In Ontario, the human rights of people with mental health disabilities and addictions are protected under the ground of “disability” in the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code). People are protected from discrimination and harassment in employment, housing, goods, services and facilities, contracts, and membership in trade, union or occupational associations. This not only includes people who have a disability, but people who are perceived by others to have or have had a disability.
Despite these protections, people with mental health disabilities and addictions continue to face discrimination in employment, housing and services. Discrimination affects dignity, increases social isolation and leaves people unable to fully take part in society. People with mental health disabilities and addictions face prejudice and discrimination in many areas of their lives. Barriers in one area (such as education or employment) can often lead to barriers in other areas (such as housing). The impact may be different or worse for people who already face discrimination because of their race, sex, sexual orientation, citizenship, disability, gender identity, age, ethnic origin, or because they receive social assistance.
Because of these concerns, over the last year, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has consulted with many individuals and organizations to develop a plan to address discrimination based on mental health and addiction. In April 2010, the OHRC released its plan, and began using many of the functions in its mandate to:
- Develop a policy on human rights and mental health
- Conduct public interest research about issues of concern that affect people with mental health issues and addictions
- Get involved in cases at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, by intervening, helping with or filing Commission Initiated Applications in cases involving mental health and addictions that are in the public interest
- Do public education about discrimination based on mental health and addictions
- Report on the state of human rights for people with mental health issues and addictions
- Establish partnerships with other agencies to address discrimination
- Tell the public what the OHRC is doing in this area (see our web page on mental health at www.ohrc.on.ca for more details).
We are developing a human rights and mental health policy that will focus on rights and responsibilities under the Code related to employment, rental housing and services. We will also be doing more research on discriminatory barriers to employment for people with mental health disabilities and addictions.
To guide us in these steps, we are holding public consultations across Ontario in the winter and spring of 2011. The consultation includes:
- In-depth interviews with key individuals and organizations
- A survey on discrimination faced by people mental health disabilities and addictions
- Round-table discussions in Toronto, Windsor, Ottawa and North Bay
- Focus groups with people with mental health disabilities or addictions, employers, housing providers, service providers and others
- A call for written submissions.
The OHRC is seeking feedback on a number of human rights issues, and is providing different ways for you to get involved. The goals of the consultation will be to:
- Collect individual stories of discrimination
- Identify key areas and themes of discrimination experienced by people with mental health and addiction disabilities on an individual and systemic level
- Understand the perspectives of people with mental health disabilities, people with addictions, rental housing providers, service providers, employers, advocates and others
- Identify how the OHRC and others can best communicate the rights and responsibilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code
- Identify solutions and best practices to prevent and respond to discrimination.
This Consultation paper focuses on the major areas we are asking for input on. We will release a report after the consultation to identify the themes and issues that emerge.