April 1, 2016
Hon. Reza Moridi
Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities
12th Floor, 77 Wellesley Street
Toronto, ON M7A 1N3
Re: Diagnosis requirements for OSAP and federal grants
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has a mandate to identify, prevent, and eliminate discrimination, and to promote human rights within the province using a range of powers under the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code).
The OHRC’s powers under the Code include reviewing statutes, regulations, programs or policies, and making recommendations for change if these are inconsistent with the intent of the Code. The OHRC also conducts inquiries, intervenes in and initiates human rights applications before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
I am writing to ask that the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) stop requiring students to disclose their specific mental health disability diagnosis in order to establish eligibility for the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) Bursary for Students with Disabilities (BSWD), the Canada Student Grant for Persons with Permanent Disabilities and the Canada Student Grant for Services and Equipment for Persons with Permanent Disabilities (the Canada Student Grants). I understand that the Canada Student Grants, while federal, are administered by the MTCU.
The OHRC recently intervened in an Application before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario which alleged that a university’s requirement that students disclose their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) diagnosis to register for mental health accommodations and supports was discriminatory.
We intervened in the case to help bring all post-secondary institutions’ approaches to medical documentation and accommodation in line with the Code, our Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions (the Mental Health Policy) and the recommendations in a report funded by the MTCU entitled Recommendations for Documentation Standards and Guidelines for Post-Secondary Students with Mental Health Disabilities (the Academic Accommodations Report).
The OHRC worked with the university and the student who filed the discrimination claim to develop new documentation guidelines to access academic accommodations. As a result of the revisions, students at the university will no longer have to disclose their DSM diagnosis to receive mental health accommodations and supports. However, due to MTCU requirements, students will have to do so if they are applying for the OSAP BSWD and Canada Student Grants.
The OHRC has written to Ontario’s 20 public universities and 24 public colleges to ask that they also stop requiring that students disclose their mental health disability diagnosis. A copy of the OHRC’s letter is attached. However, the fact that the Offices for Students with Disabilities at colleges and universities are also responsible for gathering and verifying information to establish eligibility for the OSAP BSWD and Canada Student Grants means that they cannot completely eliminate this requirement, despite the fact that it raises significant human rights concerns.
Organizations, including government, should design their eligibility requirements using the least intrusive approach, collecting only the medical and Code-related information they need to administer the service. It is the OHRC’s position that requiring that students provide a diagnosis to verify their eligibility for provincial and federal bursaries and grants for students with disabilities creates unnecessary barriers for students with disabilities. As such, we are asking that MTCU revise its policies so that students are only required to provide a medical certificate that verifies that the student has a disability, without having to disclose their specific diagnosis.
More information about the OHRC’s position, including MTCU’s compliance with the Code and on the relationship between the federal grants and MTCU’s responsibilities, is found in the attached letter from an OHRC Senior Policy Analyst to a Research Policy Analyst in MTCU’s Student Financial Assistance Branch.
I hope that your Ministry will address the OHRC’s concerns. I look forward to hearing from you in this regard.
In keeping with the OHRC’s commitment to public accountability and its duties in serving the people of Ontario, this letter and the response received may be made public.
Renu Mandhane, B.A., J.D., LL.M.