I am pleased to report on the activities of the Ontario Human Rights Commission for the period April 1, 2005 to March 31, 2006.
In doing so, I would like to thank the staff of the Commission, and the Commissioners themselves, for their hard work and dedication to human rights. Some, like myself, have recently joined the Commission, while others finished their time with the Commission this past year. All have made an important contribution. In particular, I’d like to recognize the invaluable leadership of Keith Norton for his nine years of service as Chief Commissioner, which ended in October 2005. I would also like to acknowledge and thank Commissioner Ivan Oliveira who served as interim Chief Commissioner until my arrival in December 2005.
During 2005-06, the Commission realized significant achievements in the fulfillment of its mandate to protect, promote and advance human rights for the people of Ontario.
The Commission mediated, investigated or otherwise completed a total of 2,117 individual complaints of discrimination (3% more than the previous fiscal year), and referred a total of 170 cases to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for a hearing.
Following research and inquiry into the discriminatory impact of “safe schools” legislation and policies on racialized students and students with disabilities, the Commission initiated its own complaints to more directly seek a systemic resolution of the issues. Several related complaints from students were settled through mediation.
A number of other cases included public interest remedies to help prevent future discrimination. A settlement with a school board resulted in an agreement on comprehensive measures to ensure all staff have equal access to positions of responsibility in the school system regardless of race. A public interest remedy obtained in a lengthy case at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario now requires transit operators to announce subway stops to assist riders with visual disabilities and others to better navigate the system. The Commission also intervened in two cases at the Supreme Court of Canada: one advances human rights principles with respect to religious accommodation; and the other enhances the power of administrative tribunals to interpret and apply human rights legislation.
During the year, the Commission released a new Policy and Guidelines on Racism and Racial Discrimination, updated its Policy on Discrimination and Harassment Because of Sexual Orientation to reflect the rights of same-sex marriage partners, and undertook public consultations toward development of a policy on discrimination because of family status.
In addition to reaching more than 10,000 individuals at public education events, the Commission partnered with the Union of Ontario Indians to produce a new brochure on Aboriginal persons’ rights under the Code. Available in Mohawk, Cree and Ojibway, the brochures were distributed to over 250 Aboriginal service organizations across the province. The Commission also continued its partnership with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and other organizations in promoting a call for a Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination.
This past year also saw the Legislature of Ontario pass a bill to end mandatory retirement. The bill, which takes effect in December 2006, addresses a longstanding recommendation of the Commission to allow employees the choice to continue working past age 65.
For many years the Commission has called for change to improve Ontario’s human rights system. It therefore welcomed the Attorney General’s announcement last summer of his intent to develop proposals for reform. Following on these proposals, in April 2006, the government introduced Bill 107, an Act that, if passed, will significantly amend Ontario’s Human Rights Code. Public hearings are anticipated in the coming months. The Commission is working with stakeholders and government to ensure the Bill meets international principles for human rights institutions.
Ontario is home to some of the most diverse communities in the world. The health and safety of our combined community requires a strong integrated human rights system: one that can deal efficiently and effectively with individual complaints of discrimination; act in the public interest to protect and advance human rights; as well as promote respect for human rights through public education, partnership, and cooperation among individuals, organizations and institutions, across the province and elsewhere.
I look forward to the coming year, working to ensure the system, and in particular the Commission, has what it needs to achieve the goals of the Code: recognizing the dignity and worth of every person in Ontario and providing for equal rights and opportunities without discrimination.
Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)