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The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) was established as an arm’s length agency of government in 1961 to prevent discrimination and to promote and advance human rights in Ontario. The OHRC is one pillar of Ontario’s human rights system, alongside the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC).

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code), the OHRC has a broad statutory mandate to promote, protect and advance respect for human rights, and to identify and promote the elimination of discriminatory practices. The OHRC works in many different ways to fulfill this mandate, including through education, policy development, public inquiries and litigation.

Ontario’s human rights system – and the OHRC’s particular role within it – is unique. Fundamentally, the OHRC is tasked with challenging persistent inequality in society. Our mandate places a particular emphasis on addressing systemic discrimination, which refers to patterns of behaviour, policies and/or practices that are part of the social or administrative structure of an organization, and that create or perpetuate a position of relative disadvantage for persons protected by the Code.

In many ways, Ontario’s statutory model recognizes the complexity of the real, intersecting dynamics and cross-cutting systems that drive and sustain systemic discrimination. It recognizes that multi-dimensional strategies, beyond litigating individual cases, are necessary to unseat entrenched systems and behaviours that perpetuate discrimination. The OHRC’s statutory mandate empowers us to pursue truly systemic solutions in the public interest.

Because the OHRC’s mandate is unique, it is important for us to exercise that mandate in the most effective and efficient way. This requires us to not only monitor and respond to critical and emerging issues, but to also consider those priority areas where proactive and sustained work can have an impact in the current climate.

It is almost a decade since Ontario shifted to a direct-access system for human rights adjudication and the OHRC received a renewed mandate to focus on systemic discrimination. We have learned a lot since 2008. With that knowledge, we are now well positioned to embark on a bold new vision for our work that will continue to deliver real systemic change to make human rights a practical reality. We are also well positioned to build a robust culture of human rights accountability.

Shifting entrenched systemic discrimination takes time and sustained effort. While we have had many successes over the past few years, we know more needs to be done to achieve human rights for all. Following many months of broad community consultation and reflection, we recognize that, as a society, we are at a crossroads.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission process and its Final Report have marked a historic turning point, spurring our collective efforts towards reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples (Indigenous peoples) to address the legacy of colonialism. Momentum and visibility are also growing through movements focused on anti-Black racism, disability rights, Trans rights, the rights of precariously employed workers, sexual violence and women’s equality. At the same time, globally and domestically, we are seeing the rise of overt racism, violence and xenophobia. Society is becoming increasingly polarized.

In light of our statutory mandate and unique ability to straddle the community and government, the OHRC is uniquely positioned to play an important role in bringing communities together to safeguard human rights. In putting forward a new set of strategic focus areas, we have an opportunity to address critical human rights issues, particularly those that are affecting the most marginalized and vulnerable members of our communities. And we are excited to bring regular community engagement more closely into our work, to make sure that we understand and reflect the lived-experience of the diverse people of Ontario in everything we do.

Today, we commit to a new chapter in this work and we are pleased to share our Strategic Plan. The decisions we have made are deliberate and the actions we will take over the next five years are intended to effect systemic change and usher in a new era of human rights in Ontario.

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