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By the numbers report highlights experiences of people with mental health and addictions disabilities

In October 2015, the OHRC launched By the numbers, a statistical profile of people with mental health and addiction disabilities in Ontario. In its 2009-2011 consultation on mental health disabilities and addictions, the OHRC heard extensively from individuals, advocates, organizations and families about the many barriers people with mental health and addiction disabilities face.

Using customized Statistics Canada data from the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability, the report looks at the prevalence and severity of mental health and addiction disabilities, and how people with these disabilities fare on indicators such as housing, education, employment, workplace discrimination and income.

“By the numbers is a tool that can help set the stage for increased understanding of what it means to have a mental health or addiction disability in Ontario today,” said Interim Chief Commissioner Ruth Goba. “It offers a fresh, much-needed look at an issue that affects all Ontarians.”

Report highlights:

  • Of all Ontarians who report a disability, almost one-third (30.9%) report a mental health or addiction disability
  • The unemployment rate of Ontarians aged 15-64 with mental health or addiction disabilities in 2011 (22.6%) was more than twice as high as Ontarians with other disabilities (9%) and almost three times higher than Ontarians without disabilities (7.7%)
  • Many people with disabilities report they have been discriminated against in employment, regardless of disability type
  • Almost 7 in 10 people with mental health and addiction disabilities report being disadvantaged at work due to their condition.

Disaggregated data, such as that contained in By the numbers, is an important tool in the fight against discrimination because it validates people’s lived experiences.

Ontario Shores embarks on new organizational change initiative

Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores), a leading mental health centre in Whitby, Ontario, and the OHRC formed a three-year partnership to review current and potential organizational practices and services through a human rights lens.

Three joint working groups have been discussing possible initiatives related to Ontario Shores’ service delivery, employment practices and human rights education. Among other accomplishments, a human rights education strategy has been drafted and the partners have agreed to review key Ontario Shores policies and practices with a focus on human rights. We look forward to implementing these and other initiatives in the coming year.

“We are extremely excited to champion this work in hopes it will benefit other hospitals and healthcare organizations going forward,” said Karim Mamdani, President and CEO of Ontario Shores.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Ahead of the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, the OHRC issued a statement and an infographic campaign outlining the legal duty to provide accessible facilities, and supporting the AODA Alliance’s call for a disability accessibility legacy.

Police record check law reflects OHRC recommendations

Provincial legislation now provides for consistent practices for police record checks for employment, volunteer and other prescribed purposes. The OHRC made a submission during the Government’s consultation in support of the new law, which is based on an Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police guideline. The OHRC and other groups helped develop the guideline over broader concerns about the negative impact on people with mental health disabilities, Indigenous peoples and racialized communities. Concern continues about the overuse of police record checks and some groups are calling for complementary changes to Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

Challenging funding limits to live in community settings: Cole v. Ontario (Health and Long-Term Care)

The applicant, Ian Cole, is a middle-aged man with a severe intellectual disability who lives in the community. To live in the community, Mr. Cole depends on the receipt of nursing services. The primary source of funding for the nursing services is his local Community Care Access Centre (CCAC). The maximum funding for nursing services is set out in a regulation made under the Home Care and Community Services Act, 1994. At the time the application was filed, funding was available for nursing services to a maximum of four visits per day.

In 2012, Mr. Cole’s doctor determined that he needed a fifth catheterization every day as a result of his neurogenic bladder. The local CCAC denied Mr. Cole’s request for this fifth catheterization, because of the funding limit of four nursing visits per day set out in the regulation.

Mr. Cole alleges that the funding limit in the regulation discriminates against him and other people with complex disability-related needs because they are denied the level of services that they require to remain outside of institutional care. The OHRC has intervened in the case at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, to assert that the regulation amounts to discrimination against Mr. Cole based on disability contrary to section 1 of the Code and is not protected as a “special program” as laid out in section 14 of the Code.

Systemic review of police officer mental health and suicide should look at workplace discrimination

The OHRC urged the Office of the Independent Police Review Director to adopt a human rights perspective in its review of police officers developing and dying from work-related mental health disabilities. These officers may experience discrimination and harassment that prevents them from seeking support and accommodation.

Did race play a role in use of restraints? Estate of Kulmiye Aganeh v. Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene

Kulmiye Aganeh was a Black, Muslim man, who was being held in the secure psychiatric unit in the Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene. Mr. Aganeh died in custody in March 2009, following an incident involving the use of restraints. This application to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleges that Mr. Aganeh’s race, creed and disability led to the disproportionate use of restraints on him.

The OHRC intervened to address the link between race and the disproportionate use of restraints in mental health facilities, and took part in mediation at the HRTO in October 2015. This proceeding is ongoing.

OHRC files claim to highlight stigma facing police officers suffering from PTSD: OHRC v. Toronto Police Service

On November 11, 2015 – Remembrance Day – the OHRC filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleging discrimination in employment based on disability because of the Toronto Police Service’s failure to include on its Memorial Wall officers who die by suicide as a result of a mental health disability incurred in the line of duty.

In recent years, there has been growing public awareness that the official duties of police officers can lead to serious mental health disabilities including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and in some cases, death by suicide.

The OHRC’s application asks the HRTO to direct the TPS to change its practices and include the names of individuals who lose their lives from mental health injuries incurred in the line of duty on the Memorial Wall. This would ensure that they receive the same degree of recognition and respect as officers who lose their lives by reason of physical injury in the line of duty. The OHRC is expecting other police services that maintain memorial walls to do the same.

A more inclusive Memorial Wall would recognize that the challenges of policing can take a toll on mental health, and would signal to current officers coping with mental health disabilities that they can seek support without being stigmatized. 

Disclosure of mental health diagnosis not needed to receive accommodation

Disclosing a mental health diagnosis should not be necessary to receive accommodation. York University worked with Ph.D student Navi Dhanota, ARCH Disability Law Centre and the OHRC to develop new documentation guidelines for students with mental health disabilities who request academic accommodations. The change in guidelines means that students will no longer have to disclose highly personal medical information, namely their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) diagnosis, to register for mental health accommodations and supports.

While some students may voluntarily choose to disclose their diagnosis to York University’s Disability Services, they are no longer required to do so. This means that students decide whether or not to disclose sensitive medical information. Maintaining control and privacy over confidential medical information is particularly important given the social stigma still associated with mental health disabilities. Instead, the required medical documentation simply confirms that there is a diagnosed mental health disability without providing the specific diagnostic label, and provides the functional limitations that require accommodation.

The OHRC has inquired into the policies at colleges and universities across Ontario to ensure that their medical documentation requirements comply with the Code. This work is ongoing.

Accommodate people with disabilities or pay the price: Fair v. Hamilton Wentworth District School Board

In this case, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruled that the school board did not accommodate Ms. Fair’s mental health disability, namely post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and fired her instead. The HRTO ordered the board to reinstate her in a suitable job, pay roughly 10 years’ back wages, make retroactive payments to the Canada Pension Plan, reinstate her years of service for pension purposes and pay her $30,000 for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect.

The School Board sought judicial review of the HRTO’s decision to the Ontario Divisional Court, which deemed the HRTO’s decision and remedies to be reasonable. We intervened in this judicial review application to provide the court with our expertise on how accommodation is interpreted under human rights law, and to argue that the HRTO’s remedial authority is at the very heart of its expertise and therefore reasonableness, the most deferential standard of review, should be applied to HRTO remedial orders.

We also intervened when the school board took the case to the Court of Appeal for Ontario, and appeared there in November 2015. A decision is pending.

The OHRC presented two webinars on mental health disabilities and addictions in 2015-16.

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