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The HRBA Framework – A how-to for municipalities

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Learn more about how the Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) framework can help you apply a human rights lens to support municipal by-laws, policy, program and service system planning and implementation in a way that mitigates discrimination and disproportionate adverse impacts on Code-protected groups.

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  1. What is the HRBA Framework?
  2. Ontario’s Human Rights Code and municipal legislation
  3. Why should municipalities use the HRBA Framework?
  4. Case study – Migrant workers in the Town of Kingsville
  5. Related OHRC policies to support municipalities 


What is the HRBA Framework?

The HRBA Framework is a web-based analytical and educational tool available to service providers, including non-profits and government services, employers, researchers, advocates as well as provincial and municipal governments.

It supports municipalities and municipal bodies such as local service boards and corporations in creating municipal by-laws, polices, programs and services to meet the needs, and rights, of all members of their communities.

Through probing human rights questions and considerations, the HRBA Framework educates and supports users to think differently – and leads to better outcomes – no matter the work we do.

Asking the right questions will help you comply with the Ontario’s Human Rights Code (Code) and provide you with the following outcomes:

  • discrimination-free and accessible municipal programs, policies and services
  • equitable municipal policies, programs and services that meet the needs of vulnerable groups
  • municipal by-laws, policies, programs and services that address issues of systemic discrimination


Ontario’s Human Rights Code and municipal legislation

The Ontario Human Rights Code is for everyone. It is a provincial law that gives everybody equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in areas such as jobs, housing and services. The Code’s goal is to prevent discrimination and harassment because of 17 protected grounds, in five social areas

Many of the service areas that are protected by the Code are the responsibility of municipal governments to design and / or deliver, such as social assistance, health, policing, housing, recreation, library, public transportation, road construction and water services.

Municipalities are employers of police officers, social workers, building and maintenance workers and other workers who provide municipal services. In some instances, they may be responsible for rental housing units. They plan and promote economic and social development, and are partners and leaders in community development.

Under the Municipal Act, 2001 and the City of Toronto Act, 2006, municipalities have broad powers to pass by-laws (subject to certain limits) on matters such as housing, health, safety and well-being of the municipality, and to protect persons and property.

The Planning Act, 1990 provides a framework for municipalities to make land use decisions to fit local needs and circumstances. It also recognizes human rights as part of the planning process.

If your municipality was restructured, it may have its own special Act that establishes particular aspects of its governance or structures, for example, the Town of Haldimand Act, 1999; the City of Hamilton Act, 1999; the Town of Norfolk Act, 1999; the City of Ottawa Act, 1999; the City of Greater Sudbury Act, 1999, and the City of Toronto Act, 2006.

Many other pieces of legislation also grant specific powers and responsibilities to municipalities in Ontario such as the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, 1990, Line Fences Act, 1990Police Services Act, 1990, Building Code Act,1992,  Municipal Elections Act, 1996,  Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997, Ontario Works Act, 1997Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002, and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.

With this authority also comes a human rights responsibility. The Code requires that municipal decisions consider all members of their communities. The Code also requires that such decisions do not disproportionately impact or target people or groups who identify with Code grounds.

The courts have said that because of the importance of the principles set out in the Code, it should be given a broad and generous interpretation. When there is a difference or conflict between the Code and another Ontario law, the Code has primacy unless the other law specifically states otherwise.


Why should municipalities use the HRBA Framework?

The HRBA Framework can help you:

  1. Identify the human rights context of the policy or program proposal.
  2. Save time and effort by considering every aspect of your project at the planning stage, rather than after it has already been implemented.
  3. Work with impacted communities to develop appropriate engagement processes, including rural Indigenous communities and organizations.
  4. Conduct research and analysis that consider and reflects human rights obligations.
  5. Capture your evidence-based research, analysis, and rationale for future reference. It is a great knowledge management tool!
  6. Develop options and recommendations that respond to the rights, needs and perspectives of impacted communities.
  7. Engage in decision-making that thoroughly considers and addresses human rights obligations.
  8. Uphold human rights in policy and program implementation.
  9. Monitor/evaluate outcomes of policies to assess human rights’ impacts.
  10. Become an expert in human-right policy and program development.


Case study – Migrant workers in the Town of Kingsville

In August of 2021, the Town of Kingsville passed an interim control by-law prohibiting any person from using any lands, buildings, or structures for the purpose of housing "agricultural workers" anywhere other than on the agricultural lands where they were employed until a housing study was completed.

Designating a housing type based on the characteristics of the people who live there, creates a serious risk of "people zoning" that is inconsistent with the OHRC’s guidance. What Kingsville was contemplating would create a significant barrier to migrant workers being able to live in town and likely violates the Code.

Migrant workers are already subject to extensive discrimination in their lives and work. Under the Code, Kingsville has an obligation to make sure that the existing vulnerable position of migrant workers is not further exacerbated by town policies or by-laws.

Based on human rights obligations, the OHRC called on Council to remove any barriers that have a discriminatory effect on migrant workers as soon as possible, to permit the establishment of off-farm housing for migrant workers within its boundaries in a manner consistent with other forms of housing, and to actively work to improve the living and working conditions of all migrant workers who live and work in Kingsville. The Town revised its by-law to permit housing used by migrant workers anywhere in their community, after meeting with the OHRC and other stakeholders.

Discriminatory barriers often arise due to requirements or practices that seem neutral – such as designating housing for migrant workers - but have unintended negative impacts on people identified by the Code’s prohibited grounds of discrimination, such as race and citizenship.

Using the HRBA Framework while developing zoning by-laws to expand housing options for migrant workers would have ensured that discriminatory barriers or potential barriers that prevent people from accessing housing were considered and addressed before the by-law was introduced. This would have prevented discrimination and saved time and resources by getting it right the first time.

Related OHRC policies to support municipalities

To get the most out of the HRBA Framework, the OHRC recommends using it in conjunction with other related OHRC policies, such as, but not limited to:

In the Zone, housing, human rights and municipal planning

Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression

Policy on human rights and rental housing

Policy on eliminating racial profiling in law enforcement

Policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability

Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions

Policy and guidelines on racism and racial discrimination

Policy on competing human rights

Count me in! Collecting human rights-based data

Policy statement on human rights in COVID-19 recovery planning

COVID-19 and Ontario’s Human Rights Code – Questions and Answers