A Message from the Chief Commissioner
June 27, 2008
This past year at the Ontario Human Rights Commission was the starting point of transition to a new human rights system for Ontario. An important focus of our work was — and continues to be — getting ready for the “new Commission.” As our mandate changes, and the transformation continues, we are restructuring the Commission to meet our new opportunities. Our strategic plan, to be released later this year, will help us set priorities and concentrate our energies. We already have a long list of things to do!
We will need to be clear about what we can accomplish within our resources, and we must carefully choose work that will offer the most benefit to the most vulnerable people in our society.
You can see some clues about what the future will look like in the projects we completed this year. For example, “Fishing Without Fear,” the report on our inquiry into assaults on Asian Canadian anglers, was the result of an extensive partnership that drew together community groups, law enforcement, provincial and municipal government and the media. We worked together to understand the real nature of the issue — and then to develop solutions. It was not just an OHRC project — it was an “everyone” project.
In the same way, our soon to be released report on rental housing and human rights is the result of extensive consultations with individuals, groups and communities across Ontario. We created a platform for people to speak and share their stories and concerns, to identify themes and recommend solutions, and to take collective action province-wide.
Both “Fishing Without Fear” and the housing consultation reflect the Commission’s increasing emphasis on being a catalyst for dialogue and positive change. Throughout last year, we promoted open, respectful debate on some issues that were sure to provoke both positive and negative responses. Examples include our ongoing discussions on Islamophobia, freedom of expression and the role of the media in shaping public perceptions, police record checks and their impact on people with mental health issues, and racial profiling.
These are just a few of the “tough” issues that we all need to address. Our mandate is to shine a light on them and promote positive debate as a starting point for change.
In the coming year, we will focus our efforts on larger systemic or public interest issues, and will work with communities to translate these into solutions for people across the province. That’s the approach we took when working with transit providers across Ontario. We used a Tribunal decision to make sure persons with disabilities have the same access to transit across the province.
An essential part of this work will be building the foundations for new partnerships. We already enjoy many that are successful to use as starting points. For example, for three years in a row, we have worked with students from Seneca College to create marketing campaigns on human rights issues. The graphic designs on this year’s theme, the transformation of the human rights system, are featured on the cover and throughout this Annual Report.
The reason for focusing on partnerships is simple — we can’t do it alone. For the Commission to succeed in advancing human rights, we need to work with communities, government, the private sector and individuals across Ontario to make sure the human rights written on paper are the rights enjoyed by all Ontarians.
We could not have begun the transformation, or continued it this year, without the contributions of the talented staff team here at the Commission. Our staff continue to do excellent work in the midst of change. Some have moved on, but I hope to work with them again as they continue to share their commitment to human rights in their new roles in government and the community.
I have also been strongly supported by Commission members who bring their diverse experience, knowledge and passion for human rights to all of our work. Their positive vision for the new system is inspiring.
I say thank you — to staff, to my fellow Commissioners, and to the many people and groups in communities across the province, who have worked tirelessly to advance human rights. This kind of collective action is reflected in the activities outlined in this report — and is the foundation for the future as our transformation continues.
Barbara Hall, BA, LL.B, Ph.D (hon)