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Family status rights: spreading the word

In May 2007, the Commission released the results of its groundbreaking initiative on discrimination based on family status, and became the first jurisdiction in Canada to examine the human rights implications of barriers faced by families who are caring for children, aging parents or relatives, and family members with disabilities.

The Cost of Caring: Report on the Consultation on Discrimination on the Basis of Family Status and the Policy and Guidelines on Discrimination Because of Family Status highlight the results of the Commission’s public consultation on family status, and provide employers, landlords and service providers with guidance on rights and responsibilities under the Code.

In the consultation, the Commission heard that caregivers are often at a significant disadvantage in gaining access to employment, housing and services. With changes to family structures such as the aging population, the movement of women into the paid workforce, and increasing numbers of lone-parent families, family caregivers find themselves under increasing pressure. Workplaces have been slow to adapt to the changing realities of the family, and work-life balance issues are leading to a growing need for workplace accommodation. This new policy framework will help workplaces meet their responsibilities and recognize family status as a human rights issue.

Mental health discrimination and police record checks

In February 2008, the Commission released a Draft Policy on Mental Health Discrimination and Police Record Checks for public consultation. The Commission has found that certain requirements, policies and practices relating to non-criminal police record checks can have a discriminatory impact on persons with mental health-related disabilities seeking employment. Such practices may also affect other people identified by Code grounds.

Police record checks are much broader than criminal record checks. They also include information about non-criminal contact with police, such as transfers to a medical facility, or being a victim or witness.

The new policy will provide information on disability-related concerns about police record checks, how the Code applies, and on the responsibilities of all parties involved to make sure policies and practices are not discriminatory.

The Commission has posted the draft policy on its website, and is directly contacting a range of people and organizations across Ontario for input, including police services and their boards, the mental health sector, providers of services for vulnerable persons, volunteer sector organizations and government ministries. The finalized policy will be released this coming year.

Gender identity policy update

Last winter, the Commission completed a public consultation as a first step in updating its Policy on Discrimination and Harassment Because of Gender Identity. This update will reflect important case law advances and policy developments. One goal of the update is to make the policy more useful for persons who identify as transsexual, transgendered, intersex or gender variant. It will also include more information to help landlords, service providers and other organizations to understand their obligations and what steps they can take to prevent discrimination, provide accommodation and to address complaints.

Helping organizations develop policies and procedures

In March 2008, the Commission released a new version of its Guidelines on Developing Human Rights Policies and Procedures (previously called Developing Procedures to Resolve Human Rights Complaints Within Your Organization). This policy contains the Commission’s interpretation of provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code relating to organizational policies and procedures to prevent and address human rights issues.

Employers, housing providers, governments and service providers all have an obligation to make sure that human rights are respected. This publication gives some practical guidance on creating the policies and procedures needed to make this possible. The publication provides valuable advice on developing effective and fair policies, procedures and practices to prevent human rights infringements and to respond to human rights issues, such as harassment, discrimination and accommodation needs.

Publishing our policies

In partnership with Carswell Publishing, the Commission released its 2008 edition of Human Rights Policy in Ontario. This print compendium of all the current Commission policies was published in November 2007. Electronic versions of the policies are also available on the Commission’s website.

Examining human rights in rental housing

In the summer and fall of 2007, the Commission held a public consultation on discrimination in rental housing. Almost 130 organizations and over 100 individuals took part in consultation meetings held across the province. The Commission also received more than 60 formal submissions, and over 100 individuals wrote in or completed an on-line survey.

The input we received was substantive and thoughtful. The Commission will share the findings publicly in 2008, and will use what we learned to develop new policy guidelines to help tenants, landlords, government and other responsible institutions and service providers prevent and address housing discrimination.

In the meantime, the Commission continues to promote and advance understanding of human rights in housing. Last October, Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall met with Mr. Miloon Kothari, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Housing, and also took part in his public session. As well, through letters to the editor and a letter to a municipal council, the Commission continues to add a human rights perspective to issues such as regulating student housing, avoiding NIMBYism and discrimination against persons with mental health issues, and the illegal discriminatory impact of rent-to-income ratios.

Driving school accessibility

In late 2007, the Commission led discussions to increase accessibility of driver education for persons who are deaf, deafened and hard of hearing. Young Drivers of Canada, the Canadian Hearing Society, and the Ministry of Transportation have each made commitments that will improve access.

Young Drivers of Canada will:

  • offer an on-line captioned co-driver video in 2008
  • add sign language to its already captioned on-line co-driver course in the second quarter of 2008
  • offer captioned novice driver course videos on-line in 2009, once new Ministry standards are completed
  • develop a live on-line course with sign language interpretation once technology improvements and new novice driver curriculum changes are in place, projected for 2009.

The Canadian Hearing Society will provide assistance and services in areas such as:

  • locating a suitable candidate fluent in sign language, who will be trained to YDC standards to deliver their course
  • providing sign interpretation for the candidate if they need this accommodation
  • notifying the deaf community about availability of this service.

The Ministry of Transportation will look for areas to remove legislative/regulatory barriers to on-line instruction, and to examine avenues for funding this project in future.

Submission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario

In February 2008, the Commission submitted comments to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which is drafting policies on establishing and ending physician-patient relationships. In the past, the Commission has received complaints and heard community concerns about a number of screening and treatment practices.
In this submission, the Commission commended the College for including Human Rights Code grounds and issues in its draft policies, and suggested some revisions. One suggestion was to clarify that Code provisions relating to sex also include gender identity and expression.

The Commission also voiced concerns over the draft policy’s handling of discretionary decisions made by doctors in accepting patients and providing care. The draft policy may in fact lead to confusion and to human rights complaints because doctors may see it as condoning practices that the Commission views as discriminatory. Areas that need a closer look include:

  • when a practice is “open” or “closed” to new patients
  • admitting patients to a closed practice
  • the concepts of patient selection, scope, balance or focus of a practice
  • considering time constraints when deciding to accept a patient
  • clarifying “clinical competence” to provide care
  • refusing to provide services in general, or providing particular information or health care based on religious or moral grounds.

The draft policies are a solid first step in addressing many of the barriers that prevent some Ontarians from equitable access to the health care services they need. The Commission will continue to work with the College towards the shared goal of equitable access to health care for all Ontarians.

Submission on public transit accessibility guidelines

For many people, access to transit makes the difference between isolation and loneliness, and full participation in the life of their community. That’s why in August 2007 the Commission made a submission to the Accessibility Standards Development Committee of the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, about its Initial Proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA).

The Commission views these draft standards as a setback for Ontarians with disabilities in a number of areas. For example, most of the accessibility requirements for transportation vehicles apply only to new vehicles, leaving barrier removal on existing vehicles to the discretion of transportation providers. Because transportation providers can still buy non-accessible second-hand buses, the standards would allow them to continue to make non-inclusive design choices.

Also, the proposed Transportation Standard effectively defers equality for persons with disabilities to an unacceptably distant future. For example, it does not require transportation providers to announce stops until 3 – 18 years after the standards are adopted, when precedents already exist for almost immediately putting these procedures or systems in place. A 2007 Human Rights Tribunal decision ordered the Toronto Transit Commission to begin announcing stops within 30 days of the decision.

While the AODA has great potential to positively affect the lives of persons with disabilities, it will not do so if the standards being proposed are less than existing rights. The Commission will continue to monitor and advocate for clear, enforceable standards for transit accessibility, adequate government funding for transit accessibility, and full compliance with the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code.

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