Development of policy statements is central to the Commission’s work to eliminate discrimination and to protect, promote, and advance human rights. Commission policies and guidelines:
- Provide Ontarians with detailed information about their Code rights
- Advance a progressive and purposive understanding of these rights
- Set standards for how employers, service providers, policy makers, and the Commission should act to ensure compliance with the Code.
- Provide the foundation for the Commission’s public education activities, awareness campaigns and Commission-initiated complaints,
- Inform the Commission’s litigation strategy.
Policies are important public statements that set out the Commission’s interpretation of the Code at the time of publication, and enable the Commission to speak authoritatively and with influence on human rights issues.
The Commission’s policies and guidelines have received recognition, both nationally and internationally, from human rights practitioners, advocates, and stakeholders. While these policies are not binding on the Human Rights Tribunal, or on courts, they are often given great deference, applied to the facts of cases before the court or tribunal, and quoted in the decisions of these bodies.
The Commission’s policy development is triggered and informed by a broad range of factors, such as: inquiries and complaints received from the public; the public education and communications functions; academic and social science research; the monitoring of social issues and trends; case law developments; and the provisions of the Code and Charter.
Public consultation also plays a major role in the development of Commission policy positions and documents. It is undertaken in a variety of ways, usually incorporating both verbal and written contributions from individuals and stakeholder organizations. The Commission regularly consults with a broad range of stakeholders, such as employers, professional and consumer organizations, unions, service and housing providers, government, experts, community groups, and advocates. Public consultations identify key issues and concerns, as well as possible approaches and best practices. And, they are one of the primary ways in which the Commission remains actively engaged with its stakeholders, and ensures that they have a voice in the strategic direction of the Commission. Consultation also promotes organizational responsibility, respect and understanding of human rights, and voluntary compliance with the Code.
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 2005-06.
Policy and Guidelines on Racism and Racial Discrimination
In June 2005, the Commission released its Policy and Guidelines on Racism and Racial Discrimination, presenting it to an audience of more than 100 community leaders, officials, and other stakeholders. This Policy updates and significantly expands upon the Commission’s 1996 Policy on Racial Slurs and Harassment and Racial Jokes and builds upon the Commission’s 2004 Inquiry Report, Paying the Price: the Human Cost of Racial Profiling. It provides much needed guidance to the public concerning their rights and responsibilities under the Code.
The new Policy describes a number of considerations to be used in examining whether racial discrimination has occurred, and stresses the importance of building an organizational culture of prevention and respect for human rights. It enables the Commission, other organizations, advocates and adjudicators to take a consistent approach to cases that involve race and related grounds. The Policy provides information, best practices, and approaches that are central to appropriate mediation, investigation, analysis and litigation of race-related cases, and to correcting systemic discrimination and historical disadvantage through incorporation of public interest remedies in settlements and decisions.
The Policy is based on extensive research and consultation that began in March 2004. The process included numerous focus groups with stakeholders representing a variety of perspectives and interests, a three-day Policy Dialogue Conference in which experts and stakeholders from across the country discussed relevant issues, opportunity for public comment on independent papers that were generated by the Policy Dialogue, and further input on specific issues from respondent-oriented stakeholders.
The Commission has responded to requests for public education presentations about the Policy from a number of organizations, such as the Ontario Police College, the Canadian Association for the Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment in Higher Education, and the Hamilton Police Service.
Sexual Orientation Policy Update
In 2005-06, the Commission updated and re-released its Policy on Discrimination and Harassment because of Sexual Orientation. The update reflects the significant developments in case law and changes to legislation relating to both sexual orientation and same-sex marriage since the release of the initial policy in February 2000. These include the March 2005 amendments to the Code, which, among other changes, redefined “marital status” to be inclusive of same-sex conjugal relationships.
The updated Policy includes an increased focus on subtle and systemic discrimination, and clarifies the responsibility of organizations to identify and address discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation. The Policy is intended to improve understanding of discrimination experienced by lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals, and to assist organizations to develop and maintain harassment-free environments.
Human Rights and the Family
In May 2005, the Commission began a public consultation on human rights and family status with the release of the Discussion Paper, Human Rights & the Family in Ontario. The Discussion Paper outlined key issues and invited submissions from interested parties. The Commission also released a questionnaire inviting individual Ontarians to share stories of how their family status had impacted their access to housing, employment and services. These materials were sent to over 300 stakeholders and posted on the Commission’s Web site for feedback from the public.
The Commission heard from approximately 120 stakeholders, including employers, unions, housing providers, government, academics, community organizations, legal clinics, service providers, professional organizations, advocacy groups and individuals. Based on this feedback, the Commission held four roundtables during the fall of 2005, covering specific issues affecting older Ontarians, the definition of family status, employment and housing. In 2006-07, the Commission plans to release a Report and recommendations on the results of the consultation as well as a new policy.