Dr. Patricia Spindel
Seniors for Social Action Ontario
Dear Dr. Spindel:
Re: Request that the OHRC conduct an inquiry on the institutionalization of older adults in Ontario
I am writing to respond to the March 29, 2021, request from Seniors for Social Action Ontario (SSAO) for the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) to undertake a section 31 public interest inquiry into the institutionalization of older adults in Ontario.
The information in your submission on the institutionalization of older adults and lack of effective community care options raise important human rights concerns about the adverse effects experienced by older persons, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Your submissions regarding the need for effective and equitable oversight and enforcement – by both government and the police – also offer an important perspective. As you noted, the OHRC has previously reported on some of these same issues and the particular vulnerability of and barriers faced by older persons in our Policy on discrimination against older people because of age and Time For Action: Advancing The Rights Of Older Persons In Ontario.
The OHRC will not be undertaking a section 31 public interest inquiry into this matter.
However, we recognize that there are significant and pressing concerns about systemic discrimination linked to healthcare, the operation of long-term care facilities and the availability of viable community alternatives to institutionalization. The OHRC is currently monitoring issues in these areas.
As part of this work, the OHRC has written to the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission (LTC Commission) and is tracking its progress. As you know, the LTC Commission was launched to conduct an independent investigation in response to the disproportionate effects that COVID-19 has had on long-term care residents and staff.
The OHRC’s August 2020 letter to the LTC Commission Chair encouraged the LTC Commission to place human rights principles at the centre of its review, stressed that the residents in Ontario’s long-term care facilities are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, including because of age, and urged the LTC Commission to consider the various human rights characteristics, discriminatory conditions and systemic structural forces that may underlie the issues within its mandate.
If you have not already done so in your testimony to the LTC Commission to date, we urge you to provide the information in your submission to the LTC Commission to inform its final report and recommendations. Many of the issues you raise align with aspects of the LTC Commission’s mandate, which includes making findings and recommendations on the pre-COVID-19 state of the long-term care system and its relationship to other aspects of the health care system.
The OHRC has also identified discrimination against older persons as a key area of concern in our work relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the outset of the pandemic, the OHRC released a policy statement to guide all levels of government to adopt a human rights-based approach to managing policy, legal, regulatory, public health and emergency responses to COVID-19. Since then, the OHRC has been working to ensure that any COVID-19-related triage protocol is implemented in a way that does not discriminate against vulnerable groups, including older persons.
The OHRC appreciates the detailed and comprehensive information you provided about the institutionalization of older adults, the serious adverse effects this has, and policy and structural changes that may lead to improvement. We also value hearing from the SSAO because you offer the input and perspectives of older adults directly affected by these issues. The information and your perspective as older adults will be invaluable for the OHRC as we continue our work in these areas.
Ena Chadha, LL.B., LL.M.
cc: Hon. Associate Chief Justice Frank N. Marrocco, Chair of the Independent Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission
Hon. Christine Elliott, Minister of Health
Hon. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care
Hon. Doug Downey, Attorney General