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A bit of history

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Working, buying a home

Ontario’s pioneering Fair Employment Practices Act of 1951 prohibited discriminatory employment practices, and a year earlier the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act was amended to end real estate provisions that required someone buying a house to agree that their property “shall never be sold, assigned, transferred, leased to, and shall never been occupied by any person of Jewish, Hebrew, Semitic, Negro or coloured race or blood.”

Equal pay for women

In 1952, the Female Employees Fair Remuneration Act protected a woman’s right to equal pay, and in 1954 the Fair Accommodation Practices Act was enacted to prevent discrimination in services, facilities and accommodations in public spaces.

Before the OHRC…

The Ontario Anti-Discrimination Commission was set up in 1959 to raise awareness and educate the public about the new anti-discrimination statutes.

Getting started in 1962

Ontario’s first Human Rights Code, proclaimed on June 15, 1962, prohibited discrimination in signs, services, facilities, public accommodation, employee and trade union membership on the grounds of race, creed, colour, nationality, ancestry and place of origin.

Celebrating International Human Rights Day, circa 1962

While we deplore and condemn violations of human rights elsewhere in the world and stand aghast before such ugly manifestations as the Berlin Wall, we must never cease to concern ourselves with those walls of prejudice which still exist in our own community – and sometimes in our own minds – and which deny our fellow citizens that justice and equality of opportunity which is their inalienable right. Justice, like charity, should begin at home.

-          Premier John Robarts, October 12, 1962

Housing cases from the start

Khoun v. Rosedale Manor (1963), the OHRC’s first housing case to go before a Board of Inquiry (the precursor to the current Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario), involved an Indonesian student being refused accommodations because of his race. The respondents agreed to a comprehensive settlement that helped set a framework for future settlements and a trend toward conciliation

Grassroots pressure works

Grassroots pressure to address discrimination in the early 1950s led to a series of anti-discrimination laws in Ontario that paved the way for the eventual establishment of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Source: Herbert Sohn, Human Rights Legislation in Ontario:
A Study of Social Action
Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, 1975

We’re all responsible

It is important that human rights be seen as the responsibility of all of us, and not just as the specific task of an expert human rights agency.

Brief to the Code Review Committee of
the Ontario Human Rights Commission
from Simon Chester. August 1976.

Adding sexual orientation to the Code

In 1986, the Code was amended to bring it more line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The key change was the addition of sexual orientation as a ground, which fulfilled the vision of the OHRC’s 1977 Life Together report. The OHRC was also empowered to initiate complaints itself or at the request of another party.

Bill 107 – the latest reform

On June 30, 2008, Bill 107 came into force. This major reform of Ontario’s human rights system included:

  • Changing the role of the Ontario Human Rights Commission to not have carriage of individual human rights complaints, focusing instead on working on systemic or root causes of discrimination
  • Having people make complaints – called applications – directly to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
  • Creating a new organization – the Human Rights Legal Support Centre – to provide legal advice to people making complaints.

A much different place

My arrival in Ontario predated this milestone Human Rights legislation by a few years and I can say first-hand that our Province became a much different place. At the time, there was little recourse or protection against discrimination and prejudice. The advent of the Code has indeed helped us to become a better society reflective of our diversity and talent.

- Jean Augustine, Ontario Fairness Commissioner