Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action
Attend Major Toronto Public Forum On Government’s Plans To Weaken Human Rights Commission And Privatize Human Rights Enforcement
List Of Community Organizations Opposing Government Plans To Privatize
Enforcement Of Human Rights Code Keeps Growing
March 31, 2006
In this update, we provide you with the following:
- A quick summary of the current issue surrounding the Government’s plans to privatize the enforcement of human rights in Ontario by weakening the Ontario Human Rights Commission, for those who want more or who haven’t been following the issue.
- On April 5, 2006 in Toronto there will be an important public forum about the Government’s plans to weaken the Human Rights Commission. See the invitation below. Come To it. Bring friends and family. ASL is provided.
- A letter to the editor in today’s London Free Press from unstoppable disability rights advocate Cathy Vincent Linderoos, urging Premier McGuinty not to introduce his plans to weaken the Human Rights Commission. Please write letters to your local newspaper with this same message.
- Four more important organizations have joined the swelling list of those opposing the Government’s plan to privatize enforcement of human rights on the backs of discrimination victims like persons with disabilities. See the letters below from the MS Society, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, the Ontario Coalition of Accessibility Advisory Committees, and the Peterborough Council for Persons with Disabilities. Get your organization to do the same!
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BACKGROUND ON HUMAN RIGHTS REFORM ISSUE
For those who haven’t received recent AODA Alliance email updates, and for
those wanting a re-fresher, here’s a quick summary of recent events.
The AODA Alliance is deeply troubled by the Ontario Government’s announcement on February 20, 2006 that it plans to introduce a bill into the Legislature this spring to weaken the Human Rights Commission, the law enforcement agency that is now required by law to investigate all discrimination complaints properly filed with it. The Government plans to privatize human rights enforcement. Under the Government’s plan, you would have to investigate and prosecute your own discrimination complaint before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Right now the Human Rights Code requires the Human Rights Commission to investigate properly-filed non-frivolous human rights complaints. Because the Commission is so badly under-funded, its investigations are far too slow and back-logged.
The Government vaguely claims it will provide some new means for discrimination victims to get legal advice and help. However the Government has stubbornly refused over the past 5 weeks to answer any inquiries about what these legal supports will be. Even the few who support the Government’s plans, largely a small group of lawyers who do human rights cases, don’t claim to know what those important plans are. The AODA Alliance agrees that the current system for enforcing the Human Rights Code is broken and needs to be fixed. However, the Government’s plans will make things worse not better.
We can’t wait for the Government to reveal its plan’s details. The Government’s proposal is inherently flawed at its core. We need the Human Rights Commission strengthened, not weakened. We need its budget increased, not further cut.
Those few, mainly some lawyers, who have applauded the Government’s plan say the biggest problem with the human rights enforcement system now is that the Human Rights Commission is the “gate-keeper” that decides if your case goes to a full hearing before the Human Rights Tribunal. In fact, the biggest problem with the system now is that it is drastically under-funded and needs to be stream-lined, so that the Human Rights Commission can be a strong, effective investigator and prosecutor of human rights violations. In any event, the Government’s plans don’t eliminate the gate-keeper role. They just shift around who will keep the gate!
The Government’s plans are an unfair turnabout on the Government’s position when it negotiated the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Last year many cheered the McGuinty Government for passing the AODA to make Ontario accessible for persons with disabilities. Premier McGuinty’s plan to weaken the Human Rights Commission will undermine that endorsement. McGuinty promised the AODA would have effective enforcement. The disability community asked that the AODA have a new independent public enforcement agency. The Government said we don’t need one, since the Human Rights Commission investigates and prosecutes disability discrimination. After the disability community cheered the AODA, it’s unfair for the McGuinty Government to turn around and rip out most of the Human Rights Commission’s teeth. Neither the Ontario Government nor the few who have applauded its new plans have answered this point.
The few who support the Government’s plans put out a blizzard of statistics about the Human Rights Commission’s caseload. Don’t be distracted by these. We don’t share their interpretation of those statistics. More importantly, we don’t dispute the system needs to be fixed. It’s just that the “fix” is wrong. You don’t strengthen the enforcement of human rights by weakening the human rights enforcement agency.
We and many others have called on the Ontario Government to hold an open, accessible, province-wide consultation on how to fix the broken human rights enforcement system before deciding how to fix it, and before introducing any new bill on this topic in the Legislature. Even some of those who previously supported elements of the Governments plans have supported our call for this consultation. The message is simple - Consultation Before legislation.
In the Ontario Legislature this past week, Ontario’s Attorney General refused to do this. He claimed he’s consulted enough. Yet any “consulting” he’s done to date have been closed, invitation-only discussions, mainly with a small group of lawyers who do human rights cases. The Government’s dismissive response in the Legislature is sadly similar to the kinds the disability community too often got from the previous Harris Government.
Some among the few who have applauded the Government’s announcement say we don’t need a consultation because there have been previous consultations as far back as the early 90s. We respond that we need to be consulted now. For example, fifteen years ago, the movement for the AODA hadn’t even formed, much less been consulted on this topic.
Some claim we should be silent now and wait to be consulted until after the Government introduces its bill. It’s very important that we be consulted now, before a bill is introduced. When a bill is before the Legislature, the Government is already committed to it. The public is restricted in what changes it can propose. We need input before the Government drafts and introduces its proposed new law. Of course, after a bill is introduced, we also need open-accessible province-wide public hearings by a Standing Committee of the Legislature before the bill is passed.
We need everyone to call their nearest Liberal MPPs and tell them to call off these wrong-headed plans, and instead to hold a proper open public consultation. For more details on who to call, including a helpful action kit, visit:
YOU ARE INVITED TO A
ON THE NEED TO RESCUE THE
ONTARIO HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
THE ONTARIO FEDERATION OF LABOUR &
SAM GINDIN, CHAIR IN SOCIAL JUSTICE AND DEMOCRACY,
TERRY DOWNEY & JUDY REBICK (CO-MODERATORS)
ON WEDNESDAY, APRIL 5, 2006 AT 5:30 P.M.
AT UNITED STEELWORKERS HALL
25 CECIL STREET (SPADINA & COLLEGE AREA)
(LIGHT REFRESHMENTS PROVIDED)
GUEST SPEAKER: MARY-WOO SIMS
FORMER CHIEF COMMISSIONER OF THE
B.C. HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
MARGARET PARSONS, AFRICAN CANADIAN LEGAL CLINIC
DAVID LAPOFSKY, DISABILITY RIGHTS ACTIVIST
AVVY GO, METRO TORONTO CHINESE & SOUTHEAST ASIAN LEGL CLINIC
- McGuinty's Government has announced plans to dismantle Ontario Human Rights Commission and move to a 'direct access' model.
- This means no more access to free investigation, mediation and legal representation through the Commission, forcing people to hire lawyers to represent them at the Tribunal.
- This means bigger barriers for people whose rights have been violated.
- We need a solution that improves human rights protection, not one that puts money in the hands of lawyers at the expense of most Ontarians.
- We are calling for immediate public consultation before any legislation is tabled.
Discussion will follow
PLEASE CONFIRM YOUR ATTENDANCE WITH
MARGARET LAW AT (416) 443-7656 OR firstname.lastname@example.org
LONDON FREE PRESS FRIDAY MARCH 31, 2006|
Rights tribunal losing its clout
This letter concerns the article, Human rights reforms chided (March 17), on
the McGuinty government’s proposal to change the way human rights commission
complaints are investigated.
I find this an insidiously regressive step that piles even more discriminatory barriers upon those least likely to be able to withstand the financial implications.
I’m suspicious of the expertise of the “handful of human rights lawyers” mentioned in the article, who apparently favour a “focus on broader issues.”
How many cases have they fought before human rights tribunals on behalf of people with disabilities who were trying to improve their lives and communities?
Where were they when complainants with disabilities were trying to get the Toronto Transit Commission to call out the stops for blind and visually impaired
riders, the Famous Players Theatres to renovate a beloved mid-town Toronto venue, and the Woodstock Little Theatre to accommodate patrons who needed level
access to washroom facilities? Were these cases not sufficiently broad?
Where were their voices when people with mental, physical and sensory disabilities were fighting for 10 long years for a strong, effective Ontarians with
I strongly urge Dalton McGuinty to strengthen the Ontario Human Rights Commission instead of ripping out and privatizing its teeth, guts and soul.
March 20, 2006 Via Fax and Mail
The Honourable Dalton McGuinty, MLA
Premier of Ontario
Room 281, Legislative Building
Queen’s Park, Toronto
Re: Proposed Reforms to the Ontario Human Rights Code
I wish to convey the MS Society of Canada’s serious concerns about the Attorney General’s recent announcement of plans to change the human rights system.
In our view, the proposal to reduce the powers and role of the Ontario Human
Rights Commission in the enforcement of the Ontario Human Rights Code, and
instead provide “direct access” to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal may very
well disadvantage Ontarians who experience discrimination.
Under the Code, the Commission receives, investigates, mediates and litigates human rights complaints in Ontario. We share your Government’s concern that the current human rights enforcement system takes too long, doesn’t adequately serve the needs of people who face discrimination and needs to be improved. However, we believe that your Government’s proposal, though intended to fix this situation, may inadvertently make things worse.
Currently, any person who files a complaint of discrimination with the Commission has the statutory right to have the Commission investigate that complaint, so long as it is within its jurisdiction, not frivolous, vexatious or brought in bad faith, and is not sent to another appropriate external complaint board.
If the Commission investigates a human rights complaint, can’t settle it between the parties, and decides that the case warrants a hearing before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRC), one of the Commission’s team of publicly-funded lawyers will present the case before the Tribunal. In other words, people who experience discrimination don’t have to be able to afford a lawyer or qualify for Legal Aid to ensure that a lawyer with specialized knowledge in human rights will present their case to the Tribunal. The proposed changes appear to take away that guarantee.
People with disabilities will rarely be able to afford the costs of privately investigating their own case. They won’t have the public investigation powers that the OHRC now has. Although the Attorney General has stated the Commission will retain the power to intervene in cases before the Tribunal if it chooses
to, the implication is that other complainants will have to fight their own cases. Unfortunately, this may result in “two-tier justice” and is a step in the wrong direction.
We are also concerned that these proposals run contrary to the basic understanding of how the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) will be enforced. When the new Act was being debated, many groups called for a new, independent enforcement agency to be established, to enforce the removal
and prevention of barriers to access. Your Government took the position that no such new independent agency was needed, because Ontario already had the Commission, with all its powers to receive, investigate and prosecute human rights complaints. The proposed changes may seriously impact AODA enforcement.
If the proposed changes to the Human Rights Code are not revised, then we urge your Government to amend the AODA to provide for the establishment of a new, well-funded, independent enforcement body with a formal individual complaints process and mandatory investigation duties.
We commend your Government for recognizing the need to reform the Ontario Human Rights Code enforcement process. However, we ask that you not proceed with reform until the concerns we and many others have raised can be addressed.
We suggest as a next step the development of a public consultation process before introducing legislative change. We are eager to be involved with this process and look forward to working with you on any plans for human rights enforcement reform. Please contact Deanna Groetzinger, Vice-President, Communications, at 416 967-3007 or via e-mail at
Thank you for your consideration of this important issue.
Alistair M. Fraser
President and Chief Executive
March 27, 2006
CARP’S OPEN LETTER
TO PREMIER MCGUINTY:
Re: Human Rights Commission “Reform”
Violates Human Rights of Ontarians
CARP is disturbed by your government’s ill-proposed changes to the Human
Rights Commission – as well as the process chosen to carry them out. By
splitting the roles of the Commission and the Tribunal, you are imposing
barriers to Ontarians’ human rights.
What you are considering will weaken the Commission’s current effective service to Ontarians – and, in turn, strip many of their human rights. First of all, the present free system will automatically be replaced by litigation. This will be costly to the consumer. In fact, the major beneficiaries will be the proponent of the changes: the legal community – and probably the Province because the cost to the consumer will limit the number of decisions by the Tribunal. Needless to say, many Ontarians will be unable to pay legal fees.
In CARP’s experience, it is very important for the Commission to be directly engaged in human rights issues. By limiting this role, the depth of their reports and their capacity to act on their findings could be seriously eroded. CARP worked with the Commission on “Time for Action,” an outstanding document which we promoted across the country as a model to fight age discrimination.
Mr. Premier, do the right thing! Put your proposal on hold and engage in broad public consultation. Otherwise, the message to Ontarians is that you are willing to violate their human rights based on their ability to pay. The example of British Columbia’s tampering with its Human Rights Commission shows that ill-conceived changes do impede the course of justice.
Surely such a major action must include input from all Ontarians. We urge you to reconsider you plan until you have heard the voice of the people.
CARP is Canada’s Association for the Fifty-Plus. A non-profit organization with about 250,000 members in Ontario -- and 400,000 across the country. CARP’s mandate is to promote and protect the rights and quality of life for older Canadians.
Judy Cutler/Bill Gleberzon
Directors of Government & Media Relations
416 363-8748 ext. 241
Coalition of Ontario Accessibility Advisory Committees (COAAC)
March 27, 2006
Premier Dalton McGuinty
Room 281, Legislative Building,
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1
Re: Changes to the Ontario Human Rights Commission's complaints process
I am writing as the coordinator of the Coalition of Ontario Accessibility Advisory Committees (COAAC) representing some 70 accessibility committees throughout Ontario. We are a grassroots organization formed to give people who volunteer their time to work on municipal and regional AACs a way of
sharing information and a voice when something they uniformly oppose arises.
We oppose the Attorney General's intentions to make changes to the Human Rights Code without consulting those affected by the changes.
The Accessibility for Ontarians Act (2005) and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2001), legislated accessibility advisory committees to help municipalities and regional governments accessible to all Ontarians. The work AACs do touches everything from developing facility standards to lobbying for grab bars in city hall washrooms, large type printed documents
used by employees and the public, employees' awareness training and looking over architectural plans for new development. Thousands of people throughout Ontario are involved in making the city or region they live in more
accessible by serving on these committees. The fact that there is now acomplaint process in place through the Ontario Human Rights Commission gives us clout. If all else fails, we can go to the OHRC for advice or start the complaint process.
I know our local AAC in St. Catharines gave advice on a new sportsplex being built and we were ignored. It took the architect a year to get back to us with a letter saying he would take our suggestions into consideration. He didn't and now the elevator in the complex is too small. One of our members,
who uses a fairly large reclining wheelchair was stuck in it, unable to reach the buttons to open the door. We could have taken the architect to the Ontario Human Rights Commission but he was working on behalf of the city that passed the plans. We need the leverage of the OHRC to be heard by the city and the people they hire.
This is also the leverage some private citizens must use to try to make people in the private sector see that training their employees how to work on a daily basis with people who are disabled or to make their restaurant, hotel or office building accessible is just plain good business and the humane thing to do. If they simply ignore us, we can suggest that there is a
process through the Ontario Human Rights Commission that can help them see the error of their ways.
A recent local incident brought this home to me. A man in a wheelchair waiting in line to pay his bill at a fast food restaurant was constantly being ignored. The cashier kept telling people to go around him, he could wait. Finally, someone said, "No he can't wait, he deserves to be served... take his money, I will wait." The cashier was adamant. The champion had
enough clout to have her fired. The man in the wheelchair has experienced a terrible form of discrimination...that of being ignored because he is disabled. It is something that happens often but shouldn't. He could have taken the restaurant owner and the cashier to the OHRC. He won't because it is just too much work, it will take years for the case to be heard, and
after that length of time, no one will really be served by it. That's as things stand now. If the new proposals are implemented, he would likely have to go to a tribunal, present his own evidence, hire his own lawyer, and fight the restaurant owner. His leverage will be gone because there is no way on earth he can do what is required. He can't fight back. In my books, this is picking on the weakest of the weak. That man, who likely fights every day just to get up and out of the house, will just sink a little lower in his wheelchair every time someone does this to him. He'll feel smaller for being discriminated against and having absolutely no recourse because
the provincial laws have been changed and do not take into consideration his inability to fight on his own behalf.
I urge you, please, do not let any change be made until the disabled community is heard. Please do not take the teeth out of the AODA. Please don't make the job of the thousands working on accessibility advisory committees throughout Ontario more difficult.
We also endorse the position of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance in their February 27 and March 23, 2006 letters to
Linda Crabtree, CM, O.Ont., O.M.C., B.A., LL.D. (hon.)
Coordinator - COAAC
Publisher - Accessible Niagara guide and
cc - Michael Bryant - Attorney General of Ontario
Peterborough Council for Persons with Disabilities
(Community Accessibility Advisory Committee)
c/o 500 George Street North
March 30, 2006
Honourable Dalton McGuinty
Premier of Ontario
281 Main Legislative Building
Dear Premier McGuinty:
Our Council for Persons with Disabilities (CPD) wishes to add our voice to the many others alarmed by the proposed changes to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. We are a member of the AODA Alliance and support the position they have taken. Our CPD has been in existence since the 1980s and our membership consists of people with disabilities of various types and we are joined by others who are able-bodied with their own personal reasons for their interest in the common cause. In keeping with the passage of your Government’s strengthened Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in June of 2005, our CPD has continued in the capacity of the advisory body namely, the CAAC for the City of Peterborough. This relationship was initially formalized by a City Council resolution when the original ODA was enacted in 2001. Throughout the years of the existence of our CPD, our experience and established good reputation within the city has been recognized as well as our activities in other broader endeavors. This included the participation in the development of the original ODA through the regional meetings reflecting the Government’s view of the wisdom of seeking the advice and input of people with disabilities themselves, to ensure a meaningful piece of legislation. During this process we were fortunate to have within our membership, Lois Harte-Maxwell, a former City Councilor with a disability who had also been involved in the earlier stages of the evolution of the Ontario Human Rights Code in her participation in the coalition of the United Handicapped Groups of Ontario (UHGO). In her capacity as its Executive Director, the group joined in the successful effort to have the Code amended to include disabilities. Thus, we feel we can make an informed initial judgment as to the potential for a regressive piece of legislation regarding this topic at hand should the Government of Ontario continue along the path outlined in your proposed changes. We feel the recent gains made by your Government in the AODA will also be impacted negatively as well as the Ontario Human Rights Commission itself, given your current model for its restructuring.
Please heed the voices of the many people with disabilities who stand to be adversely impacted by your proposed changes to the OHRC. It seems inconceivable to us to witness the same Government that was moving in the right direction to the great pleasure of persons with disabilities through the implementation of the AODA with its associated requirements and goals for a barrier free Ontario; with the added protection of the OHRC; now proposing deleterious changes to the OHRC. To make matters worse, this action appears to be taking place, minus the former attitude of inclusiveness and openness to input and advice of the majority of affected citizens namely, people with disabilities. We urge you to reconsider your position and ask that you reach out once again, to Ontario’s citizens with disabilities with your former attitude of inclusiveness. How can we expect to enjoy a barrier free Ontario in respect of the AODA if the Government itself follows through with perhaps the implementation of possibly the greatest barrier of all; an encumbered pathway to acquire a fair hearing for those who need access to defend their human rights. The Government needs to raise the bar to its former level or risk weakening the accomplishments already gained through your enlightened leadership for a barrier free Ontario.
Yours Very Truly,
Chair of Council for Persons with Disabilities
C. Michael Bryant, Attorney General of Ontario
Sandra Pupatello, Minister responsible for the AODA
John Tory, Leader of the Official Opposition
Howard Hampton, Leader of the New Democratic Party
Jeff Leal, MPP for Peterborough
Catherine Dunphy, Chair, AODA Alliance
David Lepofsky, Former Coalition Chairperson
Jack Doris, Peterborough City Council Representative on CPD
Lisa DeFlorio, Access Co-ordinator & Liaison City of Peterborough/CPD
CPD Members & Members of the Standing Committees