One of the OHRC’s key roles is to create or change systems to remove the potential for discrimination before it happens. A good way to do this is to see that laws are created or changed with human rights in mind. In the past year, the OHRC has advocated for changes in laws covering topics ranging from workplace safety to helping Ontarians to vote.
Bill 231, Election Statute Law Amendment Act:
In a presentation to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly, the OHRC praised the government for introducing provisions to improve the accessibility of our electoral system for voters with disabilities. We supported the use of special ballots by mail, mobile polls for voting in institutions, home visits, and the study of other accessible methods.
Amendments to the Bill reflected the OHRC’s call for all polling stations to be set up in accessible locations and elections material to be made available in electronic and other accessible formats.
Other concerns, however, remain outstanding. We called for provisions for accessible electoral processes for candidates with disabilities, such as requiring accessible locations for campaign offices, nomination and campaign meetings, debates and related events, along with accessible campaign material. And the bill does not address disadvantages and potential expenses that some candidates may face, either to meet their own disability-related needs or to make their events accessible. We recommended that expenses such as sign-language interpreting be exempted from contribution or spending limits.
Voters and candidates with disabilities have a right to participate fully in the political process. We all have the obligation to make it happen. Laws and procedures are changing at all levels of government, and the OHRC will continue to monitor this in the municipal elections in 2010 and provincial vote in 2011.
Bill 168, an Act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act:
In a presentation to the Standing Committee on Social Policy, the OHRC spoke in support of Bill 168. The legislation calls for new requirements for employers to develop, implement and annually review policies and programs to deal with harassment and violence in the workplace. Workplace harassment continues to be the subject of many human rights applications at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
The OHRC recommended the law be expanded beyond acts of harassment and violence to include discrimination and psychological or emotional harm which can often lead to “physical force.” Other comments focused on the role of health and safety inspectors, the duty of employers to address harassment and violence, designating workplace coordinators so workers know where to go with a problem, and improving public information and monitoring.
Bringing harassment and violence under the protection of occupational health and safety legislation helps to make a better connection between employment and human rights law. It also helps to make people aware that workplaces must be free of discrimination and harassment and safe places for everyone.