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Pivotal time for human rights, Chief Commissioner reports

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June 29, 2006

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For immediate publication

Toronto - On releasing the Commission’s 2005-2006 Annual Report today at Queen’s Park, Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall commented that, “This is a pivotal time for human rights in our province.” 

The Chief Commissioner highlighted a number of issues where progress is being made as well as areas where more work needs to be done to protect and promote human rights for the people of Ontario:

  • The Commission commends the government for passing Bill 211, the Ending Mandatory Retirement Statute Law Amendment Act, which comes into effect this December, but it still has concerns about provisions that limit access of older workers to benefits and worker’s compensation.
  • While advances are being made in removing barriers for persons with disabilities, such as the Tribunal decision ordering announcements of TTC subway stops for riders with visual disabilities, the Commission emphasized that a number of laws and policies such as Ontario’s Building Code and the Coroners Act, need to be harmonized with the Human Rights Code.
  • The Commission is particularly concerned by the rise of Islamophobia being experienced by Arab and Muslims communities. The Commission’s Policy and Guidelines on Racism and Racial Discrimination, released last summer, recognizes the detrimental effects of racism on Aboriginal, Islamic and other racialized communities, and builds on the Commission’s earlier investigation into the effects of racial profiling.
  • Important progress was made this past year in addressing some of these issues, including training with senior command and equity staff from police services across the province at the invitation of the Ontario Police College. The Commission also reached settlements with two school boards who will begin collecting data – a key element of the Commission’s Policy – in order to monitor and safeguard against the discriminatory impact of safe school legislation and policies on racialized students and students with disabilities.

Chief Commissioner Hall added that, “I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that we address systemic issues that prevent groups from participating fully in society.  We all lose when we exclude others.”

Hall further stated that, “Recent events around the world and right here at home are important reminders that we must balance security measures and deal with other conflicts and tensions in a manner that does not compromise human rights protections.”

“If we’re going to be a safe and healthy community, we need a strong human rights system that deals effectively and efficiently with both systemic and individual complaints of discrimination, acts in the public interest, and promotes respect for human rights through public education, partnership, and cooperation.”

While we welcome the opportunity for reform, the Commission shares many of the concerns expressed regarding Bill 107 – an Act that would significantly amend Ontario’s Human Rights Code – and is working hard with communities and government to ensure that the Bill meets accepted international principles for human rights institutions.

The Commission also undertook a number of other initiatives this past year including: updating its Policy on Discrimination and Harassment Because of Sexual Orientation to reflect the rights of same-sex marriage partners; and, holding public consultations on how family status impacts on access to housing, employment and services. This coming year, the Commission plans to release a report and a new policy on family status, and to examine the fundamental and universal human right of access to housing.

During the 2005-2006 fiscal period:

  • 2,399 new complaints were received and added to the Commission’s caseload;
  • 2,117 cases were settled, investigated or otherwise completed by the Commission, on average at 12.9 months
  • 170 cases were referred to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for a hearing
  • At year end, the Commission’s active caseload was 2,880 complaints with 3% of these being over three years old
  • The backlog stood at 581 more cases filed than completed over the last three years.
  • The Commission also litigated a number of cases that resulted in 50 decisions and 42 settlements at the Human Rights Tribunal as well as 12 decisions from higher courts including 2 cases at the Supreme Court of Canada.

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Jeff Poirier
Senior Policy Analyst
Policy Education, Monitoring and Outreach Branch (PEMO)
Ontario Human Rights Commission