Since disability was added to the Human Rights Code in 1981, it has become the ground most often cited in human rights complaints in Ontario. The OHRC has done much work in this area, but primarily on physical disability. In the past, there were few official complaints based on mental health, but we knew that they were out there. Now, as mental health issues emerge from the shadows and people feel more empowered to tell their stories, we’ve worked to better understand the discrimination that mental illness creates. The first step has been consultation – the largest in our history.
The consultation encouraged people with mental health disabilities and addictions, their families and friends, employers, service providers and housing providers in communities across Ontario to tell their stories. It included an online survey in English, French, American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue des signes québécois (LSQ). More than 1,000 people responded and provided a wealth of personal stories and insights.
We wanted to understand how discrimination because of a person’s mental health issue or addiction affects their day-to day lives – their ability to find and keep a job, get an apartment or connect with education and health-related services.
We also wanted to learn:
- The kind of information housing, service providers and employers need to help protect the human rights of people with mental health disabilities and/or addictions
- The types of discrimination that happen based on mental health disabilities and/or addictions in the areas of housing, services and employment
- If there are laws, policies, procedures or systemic practices that disproportionately disadvantage people with mental health issues and/or addictions
- What the OHRC and other bodies can do to raise public awareness, prevent and address these human rights issues.
The OHRC also led focus groups with patients in psychiatric facilities, and with many organizations that provided mental health and addictions services. As well, hundreds of people attended both public and private sessions for persons with mental illness, employers, service and housing providers in North Bay, Ottawa, Windsor and Toronto.
We also invited individuals and organizations to make written submissions.
Talking about mental health is not nearly enough. Even as our consultation got underway we began to take action to educate and to reach out. We added a new section on our website that brings together information on human rights and mental health in Ontario. This resource outlines the OHRC’s mental health plan, explains the rights of persons with mental health disabilities and addictions, and includes tips on how employers, housing and service providers can meet their responsibilities under the Code, including the duty to accommodate.
We have also made submissions to the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care on their 10-year mental health strategy, and we are building a partnership with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. We have litigated cases at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to protect the rights of people with mental health disabilities and addictions, and worked with community groups and police on the issue of police record checks that can result in discrimination against people apprehended under the Mental Health Act.
We will publish a consultation report with recommendations based on what we learned from the round table sessions, focus groups and surveys.
The next step will be a responsive policy that clearly explains human rights protections for people with mental heath disabilities. The policy will also support employers, housing and service providers in their efforts to eliminate barriers and help people living with mental health disabilities and addictions get the tools they need to contribute and to thrive.
Undoubtedly, in our country and in the thoughts of people like us, there has been a great awakening to injustices which, perhaps unthinkingly, we have permitted in other times, but which today stand out increasingly as things which should be corrected. - Hon. Leslie Frost in the Ontario Legislature, February 14, 1961