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Supreme Court rules government tribunals must apply "Human Rights Code"

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April 25, 2006

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For immediate publication

Toronto - The Supreme Court of Canada released a far-reaching decision declaring that the Ontario Social Benefits Tribunal has the authority to decide whether a section of the Ontario Disability Support Program Act, 1997 (the “ODSPA”) breaches the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”).

The Supreme Court’s decision in Tranchemontagne v. Ontario (Director, Disability Support Program), released Friday, involves two persons who were denied income support from the Ontario Disability Support Program (the “ODSP”). The ODSPA limits which disabilities are eligible for ODSP coverage, and at the Social Benefits Tribunal, the appellants sought to argue that this contravened the Code. The Tribunal declined to hear the case, on the ground it lacked jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court allowed the Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) to intervene in this case, agreeing that the Commission had an interest in the outcome, and that it had unique arguments to offer. The Commission argued that because of the Code’s precedence over all other Ontario laws, even those tribunals not specifically mandated to deal with human rights issues must ensure their decisions conform to the Code.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with this position, stating that, “The Code is fundamental law. The Ontario legislature affirmed the primacy of the Code in the law itself, as applicable both to private citizens and public bodies.  Further, the adjudication of Code issues is no longer confined to the exclusive domain of the …Commission. The legislature has thus contemplated that this fundamental law could be applied by other administrative bodies and has amended the Code accordingly.”

During its 2005 consultation on strengthening Ontario’s human rights system, the Commission noted that the general reluctance of tribunals to apply the Code contributes to the growing demand on the Commission’s services and resources. A number of stakeholders also expressed the view that tribunals should actively be considering the Code in their decisions, something for which this decision now sets a precedent.

Commenting on the decision, Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall said that, “This decision supports our view that administrative tribunals should be addressing human rights issues as they arise, especially where a vulnerable applicant is advancing arguments in defence of their human rights. Under those circumstances, it would be rare for a tribunal not to be the most appropriate one to hear the entire dispute.”

For more information on the Commission and its policies, please visit the Commission's Web site.

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François Larsen

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