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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.

-  Premier John Robarts, October 12, 1962

Life Together raises the human rights bar

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:

  • Giving the Code “primacy,” which means that unless a law specifically says otherwise, the Code takes precedence
  • Extending protection from discrimination to contracts
  • Integrating human rights into the education system and policing
  • Adding protection from discrimination by association
  • Adding marital status and age as protected grounds in housing
  • Adding physical disability, sexual orientation and criminal record as Code grounds
  • Expanding who can make a human rights complaints from a single person to a “class or person”
  • Adding the ability to deal with systemic or “constructive” discrimination
  • Changing the age provisions from 40 or over to 18 or over.

Source: Life Together, 1977

No annual reports?

[It] is surprising that, in its fifteen years of public service to date, there has been no request or provision for the Ontario Human Rights Commission to make an annual report, other than a few perfunctory paragraphs included in the reports of the Ministry of Labour. The Commissioners recommend that an Annual Report should be prepared each year to be tabled in the Legislature and made available to the public.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Community relations problems on the rise

An increasing number of community relations problems are being brought to the Commission. These include, for example, problems relating to racial unrest and even violence in high schools, allegations of police brutality against Native people and members of other visible minority groups, the dissemination of hate literature, recorded telephone messages espousing racial prejudice, and racially-motivated vandalism at religious festivals and in places of worship.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Are practices really neutral?

[In] 1962, it was generally believed that discrimination took place through conscious overt actions directed against individuals. Therefore, the Code expressly prohibited such actions and to some degree deliberate and overt discrimination has declined since then. But the Commission's experience in administering the Code during the last fifteen years demonstrates that the most pervasive discrimination today often results from unconscious and seemingly neutral practices which may, none the less, be as detrimental to human rights as the more overt and intentional kind of discrimination.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Focusing on social systems

There can be a vicious circle of self-perpetuating discrimination that has nothing to do with the personal merits of an individual, and everything to do with historical, economic and social circumstances which have been effectively discriminatory. For example, as so often happens, a Native person loses a job competition because of the lack of educational qualifications. Discrimination has probably occurred. However, the locus of discrimination is not the educational requirement, but the social system that has restricted his or her access to educational opportunities.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Getting to the root causes of discrimination

Because historical and institutional discrimination is so pervasive and complex, the Commission cannot deal with it effectively only by responding to individual complaints. It is essential that its mandate be broadened and its procedures be made sufficiently flexible to enable it to cope with human rights problems that are at the root of discrimination, rather than dealing only with the individual incidents of discrimination that arise from such problems.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Knowledge is the key

Before there can be understanding and respect for the public policy of Ontario about human rights, there will have to be a much more widespread knowledge about this policy and about the reasons for it.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Education system needs to lead

[The] educational system bears a particular responsibility for the furtherance of human rights by providing knowledge, understanding, and positive example that will counter the ignorance and misinformation on which prejudice and discrimination are based.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Dick does, Jane watches

An analysis of [school] guidance pamphlets found that girls were generally encouraged to become hygienists or nurses, while boys were encouraged to become dentists or doctors. Although the cover of one recent guidance pamphlet depicts a woman in a white coat, the text inside refers to the doctor throughout as "he". Such male and female stereotyping was also found in primary school readers, where the message seems to be that "Dick does" and "Jane watches".

Source: Life Together, 1977

Discrimination laundering

The Commission is encountering a growing number of incidents of discrimination committed on behalf of clients by such intermediaries as employment agencies and management consultants. This practice constitutes, in effect, a "laundering" of discrimination in the sense that the employers themselves have no direct contact with the victims and thus do not appear to be acting in contravention of the Code, though clearly they are as responsible for discrimination as the agent who accepts the assignment ... Indeed, acts of discrimination of this kind are frequently so covert that the victim may not even know that he or she is being discriminated against.

Source: Life Together, 1977

Accessible transit an issue – in 1977

[A] great many physically disabled people would like to be able to make use of regular transportation facilities - of buses, trains and subways - like anyone else, and it should usually be possible for them to do so.

Source: Life Together, 1977

We’re all responsible

It is important that human rights be seen as the responsibility of all of us, and not just as the specific task of an expert human rights agency.

Brief to the Code Review Committee of 
the Ontario Human Rights Commission 

from Simon Chester. August 1976.

A much different place

My arrival in Ontario predated this milestone Human Rights legislation by a few years and I can say first-hand that our Province became a much different place. At the time, there was little recourse or protection against discrimination and prejudice. The advent of the Code has indeed helped us to become a better society reflective of our diversity and talent.

- Jean Augustine, Ontario Fairness Commissioner

Grassroots pressure works

Grassroots pressure to address discrimination in the early 1950s led to a series of anti-discrimination laws in Ontario that paved the way for the eventual establishment of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Source: Herbert Sohn, Human Rights Legislation in Ontario:
A Study of Social Action
Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, 1975

Working, buying a home

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.”

Equal pay for women

In 1952, the Female Employees Fair Remuneration Act protected a woman’s right to equal pay, and in 1954 the Fair Accommodation Practices Act was enacted to prevent discrimination in services, facilities and accommodations in public spaces.

Before the OHRC…

The Ontario Anti-Discrimination Commission was set up in 1959 to raise awareness and educate the public about the new anti-discrimination statutes.

Getting started in 1962

Ontario’s first Human Rights Code, proclaimed on June 15, 1962, prohibited discrimination in signs, services, facilities, public accommodation, employee and trade union membership on the grounds of race, creed, colour, nationality, ancestry and place of origin.

Bill 107 – the latest reform

On June 30, 2008, Bill 107 came into force. This major reform of Ontario’s human rights system included:

  • Changing the role of the Ontario Human Rights Commission to not have carriage of individual human rights complaints, focusing instead on working on systemic or root causes of discrimination
  • Having people make complaints – called applications – directly to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
  • Creating a new organization – the Human Rights Legal Support Centre – to provide legal advice to people making complaints.

Housing cases from the start

Khoun v. Rosedale Manor (1963), the OHRC’s first housing case to go before a Board of Inquiry (the precursor to the current Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario), involved an Indonesian student being refused accommodations because of his race. The respondents agreed to a comprehensive settlement that helped set a framework for future settlements and a trend toward conciliation.

Adding sexual orientation to the Code

In 1986, the Code was amended to bring it more line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The key change was the addition of sexual orientation as a ground, which fulfilled the vision of the OHRC’s 1977 Life Together report. The OHRC was also empowered to initiate complaints itself or at the request of another party.

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