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II. Introduction

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The roles that we play as family members are central to our lives. We value our ability to provide care and support – emotional, social, physical, and financial – to our family members when they need it, and rely on our families to provide the same for us when necessary.

The way in which we provide and receive care as part of our family relationships has a profound effect on most of our life decisions and opportunities – where we live, the work that we do, and the economic and social prospects that we have. How this occurs will likely differ based on our sex, our marital status, our sexual orientation, our socio-economic status, whether we or a family member have a disability, and whether we are members of a racialized group, to name a just few factors.

The ground of family status was added to the Ontario Human Rights Code (“the Code”) in 1982 in recognition of the ways in which our identity as family members, and the associated caregiving responsibilities, can act to disadvantage and exclude individuals from opportunities and benefits in a way that is serious, systemic, and offensive to dignity. The situation of a single mother who is repeatedly turned away by landlords when they learn of her status; of a parent of a child with a disability who loses his job because the employer refuses to accommodate his need for a flexible work schedule; of the woman who spends her old age in poverty because a lifetime of providing care for parents, children and family members has left her without a pension or adequate income - these situations raise serious human rights concerns.

It is apparent that there is a profound lack of awareness, not only of the rights and responsibilities under the Code regarding family status, but of the significant impact of family status on opportunities and experiences. This is true for employers, housing providers, community advocates, service providers and the general public.

For these reasons, in 2005 the Ontario Human Rights Commission (“the Commission”) initiated a public consultation on human rights and family status. The consultation was launched in May 2005 with the Discussion Paper, Human Rights & the Family in Ontario. The Discussion Paper outlined key issues and invited submissions from interested parties. At the same time, the Commission distributed a questionnaire and posted it on its website, inviting individual Ontarians to share their stories of how their family status had impacted on their access to housing, employment and services. This information was sent to over 300 stakeholders.

The Commission heard from approximately 120 organizations and individuals. These included employers, unions, housing providers, government, academics, community organizations, legal clinics, service providers, professional organizations, and advocacy groups. Based on the information received from questionnaires and submissions, during the fall of 2005, the Commission held four roundtables on specific issues of concern: on issues affecting older Ontarians[1], on the definition of family status, on employment, and on housing.

The Commission would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed to this process. We wish to acknowledge the substantial time and effort that individuals and organizations invested in preparing written submissions and participating in the roundtables. The breadth and quality of the information received have made it possible for the Commission to develop this Report, and provide a strong foundation for further work in this area.

It is the Commission’s hope that this Consultation Report will lead to greater awareness among institutions and individuals about their rights and responsibilities under the Code with respect to family status. Based on this Report, the Commission intends to undertake further work in this area to raise awareness, deepen understanding, and address systemic issues.

[1] The Commission would like to extend its thanks to the Ontario Seniors Secretariat for organizing this roundtable.

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