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A bit of history: Life Together, 1977

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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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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".

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.

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.