for Aboriginal persons to the human rights system.
Phase II of the initiative was implemented in the summer of 2001.
A requirement of the project was that it should involve Aboriginal organizations in the delivery of the program. As a result of a rigorous process, the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (NCCT) was selected to partner with the Commission. NCCT is a Friendship Centre and has existed in Toronto for over 30 years. It describes itself as “a community-based non-profit organization which provides a gathering place to deliver programs and services for Native people while striving to reflect the traditional Native cultural perspective”.
A two-day training program for staff of both agencies was held in September 2001. It covered issues of concern in the attainment of equal opportunity for Aboriginal peoples and it informed all participants about the details of the project. It also provided opportunity for staff of the two agencies to get to know one another and to develop a mutual understanding of each other’s issues.
A full-time human rights liaison officer began working at NCCT in January 2002. Within only a short time, people from the community began approaching him with questions concerning situations they were experiencing.
GREAT continues to be involved in the project and will be carrying on with Phase III (beginning in 2002-2003) which consists of identifying quality service standards and evaluating the project from both quantitative and qualitative standpoints.
There is a strong commitment among the three agencies to continue the project through the next fiscal year and the Commission looks forward to a beneficial outcome, especially for urban Aboriginal persons living in Toronto.
In January 2002, seven members of the Commission’s Policy and Education Branch were awarded the Government of Ontario’s Amethyst Award for outstanding achievement by Ontario public servants in the development of the Commission’s Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate.
The award recognized the extensive research, public consultations and highly effective public education strategy used by the Branch’s staff to create and promote the new disability policy, which set a national standard for persons with disabilities. This is the second Amethyst Award that the Commission has received. In 1998, the Commission was similarly recognized for the development and implementation of its Case Management Information System (CMIS) which has won both national and international acclaim.
The fiscal year 2001-2002 is the second year of a three-year Public Education Strategy, Getting the Message Out, which governs the Commission’s public education activities for the years 2000-2003.
Of particular note, this strategy commits the Commission to develop and enhance partnerships with the public, private and not-for-profit sectors and stresses the need for a plan that will promote effective relations with various stakeholders.
Events and Presentations
For the seventh consecutive year, the high level of performance in public education was maintained. In the fiscal year 2001-2002, approximately 9,000 people attended 104 events where Commission staff were presenting or where display materials were available.
The Chief Commissioner made keynote presentations at conferences and symposia organized by the Ontario Association of Social Workers, Canada’s Association for the Fifty-Plus (CARP), Schedule 2 Employers WSIB Conference and the Adult Protective Service Association of Ontario.
He also spoke at conferences, law schools, elementary and secondary schools throughout the province, and gave interviews on radio, television and in the print media on current human rights issues.
In October 2001, the Chief Commissioner made a presentation to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights. The Committee was conducting hearings to determine future directions for Canada to meet its national and international obligations. In his address to the Committee, the Chief Commissioner highlighted many of the gains that the Commission has achieved over the past five years and, in particular, how these have contributed to Canada’s compliance with international human rights instruments at a national and provincial level.
The Commission’s Web site, www.ohrc.on.ca, is an important tool in sharing documents with the public. All major Commission documents such as policies, consultation information, news releases, case summaries, information on the various Commission processes, are all available on the Web site in French and English. In the 2001-2002 fiscal year, 233,090 unique visits were made to the site. On average, 638 people visited the site every day.
Following the events of September 11, the Commission compiled a list of resources and electronic links on its Web site to help students, parents and teachers deal with after-effects of the tragedy.
The Commission released six new leaflets in December 2001 as part of its ongoing mandate to increase awareness of human rights issues. The bilingual leaflets are written in plain language and cover crucial information Ontarians need about their rights with respect to hiring, sexual harassment, sexual orientation, racial harassment and pregnancy including breastfeeding and one leaflet on the Commission.
The Commission also released an updated edition of Teaching Human Rights in Ontario, a package for secondary school teachers to use when explaining human rights issues to students. The new addition includes the 1999 amendment to the Code, which added “same sex partnership status” as a protected ground as well as additional case studies and references to helpful Web sites that deal with human rights issues.
Rights Online is an electronic publication posted on the Commission’s Web site that highlights the quarterly achievements of the Commission as well as links to other sites and resources on various human rights issues. It also features a Commonly Asked Questions section which addresses how the Code and Commission policies apply in particular situations. The newsletter is also distributed by e-mail or fax to stakeholders and anyone who requests a copy.
Partnerships and Cooperation
The Commission is part of several partnerships that enhance its efforts to promote understanding of human rights.
The Commission continued to develop its partnership with the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario (HRPAO). Commission staff participated in HRPAO’s annual conference and made presentations at six other regional HRPAO events.
In partnership with CCH Canadian Ltd., one of Canada’s largest and most respected information providers for human resources, legal and accounting professionals, the Commission published Human Rights Policy in Ontario, a compendium of the Commission’s human rights policies and guidelines. It was released in September 2001 and includes updated policies in the areas of disability, drug and alcohol testing, sexual orientation, pregnancy and gender identity.
The Commission also began a project with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) and a number of other partners to develop a training video and study guide dealing with racism, which will serve as a useful tool in schools, workplaces, communities and organizations (public or private sector). This project was an outgrowth of the CRRF’s earlier campaign See People for Who They Really Are: Unite Against Racism which consisted of several short public service announcements featuring Canadian artists aired on Canadian television networks.
Advice on Human Rights Matters
The Commission’s mandate includes examining statutes, regulations, programs and policies to provide input on human rights aspects, as well as encouraging public and private entities to undertake measures to promote the objects of the Code. In this capacity, the Commission provided advice to the provincial government and private sector organizations in a number of areas.
- In April 2001, the Commission provided detailed input in response to the Ministry of Labour’s consultation on reform of workplace tribunals and agencies.
- The same month, the Commission wrote to the Minister of Transportation pointing out that the vision requirements in the regulations under the Highway Traffic Act do not provide for individualized assessment of persons with vision disabilities.
- The Commission wrote to and met with the Ministry of Community and Social Services to provide ongoing comment on the issue of mandatory drug, alcohol and literacy testing of welfare recipients.
- In June 2001, the Commission wrote to the Honourable David Turnbull, Solicitor General regarding its Policing Standards Manual (2000), Equal Opportunity, Discrimination and Workplace Harassment.
- In September 2001, the Commission wrote to the Minister of Education to request cooperation and offer support in dealing with any harassment or discrimination incidents in the school environments following the tragedy of September 11th.
- The Commission responded to reports that a company had an inappropriate drug and alcohol testing policy in place and asked impermissible questions on its application form. As a result of the Commission’s intervention, the company changed its policy and procedures to ensure compliance with the Code and Commission policies.
- Human rights concerns raised by a legislative amendment allowing for compulsory blood testing for infectious diseases under certain circumstances were the subject of a letter from the Commission to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care.
- In March 2002, the Commission presented an in-depth submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, outlining the need for reform to the barrier-free access requirements in the Ontario Building Code. The submission describes priorities for change as well as the human rights principles that should be reflected in a revised Building Code.
National and International Initiatives
The Commission provides input into submissions required by Canada’s reporting obligations under international human rights conventions as well as other national and international initiatives. In 2001-2002, the Commission provided comment on five documents:
- The United Nations’ Draft Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
- A World Fit for Children – Ontario’s Submission for Canada’s contribution to the UN Special Session on Children slated for May 2002.
- Canada's 5th Report on the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
- Canada’s 13th Report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination , and
- Canada’s 14th Report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies
Representatives of all the human rights agencies in Canada attend the annual general meeting (AGM) of the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA). At the 2001 AGM, Commission staff were involved in delivering seminars on several human rights topics. The Commission was also integral to the drafting and adoption of two resolutions concerning social and economic rights.
The first resolution articulates CASHRA’s recommendation that social condition as a ground of discrimination be included in human rights legislation across Canada and the second resolution affirms CASHRA’s commitment to giving full attention to economic and social rights within existing commission mandates.
Staff representing each of the CASHRA member agencies meet regularly by teleconference to share information and plan new public education and policy projects. With the assistance of the Human Rights Program, Canadian Heritage, the public education group is planning a three-day meeting to further plan educational activities which can be undertaken in partnership.
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: Ethiopia, New Zealand, Ghana, South Africa, Vietnam and Japan.