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Connecting with communities: partnership and education

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Marketing awareness with Seneca College

One of the challenges of transforming Ontario’s human rights system is to let Ontarians know about the changes. The Commission turned to the artists of tomorrow to help create a new vision of the changing system. For the third year in a row, the Commission teamed up with students and faculty from Seneca College’s graphic design program at York University to develop human rights awareness campaigns. This year’s goal was to develop concepts that would effectively communicate the transformation of the human rights system.

The students started with little knowledge of the human rights system. By the end of the six-week project, with the support and mentoring of faculty and Commission staff, the students had a solid understanding of how Ontario’s changing system promotes and protects human rights across the province. This understanding is reflected in the exciting, fresh designs each of seven groups created.

While the overall campaign was designed to reach all Ontarians, each group focused on a different target audience, including young adults entering the workforce, working age adults, older workers, newcomers to Ontario, and underserved communities with little awareness of human rights protections. Other audiences included opinion leaders and human rights advocates, human resources and legal professionals, social workers and front-line staff. Finally, audiences included people who have made or might make human rights complaints, and the people and organizations that might have to respond to these complaints.

While only one of the proposed campaigns could be chosen for use in the transition campaign, all of the work was of such high quality that the Commission will be seeking other ways to use key elements in other projects. One example is this Annual Report. The cover and each chapter feature the design and messaging of the various student teams. As a collective work, these campaigns send a youthful and strong message for human rights in Ontario.

Outreach to Aboriginal communities

As part of its consultation on discrimination in rental housing last Spring, the Commission heard from Aboriginal organizations and individuals and others on the disparities between Aboriginal people and the rest of the population in terms of access to adequate and affordable rental housing. The Commission also heard about screening barriers faced by prospective Aboriginal tenants, particularly women and youth, as well as other forms of discrimination that will be identified in its consultation report for release this year.

In May 2007, the Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry looking into the shooting death of Dudley George was released, identifying matters related to Ontario’s Human Rights Code, the Commission’s definition of racism, as well as the importance of data collection in bias-free policing. The Chief Commissioner wrote to the Premier offering the Commission’s assistance to implement aspects of the report.

Meanwhile, the Commission continued to engage Aboriginal organizations through its law enforcement outreach initiative, including the Chief Commissioner speaking at “Systemic Racism in the Justice System” conference hosted by Grand Council Treaty No. 3 this past February in Kenora.

In August, the Chief Commissioner wrote a public letter to the Prime Minister urging the Government of Canada to reconsider its opposition to the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration was adopted by the United Nation’s General Assembly on September 13, 2007. Canada was one of four countries that voted against its adoption.

Marking its third year of participation, the Commission again hosted an information booth at the annual Canadian Aboriginal Festival and pow-wow in Toronto last November where staff handed out information and spoke to hundreds of visitors.

And the Commission continued its ongoing relationship with the Union of Ontario Indians, while looking forward to their involvement at the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies being hosted by the Ontario Human Rights Commission this Spring in Niagara.

Engaging with law enforcement

The Commission continued to engage with police organizations to support efforts to address human rights concerns. The efforts included public education and liaison activities with several police organizations including the Hamilton Police, the Ottawa Police, the Ontario Police College, and the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association.

The Commission also continued a major initiative to work with the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) and the Toronto Police Service (TPS) to support the TPS in identifying and responding to human rights issues and concerns, both within the organization and in its services to the public.

In July 2007, the three parties signed a Human Rights Project Charter, which formalized a three-year collaborative project to enhance realization of human rights and anti-racism in TPS. The Charter established project aims and aspirations, roles of the involved parties, administrative structures and identified four key areas for change focus: 1) recruitment, selection, promotion, 2) training, 3) accountability, and 4) public education.

As the project moved into its implementation phase in the later part of 2007, subcommittees were set up to focus attention on the four key identified areas. These committees, which included members from all three sponsoring organizations as well as public representatives, aimed to jointly identify specific issues and concerns, strategies to address these, and eventually oversee implementation of an intervention plan to be developed by June 2008.

The Toronto Police Service Human Rights partnership represents a new and promising collaborative approach to systemic human rights change that the Commission would like to pursue in other sectors as it continues in its new mandate this coming year.

Building coalitions with communities

The Commission, along with several other organizations across Canada, has lent its expertise and support to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization) in developing and advancing a Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CMARD). The Coalition’s goal is to establish a network of municipalities interested in sharing experiences and expertise and committed to adopting a Plan of Action to address racism and discrimination within their jurisdictions. Coalitions are also being formed and expanded in Europe, Asia and the Pacific, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Arab Region.

To date, eight Ontario municipalities have joined the Coalition: Windsor, Toronto, Thunder Bay, Oshawa, Tecumseh, Sudbury, Vaughan and Oakville. Twenty-six municipalities across Canada have joined.

In August 2007, the Commission took information about the Coalition to the Annual General Meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario in Ottawa. In addition to having a display throughout the conference, the Chief Commissioner hosted a special breakfast discussion about the Coalition.

In October, a community coalition in Windsor – one of the first communities in Canada to commit to the Coalition – organized a rally that attracted over 100 youth and their families from the Windsor & Essex County area. The event featured information about race, ethnocultural relations and diversity, cultural music, entertainment and food. The rally’s overall goal was to create awareness and promote prevention of racism and discrimination in our communities, schools and organizations. At a booth designed under the theme of “I Can,” the Commission ran an interactive activity inviting ideas on what youth can do to support CMARD in their community.

In February 2008, Commission staff attended a meeting of interested parties from the Region of Waterloo, including the cities of Waterloo, Cambridge and Kitchener, to promote the benefits of getting involved in CMARD.

The Commission also took part in a national meeting of the Pan-Canadian Working Group hosted by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO to discuss expanding the Coalition and involving new sectoral partners.

Through various initiatives, including its inquiry into assaults on Asian Canadian anglers, the Commission will continue to promote CMARD to municipalities across Ontario, as a positive and collaborative framework for addressing racism and discrimination.

Connecting across Canada

The Commission cooperates at both the international and the national levels to promote and advance human rights. On the national level, the Commission continued to play an active role in the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA). The Commission serves on various committees and special projects, such as the team working on a website commemorating the 60th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and will host the 2008 annual conference, which takes place in Niagara Region this June.

Saying it in sign language on the web

In October 2007, the Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario joined the Commission at an event hosted by the Canadian Hearing Society, to launch the Commission’s first-ever sign language video.

The multi-format video, based on the Commission’s latest brochure called Disability and the Duty to Accommodate: Your Rights and Responsibilities under Ontario’s Human Rights Code, is available in American Sign Language and Langue des signes québécoise as well as English/French captioning and audio.

Disability is the number one ground of discrimination cited in complaints filed at the Commission. While the Commission has done much to raise awareness and advance human rights for persons with disabilities, this video will help make that information more accessible to people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.

The Canadian Hearing Society first suggested the idea of a sign language video and provided guidance. For the Record Productions Inc. produced the video, and Fourth Wall Media/One Stop Network graciously donated three months of advertising space for a sign language video announcement, a good example of what can be accomplished through collaboration.

Remembering our past

The Commission partnered with the Archives of Ontario to help develop and launch an on-line exhibit celebrating the life of Dr. Daniel D. Hill, first Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The exhibit contains anecdotes, photos, letters, audio and video files, and offers a fascinating insight into the challenges Dr. Hill faced as he worked to achieve a culture of human rights in Ontario. The Commission website includes a link to this important piece of human rights history.

Public education highlights

As the Commission continues in its transformation to the new system, public education will play a more critical role. The Commission has been focusing more on events that deal with preventing Code violations and advancing human rights on a broad scale. It has also been seeking opportunities to enhance relationships with key sectors, such as housing and policing that are in line with its strategic planning. The Commission’s work with Toronto Police Service is a good example of how education will be delivered more through community outreach, capacity building, cooperation and partnership initiatives.

The Commission continues to advance understanding of human rights through media inquiries and interviews, publications in various languages, new brochures on gender identity, disability and accommodation, family status and racism and racial discrimination, public awareness campaigns, information booth displays and its website.

In 2007-08, the Commission received 173 invitations and took part in 91 public education events. The Chief Commissioner spoke at a number of these events including:

  • University of Windsor - Panel discussion, Access to Justice class, lecture to the faculty of education, and a joint public lecture with the Human Rights Tribunal on the new human rights system and the duty to accommodate
  • OHRC’s International Human Rights Day Celebration – with guest speaker Fo Niemi, Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) who spoke about Quebec’s public consultation on reasonable accommodation,
  • Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association conference – discriminatory NIMBYism (“Not in My Back Yard”) as a human rights concern and major barrier to housing
  • Region of Waterloo Public Health, Babies Mean Business Forum - Family status and breastfeeding as human rights
  • Cultural Coalition of Chatham-Kent - Bill 107 and Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism
  • Law Society of Upper Canada & Ontario Bar Association - Respecting the Rights of Older Workers in a Post-Mandatory Retirement Environment

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