"As our mandate changes, and the transformation of Ontario’s human rights system continues, we are restructuring the Commission to fulfill new opportunities,” says Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall in the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s 2007/2008 Annual Report made public today.
Indications of the Commission’s future direction are demonstrated by projects the Commission completed this past year. One example was the inquiry into assaults on Asian Canadian anglers, which drew together community groups, law enforcement, provincial and municipal governments, school boards and the media to work together to address the root causes of racism and prevent incidents from happening in the future.
Another example was the extensive consultation the Commission completed on human rights and discrimination in rental housing. This broad consultation was designed to give public and private housing providers, governments, decision makers and tenants a chance to share their experiences, their issues, and their ideas for taking steps to identify and prevent discrimination across Ontario.
“As we transform,” remarks Chief Commissioner Hall, “we will need to be clear about what we can accomplish within our resources, and we must carefully choose work that will offer the most benefit to the most vulnerable people in our society. Where possible, we will shine a light on tough issues and promote positive debate as a starting point for change.”
In addition to these projects, the Commission continued to promote, protect and advance human rights in Ontario by processing complaints and bringing cases before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) and the courts. The following are highlights of two recent Tribunal decisions:
- Lepofsky v. Toronto Transit Commission – In July 2007, the Tribunal found that the TTC’s failure to ensure announcements of all stops on buses and streetcars violated the human rights of persons with disabilities, particularly riders with visual impairments. The TTC was ordered to begin announcing surface stops within 30 days. In February 2008, the TTC implemented an automated system for stop announcements on subway and surface roots. The Commission is currently working with transit providers to apply this decision across Ontario.
- Lane v. ADGA Group Consultants Inc. – The Tribunal found that ADGA terminated Mr. Lane because of his bipolar disorder and perceptions related to this disability, with virtually no investigation as to the nature of the condition or the possible accommodations within the workplace. Mr. Lane, who was fired from his job as a quality assurance analyst, was awarded over $77,000 in general and special damages, and for mental anguish. This case sends an important message that an employer’s duty to accommodate must extend to all disabilities, including mental illness.
As the Commission moves forward in its transformation, it will continue to build on its successes and focus on addressing broad public interest or systemic issues of discrimination. Activities will include research and monitoring, policy development, and education and training. And it will continue to work with its existing partners and seek new partnerships across Ontario.
The reason for focusing on partnerships is simple – we can’t do it alone,” says Chief Commissioner Hall. “For the Commission to succeed in advancing human rights, we need to work with communities, government, the private sector and individuals across Ontario to make sure the human rights written on paper are the rights enjoyed by all Ontarians.”