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 2002-2003. The Commission’s policies and guidelines are approved public statements that set out the Commission’s interpretation of specific provisions of the Code. The Commission’s policy work 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.
Public Transit Report
In April 2002, the Commission released its Report on Human Rights and Public Transit Services in Ontario. The Commission’s Report summarized the input received from transit providers, seniors’ organizations, disability consumers’ groups, advocacy groups and individuals during the Commission's consultation on access to public transit services.
The Report states that there is a legal obligation under the Code for equal access to public transit services without discrimination based on prohibited grounds, yet found that persons with disabilities, older persons and families with young children face difficulties in accessing transit on a daily basis.
The Report contains recommendations for transit service providers to set a goal of full integration and accessibility, design services and facilities inclusively and take all steps short of undue hardship, including developing plans, to achieve this goal. The Commission encouraged the provincial government to set standards and timelines across the province and to consider the urgency and impact of accessibility issues in public transit services.
Under the new Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA), every public transportation organization in Ontario is required to prepare and make publicly available a yearly accessibility plan addressing the identification, removal and prevention of barriers to persons with disabilities in the organization’s bylaws, policies, programs, practices and services. The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario notes that public transit providers should complete their first accessibility plans by September 30, 2003, one year after the date of proclamation of the ODA.
Building on the Commission’s ongoing work in the area of age discrimination, in June 2002, the Commission released its Policy on Discrimination against Older Persons because of Age. The Policy provides an in-depth look at age discrimination as it relates to the present protections in the Code. The Policy was developed to help the public and Commission staff gain a better understanding of how the Code protects older Ontarians. It also aims to raise awareness among service providers, employers and landlords of their obligations under the Code. Six fact sheets were also published to provide a quick resource to explain the key issues in the Policy.
At the same time, the Commission announced its public awareness campaign, in partnership with CARP (Canada’s Association for the Fifty-Plus), to counteract myths and stereotypes about older persons. The campaign features posters of older people with stickers on their foreheads that state a Best Before age and a tagline that states:
"Nobody has a shelf life. Stop age discrimination now. It's illegal, and it's just plain wrong."
The message is intended to serve as a reminder that negative attitudes about aging should not stand in the way of equal opportunity and participation for older Ontarians. There are different posters for employment, transit services, health care and housing - four key areas that affect older Ontarians.
Education and Disability
The Commission undertook significant work in the area of disability and education. In July 2002, the Commission released a Consultation Paper entitled Education and Disability: Human Rights Issues in Ontario’s Education System.
The Paper set out specific issues on which the Commission sought input such as access to education, disability and other forms of discrimination, negative attitudes and stereotypes, labelling, the accommodation process, roles and responsibilities, appropriate accommodation, and undue hardship. The Paper invited written submissions from any interested individual or organization on these and other human rights issues related to disability and education.
The Commission received 124 written submissions. Those who made submissions included community organizations, school boards, special education advisory committees, parents, students with disabilities, educators, colleges, universities, consultants, unions, advocacy groups, and government ministries.
In November 2002, the Commission held public hearings in Ottawa, North Bay, Hamilton and Toronto to hear presentations. Interested parties presented submissions on human rights issues affecting people with disabilities in the education sector. The completion of these hearings fulfills a commitment made in 2002 to conduct consultations on disability and education with a view to developing a consultation report and specific guidelines.
A consultation report and guidelines are currently being prepared and are expected to be released in the Fall of 2003.
Building Code and Restaurant Accessibility
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 identifies priorities for change as well as the human rights principles that should be reflected in a revised Building Code. In July 2002, this document was made public along with a report on a Commission initiative to promote accessibility in the restaurant sector.
The initiative involved surveying 29 major restaurant chains in Ontario to ascertain the degree of accessibility of their premises, what standards are used for accessibility, and what objectives are set for achieving accessibility in future.
A review of the responses revealed that the restaurant chains are setting their standards for accessibility based only on the Ontario Building Code that is in effect at the time of construction or renovation. Neither the Code nor the Commission’s Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate are considerations in setting standards for accessibility.
Accordingly, the Commission initiated its own inquiry into the accessibility of restaurant chains pursuant to its mandate under section 29 of the Code. The Commission retained an expert to conduct restaurant accessibility and service reviews of seven chains. The expert visited several locations of each of the seven chains in various parts of the province. The chains were assessed and rated based on a checklist setting out key elements of accessibility.
The results of the review were disappointing. They revealed that there are facilities in operation in Ontario that do not meet even the most basic accessibility requirements of the current Building Code, nor the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code. In some cases facilities are completely inaccessible while in others, persons with disabilities would face significant barriers, for example, in accessing washrooms.
In the next fiscal year, the Commission intends to share the results of this review with the seven chains to ascertain their plans for achieving accessibility in the future. The results of the review will also be made public.
As part of its commitment to initiate a project on race, ethnicity and origins, on December 9th, 2002, the eve of International Human Rights Day, the Commission announced that it would undertake a public inquiry to look into the effects of racial profiling on individuals, families, communities and society as a whole.
The inquiry falls under the Commission’s mandate in section 29 of the Code to inquire into incidents or conditions leading to tension or conflict, to initiate investigations into problems in society, to encourage programs to address such problems and to conduct public education to promote understanding of and compliance with the Code.
The Commission worked closely with community partners in the design of the process. On February 17, 2003, the initiative was launched and from
February 18th to 28th, the Commission’s phone lines were open in the evenings to receive submissions from the public. The Commission also received a number of submissions through an online questionnaire and by mail.
By the fiscal year end, the Commission had received over 800 contacts. While not all of the contacts fit the parameters of the inquiry, the feedback exceeded the Commission’s expectations in terms of both quality and quantity. Persons from a variety of backgrounds from communities across the province shared accounts of their experiences with profiling in a number of settings.
On March 31st, the Commission held a one-day public inquiry session in Toronto during which thirteen (13) presenters, representing a cross-section of the submissions received, described the impact of profiling on themselves, their families, their communities, and society and its institutions. The session was successful in its goal of raising public awareness, particularly among those who may lack an understanding of the harmful effects of profiling.
The Commission intends to publish a report on the racial profiling initiative during the next fiscal year.
Aboriginal Human Rights Program
The fiscal year, 2002-2003, marked the third 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 law or 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 revealed that Aboriginal people face significant discrimination in housing, particularly off the reserve, as well as discrimination in employment and services. In addition, it indicated that Aboriginal communities and members had little knowledge of the Commission’s services or the human rights process. The report on Phase 1 recommended that the Commission increase its presence in Aboriginal communities and included strategies to enhance awareness and improve access for Aboriginal persons to the human rights system.
In January 2002, during the second phase of the initiative, a full-time human rights liaison officer began working at NCCT to increase awareness of human rights and the Commission’s services.
The third phase was implemented in this fiscal year and was an evaluation of the project. The Final Report, written by GREAT, was submitted in March 2003 and reflected that while the model is effective, there is still a great deal of work to be done in this area.
In particular, the report indicated that the role of a liaison officer had worked effectively:
- with Commission Inquiries and Intake staff to assist Aboriginal people to file complaints;
- with community agencies serving Aboriginal peoples to provide information, support or resolution to situations, many times without referral to the Commission as a complaint;
- with the Canadian Human Rights Commission as many of those who voiced concerns were either from reservations or their inquiries involved federally regulated organizations;
- and as a vehicle for public education in the community, in agencies and in schools.
The Commission will be following up on the recommendations of GREAT’s Final Report to strengthen the program’s viability and to develop a strategy to broaden the program geographically in Ontario.
An Intersectional Approach to Discrimination
The Commission released a Discussion Paper entitled, An Intersectional Approach to Discrimination: Addressing Multiple Grounds in Human Rights Claims and solicited feedback on how an intersectional analysis can be consistently applied in all areas of the Commission’s work. The paper explores how factors such as race, gender, age, place of origin and disability often intersect to produce a unique experience of discrimination.
Advice on Human Rights Matters
One part of the Commission’s function is to inquire into statutes, regulations, programs and policies, including matters in the public and private sectors to provide input on human rights issues. The Commission can also undertake measures to assist public and private bodies to comply with the Code. During the past fiscal year, the Commission:
- communicated with a number of bodies responsible for administering social housing in Ontario to provide a policy interpretation of how the Code applies to “seniors only” and “ethnic” housing accommodation;
- wrote to and met with representatives of the Office of the Chief Coroner regarding the potential for a claim of discrimination on the basis of mental disability due to automatic inquests for deaths in police or prison custody versus discretionary inquests for deaths of persons involuntarily committed to psychiatric facilities;
- wrote to the Ministers of Finance and Education regarding Commission concerns with the private school tax credit as proposed. The Commission also met with staff of these ministries to provide advice on human rights aspects of this program. The Commission clarified its public position on this issue by posting a Fact Sheet on the Private School Tax Credit on its Web site;
- wrote to the Minister of Transportation regarding human rights concerns raised by hearing standards for class B, C, E and F drivers licenses in Ontario;
- wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs urging the Canadian government to take action regarding an international human rights matter involving a Nigerian woman sentenced to death by stoning for allegedly having a child out of wedlock;
- spoke out about the increase in hate crimes reported across the province since September 11, 2001 with a reminder that intolerant behaviour is unacceptable and has no place in our society;
- wrote to the Ontario Press Council to express concerns regarding an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen which suggested that special measures in the Criminal Code of Canada to deal with hate crimes elevate “special categories of victims” to a higher rank than others and place greater worth on their lives;
- wrote to the Minister of Consumer and Business Services to comment on that Ministry’s proposed privacy legislation and to highlight potential human rights concerns;
- wrote to the Ministry of Public Safety and Security regarding the disclosure by police forces of non-criminal information about individuals with mental illness to potential employers, volunteer groups, sports clubs and other organizations that provide services to children or vulnerable persons; and
- wrote to the Ministry of Transportation about that Ministry’s licensing requirements for older drivers, which appear to consider older drivers to be a higher risk despite the conclusion of a 2002 Coroner’s Jury to the contrary.
Increasing Awareness through Public Education
This fiscal year was the third year of the Commission’s three-year Public Education Strategy, Getting the Message Out, that supports the Commission’s mandate to promote and advance awareness of the Code through the use of thematic campaigns as well as developing and enhancing partnerships in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.
The Chief Commissioner took part in a number of public events including: three presentations on age discrimination, three presentations to youth in schools or conferences, one presentation in Santiago, Chile to the Universidad Diego Portales, at an international conference on human rights, and a presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on the topic of same-sex marriage.
Commission staff made several presentations to local chapters of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario (HRPAO), school boards, teachers’ forums, colleges and universities.
Enhanced public awareness of human rights issues was also achieved through other initiatives such as the Aboriginal Human Rights Program, the Disability and Education consultations, the public awareness campaign to counteract negative stereotypes of older Ontarians and significant media coverage as a result of the Racial Profiling Inquiry.
In 2002-2003, usage of the Commission’s Web site, www.ohrc.on.ca, grew again for the second straight year. During the period April 1, 2002 through March 31, 2003, 330,131 unique visits were recorded, which represents an increase of almost 100,000 unique visits over the same period of the 2001-2002 fiscal year. On average, 904 people visited the Web site each day, an increase over the average of 638 daily visitors in the previous fiscal year.
In February 2003, the Commission used the Web site for the first time to gather submissions to a consultation. An electronic form was placed on the site to facilitate online responses to the call for submissions regarding racial profiling. Through the end of March 2003 over 500 contacts had been made using the electronic form.
The Commission’s Web site remains the best place to quickly access information on the Commission from policies, plain language guides, case summaries and news releases to information about the complaints process, consultations and upcoming and past Commission initiatives.
The Commission also produced, in collaboration with COSTI, a multicultural service agency for new immigrants, plain-language brochures on sexual and racial harassment, hiring, how to file a complaint and Commission services in four additional languages: Urdu, Punjabi, Tagalog and Spanish.
The Commission continued to build on partnerships with the community and organizations that share responsibility for and interest in the promotion of human rights.
This fiscal year, the Commission signed a framework agreement with the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario (HRPAO) to:
- rewrite “Human Rights at Work” by updating the content and increasing its usefulness to practitioners in the human resources field;
- co-operate in delivering workshops and presentations;
- co-produce publications including the Web site; and
- include information about human rights in HRPAO’s publication HR Professional; and work together on other awareness campaigns.
The Commission also launched a public awareness campaign to highlight the discrimination faced by older Ontarians because of their age in partnership with Canada’s Association for the Fifty-Plus (CARP).
National and International Initiatives
The Commission provides input into Canada’s reports which are required under the various international human rights conventions to which Canada is a signatory.
In 2002-2003, the Commission participated in this process by providing information to the Ministry of Labour in their preparation of Ontario and Canada’s report in response to questions from the International Labour Organization regarding measures taken to prevent discrimination in employment and promote employment of women, older workers, people with disabilities, and other categories of people subject to discrimination and exclusion.
The Commission also provided information about its work to Canada’s delegation appearing before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Committee was considering Canada’s 13th and 14th Reports under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
International Delegations and Visitors
The Commission hosted delegations from human rights commissions and related agencies and groups from the following countries: Korea (Ombudsman), Albania (Ombudsman) and Bermuda (Human Rights Commission).
Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies
The Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA) is made up of human rights agencies across Canada. As in past years, at the 2002 annual general meeting, Commission staff were involved in delivering seminars on several human rights topics.
At that meeting, CASHRA members also passed a resolution urging the Government of British Columbia to demonstrate its stated commitment to human rights by undertaking to meet international human rights standards by ensuring its human rights system operates at arm’s length and is accessible and effective at protecting and promoting human rights.
In September 2002, the Commission prepared a submission, on behalf of CASHRA, to the Government of British Columbia in response to that province’s introduction of legislation to abolish its human rights commission. The submission reiterated CASHRA’s support for the continuance of independent human rights commissions, in Canada and abroad, as distinct and desirable institutions representing the public interest.
British Columbia’s Human Rights Code Amendment Act has been proclaimed in force as of March 31, 2003. As a result, British Columbia is now the only province in Canada without a human rights commission.
The Commission maintains regular contact with CASHRA’s Public Education Partners/Partenaires en éducation publique et populaire through ongoing regular communication with education representatives of other Canadian commissions and monthly teleconferences.