Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action

AODA Alliance calls on attorney general to ensure forthcoming public hearings on bill 107 will be fair,open and accessible, and to correct the attorney general’s inaccurate statement about the AODA Alliance in legislature
May 15, 2006

SUMMARY
The AODA Alliance has written Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant to address two matters(See this letter, below):

1) to ask the Government to agree to specific steps to ensure that the forthcoming public hearings on Bill 107 will be fair, open and accessible and

2) to ask the Attorney General to publicly correct an inaccurate statement he made about the AODA Alliance in the Legislature.

On May 8, 2006, the Attorney General incorrectly stated in the Legislature: “I know that at least one member of the Ontarians with disabilities committee has argued that we ought to put off debate over human rights reforms until 2025. That's the date on which the accessibility legislation is to be implemented in its entirety.”

Neither the AODA Alliance (whom the Attorney General appears to have confused with its predecessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee), nor anyone speaking for it, has asked the Government to hold off debating reforms to the Human Rights Commission for twenty years. To the contrary, we have agreed that reform is needed and called for prompt, time-limited public consultations. However we have opposed the specific weakening of the Human Rights Commission that the Government announced on February 20, 2006 and enshrined in Bill 107.

We are especially concerned about the Attorney General’s inaccurate public statement, because the Toronto Star has now picked it up, and presented it as fact. See the column by Ian Urquhart in the May 13, 2006 Toronto Star, below.

We encourage you to write letters to the editor at the Toronto Star. Urge the Star to correct this inaccuracy. Tell the Star what you think of Bill 107. Express your views on Ian Urquhart’s claim that the Government is making the right decision to take away the Human Rights Commission’s core mandate as public investigator and public prosecutor of human rights violations in Ontario.

You might wish to note that Mr. Urquhart is incorrect when he says in his article that “… the bill states everyone is entitled to publicly funded legal representation.” The bill doesn’t say this. It merely says that the Attorney General “may” fund organizations to provide legal support to human rights complainants or others involved in legal proceedings(such as those accused of discrimination). It doesn’t require the Government to do this. It would let the Government discontinue any such funding without needing the Legislature’s approval.

Section 46.1 of Bill 107 merely says:

46.1 (1) The Minister may enter into agreements with prescribed persons or entities for the purposes of providing legal services and such other services as may be prescribed to applicants or other parties to a proceeding before the Tribunal.
(2) An agreement under subsection (1) may provide for the payment for the services by the Ministry.

You can email the Star at: lettertoed@thestar.ca

Send us your feedback at: aodafeedback@rogers.com


c/o The Canadian Hearing Society
271 Spadina Road
Toronto, Ontario M5R 2V3
www.aodaallaince.org

May 15, 2006
To: The Hon. Michael Bryant, Attorney General of Ontario
11th Floor
720 Bay Street
Toronto Ontario M5G 2K1


Dear Sir,

Re: Bill 107 Proposed New Law to Weaken Ontario Human Rights Commission

We wish to raise two matters with you regarding Bill 107, your proposed law to weaken the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

First, we request your Government’s clarification of the specifics concerning the forthcoming province-wide public hearings on Bill 107 to which you committed in the Legislature. We seek your government’s commitment that:

We very much appreciate that while in opposition, your party was highly critical of the previous Government if it didn’t follow such steps when it brought forward Bill 125, the proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001. We hope that now that your party is the Government, you will be agreeable to these steps, most of which were honoured during your Government’s proceedings on Bill 118, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005.

Second, we respectfully request that you publicly correct an inaccurate statement you made about us in the Ontario Legislature on Monday, May 8, 2006, during the first day of Second Reading debate on your bill. according to Hansard, the Legislature’s official transcript, you made a statement that suggests that at least one of our coalition’s members opposed any discussion of reform to human rights until 2025. You stated:

“I know that at least one member of the Ontarians with disabilities committee has argued that we ought to put off debate over human rights reforms until 2025. That's the date on which the accessibility legislation is to be implemented in its entirety.”

This statement is not accurate. It appears that your statement has been picked up by the media. In the Saturday, May 13, 2006 Toronto Star, Ian Urquhart wrote, presumably based on your statement in the Legislature:

“How much more consultation is needed? In answer to that question, one group speaking for the disabled has suggested putting off changes to the human rights commission for another 20 years.”

As you know, we have been deeply concerned about your Government’s rejection of our call to undertake a proper time-limited , open consultation this spring on human rights reform before introducing a bill into the Legislature. Indeed, we even went to the length earlier this spring of developing and widely circulating a Discussion Paper on options for reforming the human rights process, so that such a consultation could immediately get underway. In light of this, it is especially troubling that you would publicly suggest that we in any way have tried to put off any such discussions for another 20 years.

We look forward to hearing from you on these issues and on those raised in our May 12, 2006 letter to you.

Sincerely,

Catherine Dunphy, Chair, AODA Alliance

cc: Via facsimile The Hon. Premier Dalton McGuinty (416) 325-3745
Madeleine Meilleur, Minister Responsible for the AODA (416) 325-1498
Dwight Duncan, (416) 325-7755
James Bradley, (416) 326-9338
Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission (416) 314-7752
John Tory, Leader of the Official Opposition (416) 325-0491
Christine Elliott (416) 325-1423
Howard Hampton, Leader of the New Democratic Party (416) 325-8222
Ian Urquhart iurquha@thestar.ca


Toronto Star Saturday, May 13, 2006

Liberals right on human rights repair
New legislation designed to speed up complaints system
May 13, 2006. 01:00 AM
IAN URQUHART

Sweeping change is always difficult to bring about in the political arena, especially when there are human rights involved.

That is the case with the Ontario government's attempt to overhaul the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which is encountering stiff resistance from the
social justice community.

The change is embodied in Bill 107, "An Act to Amend the Human Rights Code."

It is either a long overdue reform that will be "better for Ontario human rights," as its proponent, Attorney General Michael Bryant, stated in opening
debate on the bill in the Legislature this week, or it is a "thoroughly objectionable exercise" that will result in the "privatization" of the human rights
system, as NDP justice critic Peter Kormos described it.

The main thrust of Bill 107 is to strip the human rights commission of its role as the body that investigates individual complaints of discrimination before
they are sent to a tribunal for adjudication.

This system has become sclerotic with only 6 per cent of the 2,400 complaints the commission receives every year making it to the tribunal stage. And the
average case takes from three to four years for the commission to investigate.

"The vast majority of people who go to the commission don't get (their) day in court," said Bryant.

As a remedy, Bill 107 proposes giving individual complainants "direct access" to tribunals, with their own lawyers. Bryant has also promised to establish
a "human rights legal support centre" to provide legal representation for those going before a tribunal.

This would "shorten the pipeline" from complaint to resolution and represent "a vast improvement over the current system," according to Bryant.

As for the human rights commission, it would be freed up to pursue cases of "systemic" discrimination — such as racial profiling by the police or the low
percentage of visible minorities on university faculties.

That was part of the commission's mandate when it was formed in 1962, said Bryant, but this role has been increasingly "marginalized" as the commission
became overwhelmed with individual complaints.

Essentially, these changes were recommended 14 years ago by a task force appointed by the NDP government of the day under Bob Rae. But the New Democrats
shelved the report.

Nor did the successor Conservative government under Mike Harris dust it off and implement it.

It is easy to easy to understand why previous governments shied away from the issue: It is a hornet's nest.

Reaction to Bryant's bill from social justice spokespersons has been swift and furious. In emails to MPPs, news releases and op-ed articles, they have said the changes will lead to a "two-tier" system with well-to-do complainants getting to the front of the line while the rest are left behind, even though the bill states everyone is entitled to publicly funded legal representation.

They have also suggested darkly that the government's real motive is to scrap the human rights commission altogether, as was done in British Columbia, even though Bryant has declared the commission will remain and its powers to pursue systemic discrimination will be beefed up.

Finally, the critics have complained about a lack of consultation, to which Bryant retorted:

"Instead of saying, `No, the status quo worked well,' you say, `We need more public consultation.'"

Bryant's officials conducted a round of consultations on changes to the human rights commission a year ago with many of the same groups who are complaining now that they were not consulted. Furthermore, there will be committee hearings this summer on Bill 107 after it clears second reading in the Legislature. How much more consultation is needed?

In answer to that question, one group speaking for the disabled has suggested putting off changes to the human rights commission for another 20 years.

The time for change is here and now; Bryant's bill seems reasonable and the major fears of his critics appear relatively groundless. The bill should not be hung up indefinitely by demands for more consultation.

I'll give the last word to Catherine Frazee, a Ryerson professor and former chair of the human rights commission.

In "an open letter to my colleagues in the social justice movement," she wrote:

"What matters at this moment is that we seem to have the attention of the government of the day. I urge my colleagues in the social justice movement, for whom I have nothing but the greatest of affection and respect, not to squander this opportunity ... Please, let's not demand another public consultation that can become one more excuse for government inaction."