Our strategic focus:
The OHRC will embody human rights by engaging in and sustaining trusting relationships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities and groups. These relationships will be built on dignity and respect, and on working to advance reconciliation and substantive equality. We will contribute to nation-wide efforts that recognize the enduring impact of colonialism on Indigenous peoples. We will work in collaboration to support Indigenous communities as they determine and advance their own human rights goals and priorities.
We are working towards strengthened relationships with Indigenous communities and groups; recognize colonialism, and address systemic racism, discrimination and inequality. We will work towards:
- Sustainable and trusting relationships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities in urban and rural areas throughout Ontario
- Greater understanding of the impact of colonialism on Indigenous peoples
- A human rights paradigm for Ontario that reconciles Ontario’s human rights system with Indigenous frameworks, concepts, processes, and laws
- Accountability for systemic racism and discrimination against Indigenous peoples.
Channeling children’s voices: taking a closer look at child welfare
In December 2015, the OHRC made several commitments to the take up the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One key commitment was to use our mandate to inquire into the overrepresentation of Indigenous and Black children and youth in Ontario’s child welfare system. To that end, we requested Code-disaggregated data from all Ontario Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) in February 2016. The majority of CASs responded positively to our data request.
We have now completed a preliminary review of the data on admissions into care, and issues have come to light. First, we learned that CASs have not prioritized race-based data collection, and the data that exists is inconsistent, incomplete, and/or non-descript. As a result, Ontario still does not have solid data on the racial background or Indigenous ancestry of children in their care.
The OHRC has long called for disaggregated race-based data collection to help organizations more effectively monitor potential discrimination, identify and remove systemic barriers, address historical disadvantage, and promote equity in service delivery and programming. Data collection by CASs would enable them to improve outcomes and supports for Indigenous and racialized children and youth in care, and their families.
Despite these challenges, our analysis of the best information available raises red flags: Indigenous and African Canadian children and youth are overrepresented in care in many CASs across the province. These are Ontario-wide problems: the overrepresentation of Black children is not exclusively a Toronto-area problem, and the overrepresentation of Indigenous children is not merely a Northern Ontario or rural problem.
The disproportionality of admission into care data is an indicator of systemic discrimination, which may be the result of stereotypes and/or disparities in service. The end result is poor outcomes for children, youth and their families, and for society as a whole. For Indigenous children and youth, the disparities have additional roots in colonialism, including the intergenerational trauma of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.
That’s why, in our submission to Ontario’s review of the Child and Family Services Act, we urged the government to direct all CASs to collect and publicly report on disaggregated data on a regular basis. We also called on the government to work closely with the Indigenous and Black communities to develop a data-collection directive.
We are currently preparing a more detailed report on the data we requested from the CASs, and will release it later this year.
“[Y]ou can see that the seeds we plant in childhood have lifelong consequences. If we plant seeds of discrimination then we set in play a strong likelihood of a tragic and difficult adulthood. But if we plant seeds of justice and equality and culture that breeds self-confidence, we’re going to see those same positive experiences grow throughout their lives.
What I don’t want to see is another generation of First Nations adults having to recover from their childhoods as so many survivors of the residential schools have had to do and as so many families of the murdered and missing women are now doing.”
- Dr. Cindy Blackstock
Source: Human Rights Now, Amnesty Canada Blog, www.amnesty.ca
“I work as a midwife, primarily with Aboriginal women, and have lost track of how many racist assumptions and mistreatments I've observed based on race. For example… calling social workers or child protection agencies because parents are young and native – massive profiling in the selection of who has that involvement.
Then, once that involvement starts, Aboriginal women are much more likely to have their babies removed for much more dubious reasons.”
- Mixed race, White and Aboriginal female, age 35-44
In September 2016, the Minister of Children and Youth Services announced that the government will make it mandatory for CASs across Ontario to collect race-based data in a consistent and meaningful way.
And Bill 89, which updates the Child and Family Services Act, addresses many of our recommendations, including:
- Designing services and placements that reflect the child’s identity and needs related to creed, race, ethnicity, disability, gender identity and other grounds of the Human Rights Code
- Monitoring the application of the Act, including collecting data
- Reporting on the extent that child and family services are separating Indigenous and racialized children from their family environment, or otherwise not meeting their needs.
In March 2017, the Government of Ontario launched A Better Way Forward: Ontario’s 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan, which responds to the OHRC’s ongoing call for data collection. This plan sets out a framework and guidelines for collecting disaggregated race data. The goal is to strengthen and standardize race-based data collection, analysis and public reporting of disaggregated data by government and institutions.
Understanding the impact of cultural appropriation
Issues and debates around cultural appropriation took centre stage this year – in the context of schools, community sports, and even Major League Baseball.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) invited the OHRC to intervene in Gallant v. Mississauga, a case about the use of Indigenous-based team logos and names in its sports arenas operated by the City of Mississauga. The HRTO invited us to intervene because the case raises issues of “significant public interest.”
Brad Gallant, an Indigenous man and father, complained to the City of Mississauga about the use and display of Indigenous-based logos and team names in its sports arenas by five youth hockey associations.
Service providers, such as the City of Mississauga, have an obligation to ensure that their service environments are inclusive and free from discrimination and harassment against Indigenous peoples.
We conducted extensive outreach to learn more about the impact of the use of Indigenous-based sports logos and nicknames, and heard a variety of perspectives from Indigenous peoples.
The OHRC brought forward the perspectives of Indigenous youth, a group that is most directly affected by the issues in this case, by filing affidavit evidence from the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres’ Aboriginal Youth Council. We also filed the evidence of an expert witness who researches the psychological impact of the use of Indigenous-based logos and names on youth.
The case continues at the HRTO.
“I have reviewed relevant empirical research in the scientific literature that addresses the psychological impact of Indigenous-themed mascots, nicknames, and logos in sport. This emerging body of research has produced results that indicate that this practice has a negative impact on the psychological functioning of Indigenous people in number of ways, both direct (e.g., lower self-esteem, higher levels of negative affect, higher psychological distress, less possible selves, lower community worth) and indirect (e.g., stereotype activation, stereotype application, creating a racially hostile environment; generating dehumanizing images of Indigenous people).”
- Expert Report of Jesse A. Steinfeldt, Ph.D., CC-AASP, @IUSchoolofEd
Reconciliation starts with relationships
A key commitment of the OHRC is to regularly engage with Indigenous communities, organizations and leaders across Ontario, and to work together to find solutions to human rights issues that are of particular interest to Indigenous peoples.
The OHRC met with Chiefs and Band Councils across Ontario, leaders of Indigenous Friendship Centres representing urban Indigenous people, as well as Indigenous youth.
The OHRC also co-organized listening circles with Friendship Centres to help us understand concerns in diverse communities across Ontario, including Toronto, Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout, Kenora, Fort Francis and Dryden.
“Thinking until we feel”
Reconciliation requires all of us to commit to a better understanding of the history, culture, experiences, challenges and aspirations of Indigenous peoples across Ontario.
In a first step to build on this understanding, we worked with Commissioners Maurice Switzer and Karen Drake to plan a three-day conference for the entire OHRC staff and all of our Commissioners in March 2017.
Many Indigenous people have told us that we must “think until we feel.” This conference included elements that were both educational and moving.
The conference was opened by Mississauga of the New Credit elder Nancy Rowe, who was available throughout the three days to guide our journey.
The three days included sessions on Anishnaabe law and world views, the treaty relationship, and Indigenous peoples and organizations in Ontario. We heard directly from staff from the Chiefs of Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, and the Métis Nation of Ontario.
We also learned from Residential School survivor Geronimo Henry. He talked to us about his experience at Mohawk Institute Residential School – called “The Mush Hole” by many survivors – and his long road to justice through the court system. He also talked about the promise of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and some of the disappointments.
We visited Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation and were hosted by Chief Stacey Laforme, and received teachings from Elders Nancy Rowe and Peter Schuler in in Kinomaagaye Gamik Lodge on the reserve.
And we heard from Tasunke Sugar, a youth worker at Toronto Council Fire, who talked about the impacts of intergenerational trauma on the current generation of Indigenous youth, drawing on his own experience as a first-time father. We ended the three days by making moccasins to send to Indigenous mothers whose children are apprehended at birth by child welfare agencies.
Commissioners/staff reflect on the teachings...
“I loved the residential school survivor – his story was fascinating, but deeply disturbing.”
“I'm honoured to have been invited to their home. I learned a lot about Indigenous systems, such as their model of child welfare, and I think there's a lot of learning that needs to be done for these systems to get their proper respect.”
"I was particularly struck by Tasunke Sugar's presentation. I never properly understood the concept of intergenerational trauma before. I'm inspired to see so much hope coming out of so much hardship.”
“The sharing of the presenters' lived experiences was invaluable. We arrived at the community stuffed with academic 'knowledge of history and culture. By Friday afternoon what was in the head was joined by the heart."