As part of its mandate to eliminate discrimination in society and advance broader societal and human rights issues as they emerge, the Commission provided advice on a number of matters.
The Chief Commissioner issued a press release in May 2003 regarding the introduction of a Bill that would provide more flexibility and choice in the area of retirement. He also wrote to the new government in January 2004, encouraging them to reintroduce legislation that will eliminate the requirement for workers to retire at age 65 and provide them with human rights protections in the workplace.
In March 2004, the Commission presented an in-depth submission to the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, outlining the need for reform to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The steady increase in recent years of complaints by persons with disabilities to the OHRC illustrates the importance of making the Ontarians with Disabilities Act an agent of real change for persons with disabilities in this province.
The submission describes priorities for change as well as the human rights principles that should be reflected in a revised Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
The Commission believes that, in order to be effective, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act must apply to the private as well as the public sector, build on the protections of the Code and accepted human rights principles, and address more precisely the issues of persons with non-mobility related disabilities. Accessibility plans should be retained and refined as essential tools for achieving a barrier-free Ontario, and accessibility standards should be developed and applied. Measures for receiving and resolving complaints are also essential, as are monitoring, public reporting and accountability measures for the body charged with administering and enforcing the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Accessible Public Transit
In keeping with its stated commitment to promote accessible public transit, the Commission, working with the Ontario Community Transportation Association (OCTA), discussed accessibility issues as part of a panel at the Ontario Transportation Expo Annual Conference in April 2003.
Commission staff also participated in OCTA’s four regional meetings held in October 2003 with over 40 transit authorities across the province. As well, in its March 2004 submission on the Ontarians With Disabilities Act, the Commission identified public transit as one of several key sectors where a sustained collaborative approach and standards setting are needed to bring about progressive realization of rights.
The Commission also wrote to:
- the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario about the possible adverse effects of the Ministry’s proposed strategy of using chemical agents to deal with the West Nile Virus on persons protected by the Code, including pregnant women, young children and persons with disabilities, in particular, persons with environmental sensitivities;
- the major providers of gas station services, outlining their responsibilities under the Code to provide equal and appropriate service to persons with disabilities;
- the Minister of Children's Services and the Minister of Education regarding access to preschool programs for deaf/hard of hearing children;
- the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office in response to two concerns raised about the rights of persons with mental illness: the search and seizure of personal property of patients living in psychiatric facilities; and, the Coroners Act stipulation that inquests for deaths of persons involuntarily committed to psychiatric facilities are discretionary; and,
- the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services outlining that, when undertaken appropriately, race-based data collection can be an effective component of a broad strategy for preventing social phenomena widely recognized as discriminatory, such as racial profiling. The Commission plans to release guidelines on data collection early in the 2004-2005 fiscal year.