For immediate publication
Toronto - On April 26th, 2006, the Attorney General introduced in the legislature Bill 107, An Act to Amend the Human Rights Code, which, if passed, will reform Ontario’s human rights system.
The Attorney General has taken the next step in reform of the human rights system by introducing legislation, stated to achieve a number of goals shared by the Commission.
We welcome the vision of a strengthened commission more focused on prevention and systemic issues, inside a re-balanced system for enforcing and promoting human rights.
A key component to rebalancing the system and refocusing the Commission’s mandate will be to find new ways to involve the community in the work of the Commission. The creation of two new divisions within the Commission – an anti-racism secretariat and a disability rights secretariat, along with an ability to create advisory committees on other issues – are positive developments that could expand the voices of the community and benefit the work of the Commission.
Another key goal for reform of the system is ensuring better access to justice, speedier resolution of claims, no limit on awards, and more supports for complainants. The Attorney General’s announcement to create a new human rights legal support centre that would provide all complainants with full legal representation regardless of income level, abilities, disabilities, or other personal circumstances, could assist in this regard.
We are also pleased that the Attorney General will be setting up a broad public consultation process including an Implementation Advisory Committee that will provide input into both the bill and the roll out of a new system. The Commission will be working hard over the coming weeks and months to contribute to both of these processes.
This opportunity for broad public contribution recognizes the need to review the bill in detail to ensure the new law will meet the Attorney General’s stated goals to strengthen the human rights system.
Bill 107 raises significant questions about how these goals will be achieved. In particular, there are a number of concerns as to how the proposed revamped tribunal will be able to move complainants and their claims “fairly, quickly and effectively” through the system, including enforcement, as well as monitoring of public interest remedies.
Another concern is the increased ability of the tribunal to exclude complainants without a hearing through expanded gatekeeping powers.
And although the government has announced a new legal centre to support complainants, there is, for example, nothing in the legislation on this body: its governance, powers, obligations and limitations. This bill does not appear to follow the recommendations on the provision of legal services contained in the Cornish or LaForest reports.
Throughout this process the Commission has advocated for certain principles that are essential to achieving balance in the system and ensuring an effective commission within it. For example, the Commission’s capacity to successfully promote human rights and address systemic issues relies on its ability inquire into matters and to advance its policies, the public interest and human rights at the tribunal through the initiation of complaints, interventions and appeals. There is currently no unfettered right to do so in the bill.
In addition to addressing issues flowing from the bill, an effective new system will require strong transition and implementation planning. And it will require adequate resources for: a revamped tribunal, more supports for complainants, and a refocused commission with new secretariats and advisory committees.
The Commission will work with the government on how best to structure the legislation to deliver on the Attorney General’s commitment to maintain a balance of functions and powers. The key question will be, is this the package which will truly protect and advance human rights in the province?
The Commission encourages all interested individuals and groups to review the draft bill and provide feedback to the government on implications for their role and interests in a new human rights system.
Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)
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