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Statement from OHRC Interim Chief Commissioner Ruth Goba on National Aboriginal Day

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June 19, 2015

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 One day is not enough...

June 21st is National Aboriginal Day (NAD), a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage,
diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.”

June 21st is important but the years of work and recent report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission make it painfully clear that one day is not enough.

The Preamble of Ontario’s Human Rights Code reminds us that we all should be creating a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of Indigenous peoples so they feel part of the community and able to contribute fully to the development and well-being of Ontario.

This is everyone’s responsibility, every day of the year. It’s a responsibility the OHRC takes very seriously in the work we do, in cooperation with others, to help promote and protect the human rights of Indigenous peoples in Ontario.

Recently the Truth and Reconciliation Commission launched its final report on the legacy of residential schools. This was a remarkable journey. It involved four years of hearings in more than 300 communities across Canada, and included more than 6,500 stories that document the past and from which we MUST learn, for the future.

Indigenous human rights issues are a priority for the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and there is a natural connection between the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations and the work we have done, the work we are doing and how we prioritize our work moving forward. We have partnered with the TRC to present “Shared perspectives, an evening of reconciliation” and “From Remembrance to Reconciliation – a shared community dialogue on our roles as treaty peoples.”

Canada made an important commitment when we signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). We use this declaration to inform our work and promote Indigenous human rights in Ontario and, in cooperation with others, across Canada as a member of the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies.

We continue to build relationships with Indigenous community organizations across Ontario, and within the past year have visited Kenora, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout, Ottawa and Sudbury to learn more about Indigenous human rights concerns and deliver public education. As the TRC recommended, we are working to ensure the distinct and individual voices of different Indigenous peoples are heard. In the past year, we hosted focus groups with First Nations, Métis and Inuit groups as we put the finishing touches on an updated policy on creed, for release later this year.

Moving forward, we continue to work with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) on the Human Rights Project Charter that resulted from the settlement of a human rights complaint by Michael McKinnon, an Indigenous corrections officer, against MCSCS. This project, which has been extended until 2017, will address a number of human rights issues through an organizational change process and has a particular focus on issues related to Indigenous staff and inmates.

We are in the early stages of drafting a policy on preventing discrimination because of racial profiling, which includes taking a closer look at the effects of racial profiling on Indigenous peoples across Ontario. Also, we are looking at the Special Programs provision in Ontario’s Human Rights Code to help achieve substantive equality for Indigenous peoples.

These are just a few of the many steps we are taking that are aligned with the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations. There is a lot of work still do be done to bring those recommendations to life across Ontario and across Canada. We all have to do our part to create a society where everyone is valued and respected. I urge you to join us in a community-wide effort to move the story from remembering to reconciliation – and ultimately to results that will be felt for generations to come.

Ruth Goba, Hon. BA, LLB
Interim Chief Commissioner
Ontario Human Rights Commission