August 18, 2010
Zoning By-law Project
City of Toronto
Metro Hall, 22nd Floor
55 John Street
Dear Members of Council:
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has reviewed the Report #PG10063, entitled “Final Report and Statutory Public Meeting on the Draft Zoning By-law", and continues to have concerns that certain elements of the by-law may lead to discrimination contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code).
In September 2009, we raised concerns about the human rights impacts of placing restrictions on housing types which could lead to discrimination against some groups. A copy of this submission is attached, as is a copy of a May 18 letter again voicing our concerns that many of these issues had not been resolved.
In particular, we continue to be concerned about minimum separation distances from one group home or residential care home to another group home or residential care home. In our view, reducing the separation to 250 metres from 300 metres is not sufficient. Minimum separation distances restrict affordable housing by limiting available sites and forcing housing providers to turn away otherwise ideal housing opportunities. As we have pointed out, such restrictions have been criticized for contributing to the social isolation of group home residents, particularly people with psychiatric disabilities.
By-laws establishing minimum separation distances for group homes are being challenged as discriminatory. I understand that the City of Toronto itself has been named as a respondent in one recent application to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
In a January 2010 decision, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) made it clear that municipalities are bound by the Code, and have to consider the needs of everyone – including people with disabilities or people in receipt of social assistance – when enacting by-laws. In Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario v. Kitchener (City), the OMB stated that when restricting prospects for housing for persons with disabilities or receiving social assistance, a sufficient planning analysis was required. This analysis should have included consideration of the Code and whether or not the City had engaged in “people zoning,” which is prohibited.
The same onus applies to making decisions on minimum distance requirements, such as the one in Toronto’s Draft Zoning By-law, and there is no evidence to show that this step has been taken, which could leave the City vulnerable to further OMB and Human Rights Tribunal applications.
Members of the Planning and Growth Management Committee have publicly stated that their goal was to merge existing practice and to wait for the next term of Council to make any fundamental changes. However, under the Ontario Human Rights Code, organizations and governments, like Toronto, have a duty to deal with human rights issues when they arise, not at some unspecified later date. By merging practices that may well contravene the Code, the City is entrenching barriers to housing, instead of removing them.
We encourage the City of Toronto to re-examine the issue of minimum separation distances without delay, to allow for maximum flexibility to develop affordable housing, which is a critical need for many of Toronto’s most vulnerable residents.
Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon)