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Reaching out – adding the personal touch

Many human rights advances start with the personal touch – with a conversation. In 2013-14, we met with and spoke with groups across Ontario. Whether it was a speech, talking on a panel, presenting a training seminar or hosting an event, we worked hard to send the message that the OHRC is a partner and resource for all Ontarians. 

Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall met with groups or made presentations at over 45 events. Highlights included:

  • Centre for Independent Living Toronto, UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Toronto
  • Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Honorary Witness Talking Circle, Vancouver
  • Canadian Commission for UNESCO, “Social inclusion, innovation and transfor-mations for sustainable societies,” Ottawa
  • Windsor Police Services Board, “Update on our work with Windsor Police,” Windsor
  • Canadian Mental Health Association – Brant County, “Human rights and mental health,” Brantford
  • Kingston Community Legal Clinic, “Canadian experience and other OHRC policies,” Kingston
  • Ontario Public Supervisory Officers’ Association, “Inclusive education and teaching human rights,” Toronto
  • National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, “The role of the ethnic press in human rights,” Markham
  • Taking it Local training day, City of Thunder Bay
  • Urban Alliance on Race Relations, “Human rights and race issues,” Toronto

As well, OHRC staff made a variety of presentations and delivered training on a wide range of human rights issues. Here are some highlights:

  • Simcoe County District School Board, “Disability, accommodation and inclusive design,” Midhurst
  • Queen’s University School of Policy Studies, “Human rights organizational design,” Kingston
  • Human Resources Professionals Association, “Competing human rights,” Toronto
  • KEYS Job Centre d’emploi, “Policy on removing the ‘Canadian experience’ barrier,” Kingston
  • City of Thunder Bay, “Introducing the Policy on removing the ‘Canadian experience’ barrier”
  • AODA Standards Advisory Council, “The Code, duty to accommodate and the AODA,” Toronto
  • Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, “Trans inclusion,” Toronto
  • York University, Osgoode Hall Law School, “Competing human rights,” Toronto
  • Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants – Ottawa Region, “Canadian experience barriers,” Ottawa
  • Halton Student Transportation, “The duty to accommodate,” Burlington
  • Couchiching First Nation, “Human rights in employment and services,” Fort Frances
  • Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario of the Anglican Church of Canada, “Creed and religious employers,” Toronto
  • SD & G Legal Clinic, “Human rights and housing,” Cornwall

Reaching out – making electronic connections

Our ongoing challenge is to teach people across Ontario about their human rights and about emerging human rights issues. In a province as vast as ours, we are embracing technological solutions to connect with a growing number of Ontarians.

eLearning demand continues

Our Human Rights 101 eLearning series continues to serve as a good introduction to human rights. We updated this in the past year, and continue to see a regular stream of learners signing on. We also updated our eLearning module on human rights and rental housing. 

Modules are now online in English, French, Arabic, Italian, Korean, Spanish, Vietnamese, Punjabi, Tagalog and Urdu.

eLearning by the numbers

In 2013-2014, thousands of people signed on to our eLearning programs. Here are some highlights of the numbers of eLearners…

  • Human Rights 101 (English): 16,950
  • Human Rights and the Duty to Accommodate: 4,901
  • Human Rights 101 (Spanish): 4,159

Adding webinars to the toolkit

In the past year, we have added webinars to our toolkit for reaching widely dispersed audiences over the Internet. We hosted sessions on:

  • Competing Human Rights Webinars (in French and English)
  • Removing the Canadian Experience Barrier Webinar (English)
  • Duty to Accommodate Questions and Answers Webinar (English, with French coming soon)

The Duty to Accommodate webinar was the first in what will be a continuing series of “Talking about human rights” webinars, which offer extended question and answer sessions based on previously viewed webinars.

To offer even further training options, each webinar is available on the OHRC website at

Publications – offering electronic options

We continue to send printed copies of our publications across Ontario – but there is an easier way to get the information you need. All OHRC policies, reports, brochures and other printed materials can be downloaded from our website. Here are some of the top downloads in the past year:

Making the social connections

Raising awareness of human rights is an important part of our work. In the past few years we have been working to build our social media networks so that we can reach out to a wider network of Ontarians. At time of writing, more than 4,300 people follow us @OntHumanRights and 2,100 “friends” on Facebook. You can also find us, and a lot of informative and accessible videos, on YouTube! 

​2013-2014 Financial Summary (April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014)

  2013-2014 Printed Estimates ($'000) Revised Budget 
March 31, 2014 ($'000)
Actual Expenditures 
March 31, 2014 ($'000)
Year End Variance from Revised Budget ($'000)
        $ %
Salaries and Wages 4,816.0 4,445.8 4,418.6 27.2 0.61%
Benefits 356.2 524.3 540.2 -15.9 -3.03%
Other Direct Operating Expenses (ODOE) 658.2 774.0 771.8 2.2 0.28%
Total Expenses 5,830.4 5,744.1 5,730.6 13.5 0.24%

Coming soon to a computer near you!

Watch for the following eLearning modules and webinars coming soon. 

  • Competing Human Rights eLearning  (French, English)
  • Canadian Experience eLearning (French, English) 
  • Revised Rental Housing eLearning (French)
  • Duty to Accommodate Questions and Answers Webinar (French)
  • Removing the Canadian Experience Barrier Webinar (French)
  • Preventing Discrimination because of Gender Identity and Gender Expression Webinar (French, English)
  • Mental Health and Addictions Webinar (French, English)
  • Human Rights 101 Webinar (French, English)
  • Teaching Human Rights in Ontario Webinar (French, English)

This year in history

Bill 107 – transforming the human rights system

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 – now 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.

Tranchemontagne and Werbeski v. Director of the Ontario Disability Support Program of the Ministry of Community Family and Children’s Services and Social Benefits Tribunal (Supreme Court of Canada)

The Tranchemontagne case led to two important clarifications of the Human Rights Code – what is covered under the ground of disability, and the primacy of the Code.

Two men, who had severe alcohol addictions, applied for disability benefits under the Ontario Disability Support Program. They were denied benefits because the legislation behind ODSP said that a person is not eligible for income support as a disabled person if their only substantial impairment is alcohol or other substance dependence or addiction. But we felt that the Code recognized alcohol and drug addiction as a disability.

When the men raised the human rights issue at the Social Benefits Tribunal, the Tribunal refused to consider these aspects of the case, stating it was not empowered to consider human rights.

We intervened in this case at the Supreme Court of Canada, and the Court supported our position. In its April 2006 ruling, it held that the Human Rights Code is fundamental law. Any tribunal that has the power to consider questions of law also has the power, as a matter of ordinary  statutory interpretation, to determine whether another statute is inconsistent with the Code. In the case of an inconsistency, the Code prevails unless the other statute expressly states that it overrides the Code. The Social Benefits Tribunal could, therefore, determine if the effective exclusion of alcoholism from disability coverage was contrary to the Code. If that Tribunal makes such a finding then the remedy would be to ignore that restrictive provision in the ODSPA and to grant the disability benefit. 

In a later decision, the Supreme Court also found that extreme alcoholism is a disability under the Code.

Affirming the meaning of accommodation in schools: Moore v. British Columbia (Education).

The November 2012 Supreme Court of Canada decision in the case of Jeffrey Moore helped reinforce the need to broadly define the scope of social areas in human rights codes across Canada, and to reinforce the duty to accommodate in education.

Jeffrey had a severe learning disability. At first, the North Vancouver District School Board accommodated his needs, but when faced with funding cuts, they eliminated the program Jeffrey relied on Jeffrey moved to a private school, where his parents had to pay for his supports.

His father complained to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, which found that he had been discriminated against because of his disability, by not receiving a service that was generally available to the public. The Tribunal found that there was individual discrimination and also systemic discrimination against students with severe learning disabilities.

Both the B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the Tribunal’s decision, saying that to establish discrimination, Jeffrey’s  treatment should be compared to that of other students with disabilities. This does not reflect the human rights approach of looking for inclusion and comparisons with the entire student body, not just students who are also disadvantaged.

We intervened, along with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, when the case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. We were concerned that the B.C. court decisions were basically saying that since the “special education service” Jeffrey needed didn’t already exist, there was no way to accommodate him, and that since he wasn’t worse off than other people with disabilities, there was no discrimination. We also argued that “special education” is an accommodation aimed at allowing students with disabilities equal access to education, in support of the human rights goals of equity, inclusion and universal design.

The Supreme Court agreed with our position, overturned the earlier rulings, and upheld the original Tribunal decision that discrimination had happened. The Court ruled that “special education” is an accommodation that is a part of providing all young people with equal participation in education. It also held that comparing one group against another is inconsistent with the type of accommodation/discrimination analysis that we think should be used when human rights issues are raised.

The decision also emphasized that “no money is no defence.” In other words, when facing fiscal tightening, services and organizations still have to make accommodation the price of inclusion.

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