Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action

AODA ALLIANCE WRITES ONTARIO HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF COMMISSIONER TO CALL FOR BROAD OPEN PUBLIC CONSULTATIONS ON BILL 107 -

ONTARIO ATTORNEY GENERAL SAYS BILL 107 WON'T BE PROCLAIMED FOR UP TO A YEAR AND A HALF

March 12, 2007

SUMMARY


Our attention now turns to efforts concerning implementation of Bill 107, the McGuinty Government's controversial reforms to enforcement of human rights in Ontario. Many were very disappointed that Bill 107 was passed last year. Also, many felt hurt and shut out when the McGuinty Government passed a closure motion to shut down the public hearings on that bill - public hearings for all that were promised, advertised and scheduled. .

Nevertheless, if Bill 107 is to be implemented we need to work together to accomplish what we can with this legislation. For example, it will be important to hold the Ontario Government to its key commitments regarding Bill 107, including, for example that:

* Under Bill 107, all human rights complainants will get a hearing before the Human Rights Tribunal within one year of filing their complaint.

* Under Bill 107, the Government will assure to every human rights complainant a free, independent legal counsel during proceedings at the Human Rights Tribunal;

* Under Bill 107, the Human rights Commission will have its resources "freed up" so it can devote those resources to actively pursue public interest cases before the Human Rights Tribunal that it launches itself.

* Under Bill 107, the Human rights Commission will have the right to intervene in any case before the Human Rights Tribunal that an individual launches.

The AODA Alliance wants to take an active part in public discussions and consultations on Bill 107's implementation, and to bring forward constructive proposals. To that end, as a first step, The AODA Alliance has written Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, regarding Bill 107's implementation. (See text of this letter below)

In this letter we call for a broad, open public consultation on Bill 107's implementation. It should be province-wide and open to everyone, not invitation-only. Beyond our proposals on how this public consultation should be conducted, we also urge the Human rights commission to devote the vast majority of its resources to investigating and litigating human rights violations. It should devote most of its efforts to using the limited investigation and litigation powers that Bill 107 left with the Commission, after taking away most of its current enforcement mandate. We propose that once bill 107 is proclaimed in force, the Commission should only use a limited minority of its resources on public education activities. We state:

"Television advertisements, speeches at conferences by Human Rights Commission officials, and Human Rights Commission websites and leaflets will not make a substantial dent in the many barriers to equality confronting those who are victims of human rights violations. What public education that the Commission will undertake will be far more effective if the Commission backs these efforts with a strong, comprehensive campaign to bring cases before the Human Rights Tribunal, and to intervene where possible in cases that others bring before the Tribunal."

We encourage you to write the Chief Commissioner, the Attorney General Michael Bryant, and Human Rights Tribunal Michael Gottheil to support the contents of our letter to Barbara Hall, including our call for a broad, inclusive public consultation process on Bill 107's implementation.

We also set out below an article from the Friday, March 9, 2007 St. Catharines Standard. It reports on a recent statement by Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant that Bill 107 will need up to some 18 months before it is proclaimed in force.


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto Ontario M4G 3E8
(Fax) 416-480-7014


March 12, 2007

via facsimile (416) 314-7752

Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner
Ontario Human Rights Commission
180 Dundas Street West
7th Floor
Toronto, Ontario M7A 2R9

Dear Chief Commissioner Hall:

Re: The Need for Broad Public Consultations on the Implementation of Bill 107

I am writing on behalf of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. As you know, last year our non-partisan cross-disability coalition took active part in the public discussions and debates over Bill 107, the Ontario Government's reforms to human rights enforcement in Ontario.

We want to initiate a dialogue on Bill 107's implementation with you, the other commissioners of the Human Rights Commission, and the front-line staff of the Commission, who have played a pivotal role to date in the enforcement of human rights in Ontario. Specifically, we raise two issues with you:

1. The Need for Broad Public Consultation on Bill 107's Implementation before Its Proclamation

We wish to raise with you the need for a broad, accessible, inclusive and province-wide public consultation on Bill 107's implementation well before the bill is proclaimed in force. We believe that it will be important that public consultations be held by the major Government players who will have important roles to play in this bill's implementation, namely the Human Rights Tribunal, the Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Government and, once established, the new Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

The three of these organizations which are already in existence are all on the record supporting the need for public consultations regarding this bill. Bill 107 itself requires the Tribunal to hold public consultations before making any rules of procedure. Attorney General Michael Bryant committed to consulting with the public on this bill's implementation in his January 10, 2007 Opening of the Courts address. He said regarding this bill's changes to human rights enforcement: "I look forward to implementing those changes through collaboration and consultation with all concerned."

As well, the Human Rights Commission, and you as its Chief Commissioner, have been on record throughout the government's controversial process for enacting this bill, in support of the need for broader consultations. Indeed, you supported our call for broader Government consultations last year before it introduced Bill 107. You also were very critical of the Government for its November 21, 2006 closure motion, that cancelled public hearings on this bill that the Government had promised, advertised and scheduled. In light of that closure motion, the need for full, proper public consultations on Bill 107's implementation is all the more pressing. There were many individuals and groups who were denied the opportunity for meaningful input into Bill 107 because the Government used its closure motion to cancel the promised public hearings.

For your part, we wish to ask that the Commission, including both Commissioners and staff, commit to holding a broad, inclusive public consultation on how the Commission will approach its new mandate under this bill, before the Commission and Commissioners take any major decisions in that regard. Any public consultations on Bill 107's implementation should be open to all members of the public, and not just lawyers. It should include all affected and interested groups. It should be truly open to any who want to offer input, and should not be "invitation-only" or closed to the public.

Before consulting with the public, it would be very helpful if the Human Rights Commission would circulate an options paper that explains in plain language to the public, including those not familiar with Bill 107's technical details, the issues on which the Commission is consulting, and some of the options open to the Commission on each issue. Consultations should not be limited to the specific options in the options paper.

Individuals and organizations should be given sufficient time to develop their input. Community organizations will need time to get feedback from their membership and communities before formulating their input.

Among any other avenues for gathering public input, the Commission should hold open public consultation sessions to secure feedback. Opportunities to file written submissions alone would be seriously insufficient. Moreover, such public sessions should be held around Ontario, not just in Toronto. These should ensure that rural populations, not just city populations, have a meaningful opportunity to attend. After obtaining input from the public, the Commission should make public the feedback received.

The foregoing also applies equally to public consultations on Bill 107's implementation by the Human Rights Tribunal and the Ontario Government. It would be preferable if the Human Rights Tribunal, the Human Rights Commission and the Ontario Government could hold simultaneous public consultation sessions on Bill 107's implementation, at the same time and venue. This would let interested individuals and groups attend one place at one time, and give their feedback to each of the key organizations that will be implementing this bill. This would make it easier for individuals and community groups to take part, since they would only need to attend a single event to reach all the key organizations involved in implementing this bill. If the Human Rights Legal Support Centre is established in time, it too could take part in these joint "all party" public consultation sessions. We urge you and the Commission to agree to this, and to urge the Government and the Tribunal to join you in this.

2. The Human Rights Commission's New Role Under Bill 107

Even in advance of the public consultation process that we request, we would like to take this opportunity to offer some preliminary input to the Human Rights Commission as it begins planning for its work under Bill 107. Under Bill 107, the Human Rights Commission will basically have two roles:

(1) Investigating and litigating selected human rights cases, by launching its own public interest cases and by intervening in cases that individuals bring before the Human Rights Tribunal, and

2) Public education and advocacy.

When Bill 107 comes into effect, we urge the Human Rights Commission to devote the vast preponderance of its time, efforts and resources to investigating and litigating cases. While public education can help the cause of human rights, we believe that it has only quite limited effectiveness. It should play only a limited part in the Commission's work.

Television advertisements, speeches at conferences by Human Rights Commission officials, and Human Rights Commission websites and leaflets will not make a substantial dent in the many barriers to equality confronting those who are victims of human rights violations. What public education that the Commission will undertake will be far more effective if the Commission backs these efforts with a strong, comprehensive campaign to bring cases before the Human Rights Tribunal, and to intervene where possible in cases that others bring before the Tribunal.

The Ontario Government and those who advocated for Bill 107 contended that when the Human Rights Commission is "freed up" by Bill 107 from having to investigate all human rights cases, it will be able to devote substantially more resources and efforts at launching public interest cases. The Government brought in several amendments to the bill shortly before it was passed, to enable the Commission to do this more effectively than would have been possible under the bill as originally drafted.

We believe that to make best use of these powers, and to be most effective at combating discrimination, the Commission should retain and expand its capacity to effectively investigate and litigate human rights violations. The Commission should undertake as many "inquiries" (i.e. investigations) as possible. It should be prepared to intervene in as many individual cases before the Tribunal as possible, including at the pre-hearing mediation stage (where the Commission can spearhead efforts at negotiating public interest remedies).

To enable the commission to fulfill this role, we also recommend that the Commission develop a prompt, fair, accessible, user-friendly process, for members of the public to bring to the Commission's attention public interest issues for possible investigation and litigation via Commission-initiated complaints. There should also be in place a smooth, accessible process for those who bring their own cases before the Tribunal, to ask the Commission to intervene in their case, both during formal Tribunal proceedings, and during pre-hearing mediation processes before the Tribunal.

In light of this, it is important that the Ontario Government sufficiently fund the Human Rights Commission to effectively discharge its new mandate. Until now, the Human Rights Commission has been seriously under-funded for years. We have been in the lead in calling for increased funding for the Human Rights Commission. We are deeply concerned that the Government not cut the Commission's under-funded budget in order to finance the Human Rights Tribunal's new mandate.

We would welcome an opportunity to follow up with you and the Commission on the matters we raise here, and look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Catherine Dunphy, Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

cc: Michael Gottheil, Chair, Ontario Human Rights Tribunal via facsimile (416) 314-8743
Michael Bryant, Attorney General of Ontario (416) 326-4016
Premier Dalton McGuinty (416) 325-3745
John Tory (416) 325-0491
Christine Elliott (416) 325-1423
Howard Hampton (416) 325-8222
Peter Kormos (416) 325-7067


St. Catharines Standard Fri 09 Mar 2007
Page: A7 Section: Local
Byline: MATTHEW VAN DONGEN
Source:

Ontario's attorney general quietly visited St. Catharines Thursday to talk about upcoming changes to provincial human rights legislation.

Michael Bryant took questions on the Human Rights Code Amendment Act from about 40 people at a meeting closed to the media.

The act is meant to erase a backlog of human rights complaints currently before the Ontario Human Rights Commission and Tribunal.

"There's a lot of frustration about how the system has been working," said Bryant after the meeting.

"There's too much process, too much red tape and legalese. It just takes too long, period."

The meeting was off limits to the public so invited participants could talk freely about their own human rights complaints, said Maureen O'Neill, executive director of the Niagara Centre for Independent Living, which hosted the event.

Right now, it can take years for a human rights complaint to be judged by the tribunal, said O'Neill.

And even then, many complainants are overwhelmed by the complex legal process, she said. "It's daunting," said O'Neill.

"Getting people some sort of assistance, some sort of representation as they go through the system, that would be a help."

That's a goal of the new act, scheduled to come into force sometime in the next year and a half, said Bryant.
Under the planned changes, complaints will be filed directly to the tribunal and - ideally - dealt with more quickly.
A new publically funded human rights legal support centre is also in the works.

"I'd like to see everything in place as soon as possible," said Bryant. "But we have to make sure we get it right."
mvandongen@stcatharinesstandard.ca