In 2006, Bill 107 – The Human Rights Code Amendment Act set the stage for a major transformation of Ontario’s human rights system. This legislation, which comes into effect on June 30, 2008, will lead to fundamental changes in the way the Ontario Human Rights Commission operates.
On this date, the Commission’s responsibility for processing new individual human rights complaints will shift to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The Tribunal will deal with all claims of discrimination (applications) filed under the Ontario Human Rights Code, and will help resolve these applications either through mediation or adjudication. A new body, the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre, will offer independent claim-related services to individuals throughout Ontario. Services will range from information, advice and support to legal representation on applications before the Tribunal.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission will expand its work to promote, protect and advance human rights. The Commission’s focus will be to address broad public interest or systemic issues of discrimination. Activities will include research and monitoring, policy development, and education and training. The Commission will also conduct targeted inquiries, and may initiate claims or intervene in important cases before the Tribunal. Through outreach, cooperation and partnership, the Commission aims to build an active human rights culture in Ontario.
During the past year, the Commission has begun to review and redirect its activities and services to reflect its new mandate, while continuing to process individual complaints. The Commission has also been working with the Tribunal and the Legal Support Centre to plan for the six-month transition period that begins when the legislation comes into effect on June 30, 2008. The Commission will stop accepting new claims after this date.
Thereafter, new claims can be made by filing an application directly with the Tribunal. The Commission will continue to process existing cases already in its system until the end of 2008. Any cases not resolved by December 31, 2008 may be shifted to the Tribunal, at the option of the person bringing the claim. A fast track option to take existing cases to the Tribunal after June 30 will also be offered.
Adopting a new vision and mission
To make sure its operations match its new mandate, the Commission reviewed and approved its new vision and mission statement in 2007. This will serve as a benchmark for its future activities.
Our vision is:
An Ontario in which everyone is valued, treated with dignity and respect, and where human rights are nurtured by us all.
The OHRC, an independent statutory body, provides leadership for the promotion, protection and advancement of human rights, and builds partnerships across the human rights system. In pursuit of our vision, we will:
- Empower people to realize their rights
- Ensure those responsible for upholding human rights do so
- Advocate for the full realization of human rights
- Work with our independent partners at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre
- Develop and encourage the implementation of human rights policies
- Conduct research
- Monitor developments, trends, problem areas and case law involving human rights issues
- Use our legal powers to pursue remedies in the public interest
- Carry out public inquiries where appropriate
- Educate and build capacity
- Report on the state of human rights to the people of Ontario.
Consulting the community
To make sure the transformation is a success, the Commission will ensure that its operations offer ongoing opportunities for communities to have a voice in the issues it deals with and the services it provides. Community consultation was one of the first steps the Commission took in its strategic planning process.
During August and September 2007, communities across Ontario were asked to share their views on how the Commission could best fulfill its new mission and vision. Public sessions were held in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto and an on-line survey was posted to the OHRC website. Commission staff and other colleagues in government were also consulted. In total, more than 170 community members and individuals responded to questions about what issues and communities need urgent attention, and how best the Commission can carry out its different functions. The full details are published on the Commission’s website.
As well, in the fall of 2007, the Ministry of the Attorney General sponsored four public meetings on Bill 107 and the new human rights system. Community members had the opportunity to hear representatives from the Commission, the Tribunal and the new Legal Support Centre speak about their plans for the future. The sessions provided more valuable insight that is helping the Commission in its strategic planning.
Planning for our future
The Commission is in the process of preparing our strategic plan to guide its activities beyond the transition period and into the years ahead. While our Strategic Plan will be completed and released later this year, several key work areas have already emerged:
- Connecting with communities: partnership and education
- Focusing on systems and sectors
- Monitoring, inquiry and intervention.
This Annual Report includes highlights of Commission activities in each of these areas, as well as its work in addressing individual human rights claims.