Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action

Ontarioís Attorney General Publicly Refuses To Commit To Consulting With Public Before Introducing Legislation To Weaken The Ontario Human Rights Code - Claims Heís Consulted But Doesnít Acknowledge The Major Disability Organizations Heís Ignored

March 29, 2006

On Wednesday, March 29, 2006, during Question Period in the Ontario Legislature, NDP Leader Howard Hampton called on the Ontario Government to undertake a public consultation on how to reform the Human Rights Commission, rather than going ahead with its plans to weaken the Human Rights Commission. (See full text below)

Responding for the Government, the Attorney General rejected the call for further consultations. He said: On the contrary, we've been working with those very groups that the member just referred to for well over a year, and consulting with them.Ē

Contrary to what the Attorney General said, important community organizations have not been consulted - organizations that wrote the Government to oppose the plan to weaken the Human Rights Commission and who call for a consultation. These include, for example, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Canadian Hearing Society, Community Living Ontario, the MS Society, the Disabled Womenís Network, the Ontario Association of the Deaf, the Alliance for Equality for Blind Canadians, and the Canadian Paraplegic Association. The Attorney Generalís statement suggests that the McGuinty Government doesnít think these organizations and others who have voiced the same concerns deserve to be consulted. This is all the more striking since the Government viewed these very organizations and the broader disability community as major partners who deserved to be consulted when it developed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

The Attorney Generalís statement in the Legislature is a slap in the face of all those individuals and community organizations who havenít been consulted, and who have asked to be consulted. It is clear the McGuinty Government hasnít yet gotten the message. We need you to re-double your efforts. Call as many Government MPPs as you can. Tell them how you feel about the McGuinty Governmentís response to the call for consultations, set out in this exchange in the Legislature. To get their contact information, visit:

http://olaap.ontla.on.ca/mpp/daCurMbr.do?locale=en

for tips on what to say, review our action kit at:

www.aodaalliance.org

Forward this newest development to your local media. Urge them to cover the issue. Write a guest column for your local newspaper. For contact information for media outlets around Ontario, visit:

http://dawn.thot.net/media.html

circulate this update to friends and family. Ask them to help our campaign to prevent the Government from weakening the Human rights Commission.

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ONTARIO HANSARD WEDNESDAY, MARCH 29, 2006
QUESTION PERIOD
Ontario Human Rights Commission

Mr. Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): My question is for the Premier. You have proposed changes to the Ontario Human Rights Commission that are opposed
by most individuals and non-government organizations that have worked with the human rights commission. Will you scrap these unfair changes that you are
proposing, go back to the drawing board, and work with Ontarians with disabilities, new Canadians, visible minorities, to draft a plan for reform that
will work at the human rights commission?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): To the Attorney General. Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General): Yesterday, I met with members of the human rights commission, and we talked about these changes, these reforms, that are so long, so long overdue.

I know the member will remember, because he was the Attorney General at the time, that Mary Cornish filed a report with the NDP government of Ontario, calling for direct access to the human rights tribunal, which we are seeking to move forward on, and a number of reforms which we're seeking to move forward on.

These change are long overdue. They've been gathering dust throughout the time in which the NDP were in power, throughout the time in which the Conservative government was in power. I think everybody understands that the delays that are inherent in the system do not serve human rights in Ontario. Ontarians deserve to have the best human rights system possible, and we intend to move forward with reforms to make that human rights system all the better.

Mr. Hampton: Well, Minister, the people who know the human rights commission the best are those Ontarians who have to go to it: Ontarians with disabilities, new Canadians, visible minorities. These are the people who say that your proposed changes are wrong and will make the situation worse. They say your cutbacks may mean certain victims of discrimination will have to hire their own lawyers, or suffer the loss of their rights and their dignity.

As a province, it is our duty to stand up for the vulnerable, not tell them to fend for themselves. Now, these groups who are among the most vulnerable are asking you: Will you scrap your unfair and prejudicial plans, go back to the drawing board, and work with Ontarians with disabilities, work with representatives of new Canadian communities, and visible minorities? Will you work with them to draft a plan that works, rather than your plan, which will make matters
worse.

The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): The question has been asked. The Attorney General. Hon. Mr. Bryant: On the contrary, we've been working with those very groups that the member just referred to for well over a year, and consulting with them.

If we piled up the reports of recommendations, as to how the reforms should take place and what the reforms should be, you will see a consensus, and you will see that they're long overdue. That's why the Toronto Star, in their editorial of last month, said that the long overdue reforms are welcome. That's why the chair of the Ontario Bar Association said that the changes proposed are timely and well designed to solve current system problems. That's why Ruth Carey, be the executive director of the HIV and AIDS legal clinic said that the government should be widely applauded for the proposed reform initiative, as giving people the right to a hearing is a matter of simple justice and fairness.

I'm sure the member doesn't want to have a situation where he says go back to the drawing board, which means a step backwards. I'm sure what the member wants is that we, together, take a step forward to improve our human rights system. It's long overdue. You had a chance to do it, and you didn't; we are.