This opinion editorial by Interim Chief Commissioner Ena Chadha on human rights in Ontario appeared in the Toronto Star on Tuesday, August 18, 2020.
Ontario’s human rights abuses have not been a secret
From classrooms to cafes, sidewalks to shopping malls, housing to hospitals, the three pillars of Ontario’s human rights system have repeatedly decried how deeply rooted racism operates at every level and every sector of society.
These three human rights pillars are:
- Policy, education and advocacy of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)
- Legal advice and services of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC)
- Mediation and adjudication at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO).
The research of the OHRC, and the complaints litigated by the HRLSC and adjudicated by HRTO, have exposed the excruciating realities of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in Ontario. But until this watershed time of reckoning, no one seemed to be listening or prepared to take meaningful action.
Had power holders paid attention, they would have heard that racist stereotyping of Black and Indigenous people as “criminal” and “deviant” is reinforced daily by ordinary institutions.
For decades, the OHRC highlighted that not all discrimination is explicit, and that structural and implicit biases are so pernicious and pervasive that we absorb and replicate negative images of marginalized groups in all aspects of our communities.
Every year, HRTO decisions pronounce on the harm of systemic racism. This March, a 6-year-old Black girl was racially discriminated against when police restrained and handcuffed her at school.
In 2018, Black youths had to prepay for their meals at a Toronto restaurant. These are just two of the systemic racism cases that the OHRC and the HRLSC took before the HRTO — and won.
Despite the occasional compensation award, racism persists in every corner of Ontario and the crisis has reached a crescendo in some cities. As COVID-19 magnifies systemic inequities, people’s human rights are now routinely being violated across all areas of their lives.
Enshrined by law and funded by Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General, the three pillars must remain committed to ensuring systemic transformation through robust inquiries, broad public education, accessible, culturally safe, free legal services and speedy mediation and hearings.
Over the past decade, the pillars have supported thousands of Ontarians of different races, religions, ethnicities, ancestries, ages, genders and abilities.
Today, Ontarians are unwavering in their demand for an immediate end to systemic discrimination in all its insidious forms. The needs of marginalized communities are acute.
For example, just last week, the OHRC released “A Disparate Impact,” which confirmed that Black people are more likely than others to be arrested, charged, overcharged, struck, shot or killed by Toronto police.
Ontario’s human rights systems have long sounded the alarm of systemic racism, and it is time that public and private organizations join this fight against discrimination. It’s time to disempower the forces of systemic inequality, dismantle the systemic structures of racism and promote human rights.
Ena Chadha is chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, a board member of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre and former vice-chair with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. She is human rights lawyer, educator and mediator.