Over the past two years, hundreds of human rights complaints were made that the Special Diet Allowance for people on Ontario Works Assistance or the Ontario Disability Support Program was discriminatory because it excluded some disabilities and allowed not enough money for others. To deal with this large volume of cases, the Tribunal decided to hear three “lead” cases and to apply the lessons learned to the other cases.
In July 2009, the OHRC filed applications at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario against Hamilton, Sudbury and Thunder Bay transit providers, on behalf of transit riders with vision disabilities. We took this action because providers were not meeting their commitment to call out all stops for transit passengers. This meant that for people with visual disabilities, the simple act of taking a bus to work, to school or to meet friends instead became a barrier.
For the past year, the OHRC has been busy reviewing and commenting on areas where standards are being developed under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
Disability continues to be one of the most cited grounds in discrimination complaints so this will continue to be a priority. People continue to face issues like getting a ramp so they can enter their apartment building, or being put on the end of the list in hospital emergency rooms because they have a mental health issue.
One of the OHRC’s key roles is to create or change systems to remove the potential for discrimination before it happens. A good way to do this is to see that laws are created or changed with human rights in mind. In the past year, the OHRC has advocated for changes in laws covering topics ranging from workplace safety to helping Ontarians to vote.
One in five people is likely to experience mental illness at some point in their life – and this does not include friends or relatives or co-workers who can also be affected. Despite this, mental illness is a “hidden” disability. In workplaces, housing or services, where the need to accommodate people with physical disabilities is understood, there is often reluctance or even refusal to accommodate people with mental health disabilities.
The balance between human rights and public security is sometimes difficult to achieve. For many years the OHRC had an adversarial relationship with various police services in the province, dealing with complaints on a case-by-case basis. We found that we were not getting to systemic solutions, especially around racial profiling and other concerns about bias.
When incidents of racism or discrimination happen in communities, the entire community is harmed. To minimize this harm, it is important that any response be quick and close to the place where it happened. People bringing this harm tend to think twice when they hear from their local mayor, their local police officer or their next-door neighbour that this behaviour is not welcome and will not be tolerated.
OHRC policies are widely used by people responsible for applying the Code, such as lawyers, unions and human resource managers. They are useful because they respond to day-to-day human rights issues. They are also an important resource for individuals and their counsel seeking to enforce their rights under the Code. The OHRC applies its policies in all our work - education, outreach and partnership initiatives, public inquiries and legal interventions.
A person who is blind and uses a service dog wants to take a taxi, but the taxi driver’s religious beliefs lead him to not allow dogs in his car. A marriage commissioner refuses to perform a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple, because it would be contrary to her religious beliefs.
What do we do in cases like these, when rights related to one Code ground seem to conflict with those of another ground? The OHRC is doing some policy work to find answers.
Education is just one of the many areas where the OHRC has built new partnerships in the past year. Also of note is the solid working relationship between the OHRC and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC). The OHRC is providing training to Legal Support Centre staff on OHRC policies, and the two groups regularly share information to identify and respond to emerging human rights issues. This collaboration is helping both organizations maximize resources and human rights benefits for all Ontarians.