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OHRC supports Bill to improve Human Rights Code

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October 5, 2017

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Bill 164, Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2017, introduced yesterday in the Ontario Legislature, would amend the Human Rights Code (Code) to include social condition, police records, genetic characteristics and immigration status as prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The proposed amendments are progressive and would confirm Ontario as a leader in human rights. The Bill is in line with and improves on protections emerging in other Canadian jurisdictions.

The Bill complements current government initiatives to address the negative effects of poverty, precarious work, unaffordable housing, homelessness, police carding, and sexual and gender-based violence. If passed, the legislation would improve the Code and show that Ontario is taking meaningful steps to meet its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) and UN treaty bodies have long called for the inclusion of social condition in the Code. In our Strategic Plan, we committed to working towards explicit human rights protection for people who experience poverty, hunger and homelessness. These groups face distinct social stigma and discrimination in all aspects of their lives. They are denied jobs, housing and other services because they don’t have a fixed address or stable employment. Homeless people are extremely vulnerable and even face restrictions when accessing public spaces like parks and libraries.

People who have come into contact with police, including victims of crime and vulnerable people seeking assistance, will have their personal information stored by police. The information found in a police record can be an obstacle to employment, volunteer opportunities, housing, and receipt of services. People convicted of a criminal offence face unnecessary barriers to rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community. The proposed amendments would support recent legislative and regulatory changes to address the discriminatory impact of carding and police record checks.

The addition of a new ground, genetic characteristics, would protect people who refuse to undergo or disclose the results of a genetic test. While the Code already prohibits access to genetic information under the ground of disability, without clear protection, people are opting out of genetic testing. People should have the right to obtain genetic information essential to their health to protect their families, without worrying about being rejected for insurance, employment, or even child custody and adoption. The change would also bring Ontario’s Code in line with recent amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The OHRC also supports the inclusion of immigration status as a new prohibited ground. This would clarify the rights of people who are denied access to essential services like health care and education based on their immigration status.

Bill 164 is a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Member of Provincial Parliament Nathalie Des Rosiers. The OHRC welcomes proposals from all parties of the Ontario Legislature to strengthen human rights protections for marginalized and vulnerable people. These amendments would further the aims of the Code to uphold a climate of understanding and respect, and promote the dignity and worth of every individual and their equal participation in our society.