Celebrating International Human Rights Day, circa 1962
While we deplore and condemn violations of human rights elsewhere in the world and stand aghast before such ugly manifestations as the Berlin Wall, we must never cease to concern ourselves with those walls of prejudice which still exist in our own community – and sometimes in our own minds – and which deny our fellow citizens that justice and equality of opportunity which is their inalienable right. Justice, like charity, should begin at home.
On such occasions, comparisons between then and now are irresistible. In this case, the comparisons are also monumental.
Little more than two decades before 1962, a boatload of Jews fleeing European Nazism was unceremoniously denied admission to Canada. The incident produced little public reaction. In the 1970s, boatloads of Vietnamese fleeing Asian Communism were not only allowed to come here, but in many cases, also subsidized to do so.
On June 15, 2012, Ontarians have something important to celebrate, as we mark the 50th anniversary of Ontario’s Human Rights Code. This was the first such Code in Canada, and from the very beginning positioned Ontario to be a leader in protecting, promoting and advancing human rights.
Ontario’s pioneering Fair Employment Practices Act of 1951 prohibited discriminatory employment practices, and a year earlier the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act was amended to end real estate provisions that required someone buying a house to agree that their property “shall never be sold, assigned, transferred, leased to, and shall never been occupied by any person of Jewish, Hebrew, Semitic, Negro or coloured race or blood.”
Seventy organizations demand law to end racial discrimination
Representatives of nearly 70 organizations, including several hundred men and women, will meet Premier Frost at Queen’s Park today to present a brief urging passage of legislation to deal with racial and religious discrimination.
In July 1977, the OHRC released a comprehensive report, Life Together, that outlined the findings of a province-wide consultation on the Ontario Human Rights Code and what could be done to improve it. The report recommended sweeping changes, many of which would eventually become law. Recommendations included:
Municipalities play a critical role in nurturing human rights and creating equitable environments where everyone is included in work and services, and everyone can enjoy the benefits of their community. That’s why we invited every municipality in Ontario to join us in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Code.