Message from the Chief Commissioner
This has been a year of debate, dialogue and development at the Ontario Human Rights Commission. We have been given the opportunity to reshape and improve the state of human rights in Ontario, which is both an exciting and challenging endeavour. As we embark on a strategic planning process to set our future course, I feel more and more confident about the impact the Commission will be able to have.
In April 2006, the Attorney General introduced legislation to renew Ontario's human rights system. The bill will change the way individual complaints of discrimination are handled, by shifting responsibility for dealing with such complaints from the Commission to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the “Tribunal”) and the newly created Human Rights Legal Support Centre. In December 2006, the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, received Royal Assent. As I write, a date for the new Act to come fully into effect has not been set.
This change, along with others, will have a profound impact on the way the human rights system in Ontario works, including big changes to the role of the Commission and our relationship with our partners in the system. As responsibility for individual complaints moves away from the Commission, we will concentrate our efforts on “the big picture” through proactive research, policy development, public education, and outreach to address systemic and public interest matters. These have long been important aspects of our work, but we will be able to do more in the future. Some examples of how Ontarians can benefit from these initiatives include:
- Families, employers and service providers across the province will now have clarification about how Ontario’s Human Rights Code (the “Code”) protects them, following the release of the Commission’s consultation report and a new policy on family status this spring.
- People seeking and living in rental housing, and those who provide it, can learn more about their rights and responsibilities and speak out this spring with the launch of the Commission’s public consultation on this fundamental area of human rights.
- A new agreement reached with Toronto’s police services will address systemic change through cooperative work and lead to quicker resolution of individual complaints, better community-police relationships, and serve as a model for the Commission’s outreach with police services across the province.
Under our new mandate, we will continue to have an opportunity to monitor and intervene in individual cases, and to use this information to guide our broader efforts, as we have done this past year with restaurant accessibility and other areas:
- Following our intervention at the Supreme Court of Canada, Ontarians can now expect administrative bodies, such as the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal, to give primacy to the Code in their decisions. The Commission has recently begun to liaise with a number of these agencies, offering to work cooperatively with them to address human rights issues.
- As a result of advice provided by the Commission, unions and education providers should be aware of their shared responsibility to ensure that appropriate accommodation is provided to students with disabilities during work stoppages involving educational assistants.
Moving forward, we also retain our powers to initiate complaints and pursue public interest remedies. One such Commission-initiated complaint was resolved recently through an agreement with the Ministry of Education. It provides that, as of this fall, school safety measures will benefit all students equally, regardless of race, and incorporate accommodation for students with disabilities.
We are pleased that the new legislation explicitly recognizes the Commission’s independence, and its role in reporting directly to the people of Ontario, in the spirit of international principles.
Through our expanding mandate, we aim to empower people and communities, and advocate for the full realization of human rights. This is a challenging agenda, but we are committed to our statutory responsibility to the people of Ontario. With the help of these same people – in the community, in government, and in the other pillars of the human rights system – we will work to promote, protect and advance human rights throughout the province.
In the pages that follow, you will read of our many achievements of the past year, and our plans for the future. As you do so, please consider where and how we might improve our work. As part of the strategic planning process, I have been speaking with groups and individuals across the province, seeking input on our new direction. I would welcome your contribution too. Please look for links on our Web site www.ohrc.on.ca or write directly to me.
In closing, I would like to thank all those who assisted us in the past year. In particular, the staff and managers of the Commission have once again shown their steadfast commitment to serving the public and the cause of human rights. Their perseverance through change and uncertainty is remarkable, and fuels my hope that the human rights system will continue to benefit from their knowledge and expertise. I am also fortunate to have a remarkable group of fellow commissioners who bring diverse experience and wisdom to our work. I particularly want to thank Evangelista Oliveira, Jeanette Case, Vivian Jarvis and Reginald Stackhouse for their considerable contribution during their tenure on the Commission.
Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)
 See the UN’s Paris Principles on human rights, which calls for reports be made “to the Government, Parliament and any other competent body...[with] opinions, recommendations, proposals and reports on any matter concerning the promotion and protection of human rights”. [Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions, annex to National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, CHR Res. 54, UN ESCOR, 1992, Supp. No. 2 of UN Doc. E/1992/22, chap. II, sect. A; GA Res. 48/134, UNGAOR, 1993, Annex.]