Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action

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Disability coalition urges McGuinty government to halt plans to weaken human rights commission

Wednesday, March 15, 2006: Toronto: A province-wide disability coalition will hold a news conference on Thursday, March 16, 2006 at 10:00 a.m. at the Queen’s Park Media Studio, to call on the McGuinty Government not to strip the Ontario Human Rights Commission of its lead responsibility to investigate and prosecute human rights violations. On February 20, 2006 the Government announced plans to introduce a law this spring to weaken the Human Rights Commission by largely removing its mandate to investigate and prosecute discrimination complaints.

“It’s good the Government recognizes its system for enforcing human rights is too backlogged and slow, but its plans just create the illusion of swifter justice, and make things worse, not better,” said Catherine Dunphy, chair of the AODA Alliance, a new, non-partisan grass-roots disability coalition which advocates removal of barriers to accessibility that impede over 1.5 million Ontarians with disabilities from fully participating in Ontario life. “Discrimination victims now have the right to have the Human Rights Commission conduct a public investigation of discrimination claims. The Government plans to repeal that right, unfairly forcing discrimination victims to investigate their own case.”

“The Human Rights Commission now prosecutes all cases it investigates, can’t settle, and decides warrants a Tribunal hearing. Premier McGuinty also plans to take that important job away from the Human Rights Commission”, said AODA Alliance Vice-Chair Gary Malkowski, former MPP and North America’s first deaf elected parliamentarian. “The Government shouldn’t force vulnerable discrimination victims to shoulder the steep cost of hiring a lawyer to fight their case. It’s wrong to privatize the Human Rights Code’s enforcement duties. Under funded Legal Aid can’t pick up the pieces, especially for the many who don’t qualify for it.”

“Last year we cheered the McGuinty Government for passing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) to make Ontario accessible for persons with disabilities,” said David Lepofsky, formerly Chair of the coalition that led the decade-long campaign for new accessibility legislation, a coalition the AODA Alliance now succeeds. “McGuinty’s plan to weaken the Human Rights Commission will undermine that endorsement. McGuinty promised the AODA would have effective enforcement. We 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 we cheered the AODA, it’s unfair for the McGuinty Government to turn around and rip out most of the Human Rights Commission’s teeth. We need the Human Rights Commission stronger, not weaker.”

The AODA Alliance wrote Premier McGuinty, urging him not to introduce any legislation before holding proper, open, accessible public consultations with those whose human rights are at stake, like people with disabilities. Premier McGuinty should also reverse the previous Government’s cuts to the Human Rights Commission. More staff can do quicker, better investigations.

Visit www.aodaalliance.org

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