Section 30 of the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code) authorizes the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) to prepare, approve and publish human rights policies to provide guidance on interpreting provisions of the Code.[*] The OHRC’s policies and guidelines set standards for how individuals, employers, service providers and policy-makers should act to ensure compliance with the Code. They are important because they represent the OHRC’s interpretation of the Code at the time of publication.[**] Also, they advance a progressive understanding of the rights set out in the Code.
Section 45.5 of the Code states that the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the Tribunal) may consider policies approved by the OHRC in a human rights proceeding before the Tribunal. Where a party or an intervenor in a proceeding requests it, the Tribunal shall consider an OHRC policy. Where an OHRC policy is relevant to the subject-matter of a human rights application, parties and intervenors are encouraged to bring the policy to the Tribunal’s attention for consideration.
Section 45.6 of the Code states that if a final decision or order of the Tribunal is not consistent with an OHRC policy, in a case where the OHRC was either a party or an intervenor, the OHRC may apply to the Tribunal to have the Tribunal state a case to the Divisional Court to address this inconsistency.
OHRC policies are subject to decisions of the Superior Courts interpreting the Code. OHRC policies have been given great deference by the courts and Tribunal,[***] applied to the facts of the case before the court or Tribunal, and quoted in the decisions of these bodies.[****]
[*] The OHRC’s power under section 30 of the Code to develop policies is part of its broader responsibility under section 29 to promote, protect and advance respect for human rights in Ontario, to protect the public interest, and to eliminate discriminatory practices.
[**] Note that case law developments, legislative amendments, and/or changes in the OHRC’s own policy positions that took place after a document’s publication date will not be reflected in that document. For more information, please contact the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
[***] In Quesnel v. London Educational Health Centre (1995), 28 C.H.R.R. D/474 at para. 53 (Ont. Bd. Inq.), the tribunal applied the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (4th Cir. 1971) to conclude that OHRC policy statements should be given “great deference” if they are consistent with Code values and are formed in a way that is consistent with the legislative history of the Code itself. This latter requirement was interpreted to mean that they were formed through a process of public consultation.
[****] Recently, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice quoted at length excerpts from the OHRC’s published policy work in the area of mandatory retirement and stated that the OHRC’s efforts led to a “sea change” in the attitude towardss mandatory retirement in Ontario. The OHRC’s policy work on mandatory retirement heightened public awareness of this issue and was at least partially responsible for the Ontario government’s decision to pass legislation amending the Code to prohibit age discrimination in employment after age 65, subject to limited exceptions. This amendment, which became effective December 2006, made mandatory retirement policies illegal for most employers in Ontario: Assn. of Justices of the Peace of Ontario v. Ontario (Attorney General) (2008), 92 O.R. (3d) 16 at para. 45. See also Eagleson Co-Operative Homes, Inc. v. Théberge,  O.J. No. 4584 (Sup.Ct. (Div.Ct.)) in which the Court applied the OHRC’s Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate, available at: www.ohrc.on.ca/en/resources/Policies/PolicyDisAccom2