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Reaching new milestones with the Human Rights Project Charter

The Human Rights Project Charter resulted from the settlement of a long-standing human rights complaint by Michael McKinnon against the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. That settlement also included our commitment to report on the project’s process in the OHRC annual report.

Since August 2011, we have been working with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (Correctional Services) and the Ministry of Government Services on a Human Rights Project Charter to bring about sustainable hu­man rights organizational change in Correctional Services.

The main accomplishment of the Project Charter in the last year has been the development and approval by the parties of a strong Multi-Year Plan. The plan crystallizes the extensive work and recommendations of several committees that examined different aspects of human rights performance in Correctional Services.

In addition, an Aboriginal Advisory Sub­committee created an Aboriginal Strategic Plan for Correctional Services. The Strategic Plan is de­signed to improve the human rights of Correctional Services’ Aboriginal employees and inmates/ clients. It responds to the long-standing concerns that originally led to setting up the Human Rights Project Charter.

The Multi-Year Plan’s initiatives, which reflect both the subcommittees’ recommendations and the Aboriginal Strategic Plan, are spread out over two main implementation phases: a first phase lasting three years and a second phase lasting a further four years. Then, a third phase will focus on sustaining change. Before these phases start, two issues are being addressed: the need for permanent human rights, Aboriginal and change management expertise, and the need for a robust, fluid communication strategy to engage staff, pro­mote accountability, and enhance understanding of human rights organizational change.

The initiatives reflect five main commitment areas:

  1. Embedding human rights and Aboriginal expertise in the Correctional Services – An “Aboriginal lens” will be developed, making it easier to reflect and include Aboriginal Peoples’ perspectives in all aspects of Correctional Services’ work. Correctional Services will also work with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union to establish local committees to promote and discuss human rights and Aboriginal issues and solutions.
  2. Service delivery – Operational policies and programs will be reviewed for human rights and Aboriginal impacts. Human rights will be incorporated into mental health-related initiatives. A client human rights and accommodation policy and processes will be developed. Finally, there will be improvements to mechanisms for dealing with inmates’/clients’ human rights complaints.
  3. Building competencies – Work in the first phase will focus on reviewing priority training programs to see where Aboriginal and human rights content should be introduced or improved, and developing a schedule for regularly reviewing programs. Later on, customized, job-specific, mandatory Aboriginal training modules and human rights training modules will be developed for each role in Correctional Services, including management. Correctional Services will improve how it reinforces on the job what employees have learned in human rights classroom training, and how it holds employees accountable for applying what they have learned.
  4. Inclusive workplace – Correctional Services will review employment-related policies and procedures to look for human rights barriers and opportunities, including for Aboriginal Peoples. Correctional Services will take steps to improve how they recruit and promote under-represented groups in the workforce, with a particular focus on Aboriginal Peoples. This will include improved outreach and representation goals, and an action plan to increase representation, including exploring special programs under Section 14 of the Human Rights Code. Recruitment data will be collected to assess where human rights barriers might exist, and to track progress on representation.
  5. Employee complaints – Correctional Services will work with the Ministry of Government Services to:
  • improve capacity to analyze workplace discrimination and harassment complaints for systemic issues
  • address long-standing problems related to such complaints, including: bad faith complaints, reprisals for filing complaints, and a “code of silence” that can dissuade some employees from filing complaints or serving as witnesses. Correctional Services will review its complaint-related policies and practices, and will improve training and written guidance for managers on handling complaints.

While the Multi-Year Plan focuses primarily on the next seven years of implementation, the partners in the Project Charter understand that the goal of this project is to bring about long-term human rights organizational change. As a result, the parties are finalizing an agreement to extend their partnership, recognizing that much more work is needed to support sustainable long-term change. Also, a detailed evaluation plan is being developed to assess the impact of changes.

We are pleased to see that Correctional Services has already begun implementing important improvements. For example, when operational policies are developed or reviewed, it is becoming standard practice to seek and incorporate advice from staff with Aboriginal and human rights expertise. This is currently being done with policies related to transgender inmates. As well, a pilot project to collect Correctional Officer recruitment data is underway, to allow for study of possible human rights barriers.

Overall, the quality of the Multi-Year Plan and the commitment of Correctional Services’ senior management to long-term human rights organizational change hold out much promise for significant steps forward over the coming years.

Reviewing the outcomes of the Human Rights Project Charter

In February 2014, Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute released its evaluation of the Human Rights Project Charter, a three-year joint project between the Toronto Police Services Board, the Toronto Police Service and the OHRC. The project, which ran from 2007 to 2010, involved applying a human rights lens to all facets of the orga­nization, including employment, staffing and services to the public.

The review described the Project Charter as a revolutionary approach in policing that has led to important changes in processes, perceptions and behaviours. The reviewers made recommendations that will help guide both the Toronto Police Service and the OHRC as we do more work in human rights and policing. Examples are:

  • improve diversity- and human rights-related internal and external data collection and analysis – we can’t manage unless we can measure
  • continue to strengthen human resource processes
  • focus on behavioural change in training and on specific issues like racial profiling
  • take a closer look at strategy and organi­zational sustainability
  • make sure future change project plans build in evaluation and a strong logic model.

This was our first major work on organi­zational change to embed human rights into police operations and we did not achieve all of our goals. For example, during the process we did not agree on the need for human rights data collection. However, today, the TPS and TPSB are working to implement that same data collection – a change that flowed from the earlier project. 

Extending the Human Rights Project in Windsor

The Human Rights Project was launched in February 2011 as a joint initiative between the Windsor Police Service, Windsor Police Services Board, the Ontario Police College and the OHRC, to identify human rights issues in policing. It called for the Police Service and the Board to look at existing policies and pro­grams, and to develop strategies to address human rights concerns, including recruitment, selection, promotion, and retention, as well as training, education, outreach and services.

The Windsor Police Service and the Windsor Police Services Board report that work on the Project is about 85% complete, and they are extending the project until August 2014 to complete work on outstanding initiatives.

The final report on the Project is slated for release in October 2014. It will update prog­ress made towards bias-free policing services and fair and equitable employment opportu­nities for people who want to work with the police service.

This year in history

Fishing without fear: the Asian Canadian Angler Inquiry

In November 2007, the OHRC launched an inquiry following media reports and community concerns about a number of incidents across south and central Ontario in which Asian Canadian anglers were physically or verbally assaulted while fishing.

In this inquiry, launched in partnership with the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (MTCSALC), we received over 30 accounts from communities in the areas of Aurora and Richmond Hill, Ottawa, and Lake Huron. The majority of submissions came from three areas: Lake Simcoe, Peterborough, and the Rideau Locks, all popular areas for locals and tourists who enjoy water sports, including angling.

We issued a preliminary report and then a final report that included a series of commitments by police, municipal governments, school boards, government ministries, community groups and other stakeholders. These commitments were part of an action plan to work together for a focused response when racist incidents arise in communities. A year later, in 2009, we checked in with those organizations and reported back on whether the commitments they made had been put in place.

This inquiry became the model for the OHRC when partnering with organizations to resolve tension and conflict in Ontario communities.

Asian Canadian Angler Inquiry – a short history

  • Spring and summer 2007: incidents first reported in the Chinese-language media
  • September 2007: first article in the Toronto Star about incidents of assault in the Lake Simcoe region
  • September 2007: Community Reference Group, on behalf of the Chinese Canadian and other Asian Canadian communities, holds a press conference, calling for the incidents to be treated as hate crimes
  • October 2007: Peterborough Community and Race Relations Committee publicizes its concerns and forms a community-based coalition
  • November 2007: OHRC launches inquiry in partnership with the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic and other community partners
  • December 2007: OHRC releases its preliminary findings
  • May 2008: OHRC releases its report, Fishing without Fear, outlining the commitments and actions of 22 organizations.


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