Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action

Controversy Over Bill 107 Gets Media Coverage Around Ontario

May 26, 2006

SUMMARY

MEDIA COVERAGE OF BILL 107

Our campaign grows to get the Ontario Human Rights Commission strengthened, not weakened. Bill 107, the McGuinty Government’s controversial proposed change to the Ontario Human Rights Code, has gotten increasing media coverage around Ontario, aided by the AODA Alliance’s May 19, 2006 news conference. See various news articles below. These include publications in Toronto, London, Windsor, Hamilton and North Bay, as well as an on-line publication.

As has been the case over the past three months, the majority of the coverage, with notable exceptions, emphasized criticisms of the Government’s plans. These are criticisms that we have been voicing along with many other equality-seeking communities.

Some of the media coverage supporting the Government has come from the small group, mainly some lawyers, who support the Government’s bill. See two of the letters to the editor last week in the Toronto Star. In one of those, Ms. Kathy Laird says that those opposing Bill 107 come from a “limited segment of the social justice community “ Ms. Laird is one of the key supporters of the Government’s plans. She was quoted as supporting the Government’s intentions in the Government’s February 20, 2006 news release which first unveiled the Government’s plans.

Please send more letters to the editor of as many Ontario newspapers as possible. Let them know about the problems with the controversial bill 107. Let them know if you think that the many voices from the disability community and other equality seeking groups are just a “limited segment of the social justice community”.

Email the Toronto Star at:

lettertoed@thestar.ca

Other media addresses are at:

http://odacommittee.net/action-tip36.html

SEND PREMIER MCGUINTY YOUR THOUGHTS ON BILL 107

We understand that if you want to use the internet to send Premier McGuinty your feedback, instead of email, you should visit:

http://www.premier.gov.on.ca/feedback/

RESUMPTION OF SECOND READING DEBATES ON BILL 107

Our most recent information is that Second Reading debates on Bill 107 will continue on Tuesday afternoon, May 30, 2006, starting around 3:30 p.m. until around 6 p.m. You can observe these at the Legislature or on your local cable TV company’s Ontario legislature channel. The Government can change the date of the debates without prior notice to us.

At our May 19, 2006 news conference we reiterated the disability community’s need for sufficient prior notice of such proceedings to be able to arrange accessible transit to Queen’s Park. A year ago, the Ontario Government was very helpful in providing such notice. We regret that to date, it has not been as accommodating vis a vis Bill 107. The second day of Second Reading debate has been switched a couple of times already, from information we have received from the opposition parties.

CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS

We wish to note some corrections. First, The Canadian press article set out below that reported on our May 19, 2006 news conference, included two errors. It incorrectly said that the AODA Alliance opposes the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We in fact support the AODA. The CP article also incorrectly said Bill 107 eliminates the Human Rights Commission’s power to launch its own complaints. In fact the bill significantly reduces the Human Rights commission’s power to launch its own complaints, but doesn’t eliminate it altogether.

The AODA Alliance contacted CP to request that these be corrected. We appreciate that CP issued a correction on May 20, 2006. We do not know if any of the newspapers that ran the original CP article, set out below, later published a correction.

We also want to note a clarification to a footnote in the AODA Alliance’s recently released “Fact Check” on McGuinty Government statements regarding Human Rights Reform. In footnote X, please delete the words: “Some of the organizations opposed to bill 107 include” at the start of the footnote. Please replace those words with the following:

“Organizations which have said they opposed the direction of the Government’s plans announced on February 20, 2006 (and which have called for public consultations before a bill is introduced) include ”

If you want to send us your feedback or you want to be added to the AODA Alliance email list, send a request to: aodafeedback@rogers.com

Canadian Press
May 19, 2006 16.43 EST
Quebec-Ontario regional general news

HL:Proposed reform bill limits rights of people with disabilities,
activists say
By Clement-Meoni Poon

TORONTO (CP)
A coalition of activists from Ontario's disabled community
launched a campaign Friday to convince the province to make major changes to proposed legislation that they say does more harm than good to the rights of the disabled.

The alliance of groups is united in its opposition to the
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which is
currently before the legislature for second reading.
"The bill takes away important rights the Human Rights Code has enshrined for decades," alliance chairwoman Catherine Dunphy told a news conference.

Those rights include "the right to public investigation of
human rights cases, the right to public prosecution where evidence warrants and the right to appeal to court from the (Human Rights) Tribunal," Dunphy said. Under the proposed legislation, the Ontario Human Rights Commission would no longer have the power to conduct public investigations, to prosecute all cases it investigates and to launch its own human rights complaints.

Alliance member David Lepofsky, a longtime crusader for the
rights of the disabled in Ontario, said the bill has betrayed the
understanding the Liberal government had with Ontario's disabled community.

People who are denied jobs and services because of their
disabilities would have less opportunity to file their complaints,
Lepofsky said.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission gets more complaints from disabled people than any other group, he said. If the legislation is passed, those denied jobs and services because of their disabilities will have less opportunity to file complaints, he
added.

Last year, the commission staff dealt with 43,000 telephone
inquires, 1,760 letters and 760 personal visits.
Lepofsky, who is blind, recently won a case compelling the
Toronto Transit Commission to require subway drivers to make audible announcements before each stop.

"Under the new regime, I have to take them on without the
assistance of the human rights commission."
Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant has denied the changes would undermine the work of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Bryant said the bill would refocus the commission's attention on public education and prevention of discrimination.
Most other provinces have a human rights commission with the same investigative and prosecutory powers, Lepofsky said.
"Ontario used to be the leader, but the bill will cut us way
back."

The coalition is urging members of the public to speak out
against the legislation by voicing their concerns to the province
and in letters to newspapers across the province.

Canadian Press
May 20, 2006 13.56 ES
Quebec-Ontario regional general news

code:2
CORRECTIVE

TORONTO (CP)
In a story Friday on a coalition of activists campaigning for
the disabled, The Canadian Press erroneously reported that the
group opposes the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities
Act.

In fact, the coalition -- known as the AODA Alliance
-- opposes Bill 107, which would amend the Human Rights Code.

Additionally, The Canadian Press erroneously reported that
the Ontario Human Rights Commission would no longer have the power to conduct public investigations, prosecute all cases and to launch its own human rights complaints. In fact, the AODA Alliance says the commission's power to
launch its own complaints will be reduced. CP Toronto

The Hamilton SpectatorMay 20, 2006

Mediation vital to solving human rights cases
Careers - E1
Ed Canning
The provincial Liberal government is proposing to decimate the Ontario Human Rights Code. It says it is trying to achieve quicker justice.

Having practiced human rights law for 14 years, representing both employers and employees, my assessment of the draft legislation -- Bill 107 -- is that it will achieve very little justice for anyone, but perhaps more quickly.

For many years, the Ontario Human Rights Code has protected the rights of individuals to be free from discrimination based on the theory of 1,000 mosquito bites.
Complaints are filed by individuals, the commission tries to mediate the complaints, pays investigators to investigate the complaints and dig up all the facts. The commission then gives the complainant legal representation to take the matter to a full hearing.

If the tribunal makes a silly decision, which it sometimes does, there is a right of appeal to the courts.

Over many years, case by case, this approach has spread the word. Employers, landlords and everyone else has figured out it can be quite painful to keep setting yourself up to be bitten by the Ontario Human Rights Code. It is much easier to simply not discriminate. Avoid the mosquitoes.

Under the present system, because of the aggressive mediation and investigative services provided by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, very few cases actually end up needing a hearing. That is a very good thing.

It allows thousands of cases to go through the system and be resolved without bogging the system down with hearings that can last weeks at a time.

Under the present system, if a complaint actually reaches a hearing, the following will have happened:

1) The parties, if they were willing, will have met at a mediation session and had a chance to discuss what happened openly and what the remedies should be.
2) If the parties have not settled at that stage, an investigator from the commission will speak to both parties, any relevant witnesses and create an investigation report which documents all of the evidence that can be discovered by the investigator. That report is given to both parties. The investigator will at the same time encourage the parties again to settle their differences without a hearing.

If the matter goes to a hearing, yet another mediation will be offered to the parties before the hearing begins. At this stage, almost all the remaining cases settle. If the matter goes to a hearing, both the complainant and the respondent walk into it knowing everything they need to know to prepare their case.

They both have the investigator's report and they both know erything that the witnesses will say. They are not going in blind.

If Bill 107 is passed by Dalton McGuinty's government, the offer of mediation at any stage is not required. No one will investigate the complaint. Both the complainant and respondent will simply arrive on the doorstep of the human rights tribunal one day, appear in front of an adjudicator and start making their case.

Imagine being charged with a criminal offence and all you are told is what offence you are charged with. You do not get to see any documents that describe what witnesses will say.
You do not know exactly what you are alleged to have done.

All you do is show up in the courtroom and see what happens. I don't think that you would view this as just or fair. This draft legislation is bad for complainants and respondents. Justice is not assisted when everyone walks into the courtroom with blindfolds on.

Cases will doubtless end up in week-long hearings that could simply have been mediated around a table in a couple of hours.

The McGuinty government has said that it is going to set up a legal aid centre and hire staff lawyers to represent every complainant who files a human rights complaint whether he or she is rich or poor.

The funny thing is, there is nothing whatsoever in the draft legislation that requires the government to do this. I guess we have to take their word for it. Isn't this the government that was accused of breaking its promises within the first few months of its mandate?

The newly appointed Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Barbara Hall -- appointed by the McGuinty government of course -- is welcoming these changes with very little objection.

Lastly, the new legislation would prohibit any appeals of silly tribunal decisions to the courts unless the decision was "patently unreasonable." This is a tough threshold to meet. It basically means unless the decision was ridiculous, it won't be overturned.

This very limited right of appeals is a pretty scary thought if you actually think about how the adjudicators are appointed. The competence of the people deciding human rights cases is by no means assured, since they're underpaid and on short term three-year contracts.

I really wish I could hear from the McGuinty Liberals exactly how they define justice.

Ed Canning practices labour and employment law with Ross & McBride LLP,, in Hamilton, representing both employers and employees.
ecanning@rossmcbride.com

The Windsor Star
Sat 20 May 2006 - Editorial/Opinion - A6

Price of Bill 107
Lorne Foster
The Liberals recently announced in the Legislative Assembly a proposal to create a new human rights system for Ontario.
The current human rights system consists of an investigation and enforcement branch comprising the Ontario Human Rights Commission and an adjudication branch comprising the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

This system has been in place since 1962, when the province enacted Canada's first human rights code. The code was established to prohibit discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and in public accommodations, goods, services and facilities.

The new bill has been sent forward for a second reading debate in the House, after Attorney General Michael Bryant offered assurances that he held consultations with numerous community and human rights groups; and also guaranteed that the recommendations are consistent with numerous reports including the Cornish Report; and declared that the legislation, if passed, would modernize and strengthen Ontario's "40-year-old" system.

But Bryant's statements championing a new and improved human rights system to the House is at complete odds with the substance of Bill 107.

Bill 107 effectively guts the Ontario Human Rights Commission, eliminating the entire enforcement provision. By voiding the investigation and compliance functions of the commission, complainants will be expected to navigate the process on their own or hire a lawyer.

In addition, the bill legally circumscribes the right to a hearing and violates the principles of natural justice that affirm a full and fair inquiry. Hundreds of years of collective experience and acquired knowledge in promoting and protecting human rights is unceremoniously wiped out.

All of this purportedly guarantees the public "direct access" to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for adjudication, which is code for "privatizing human rights protections" by off-loading the responsibility for due process and procedural fairness to the victims of discrimination. This will have a profoundly prohibitive impact on racialized and other economically disenfranchised communities, by narrowing their future options.

Ponder these scenarios -- a secretary rejects her bosses advances and is dismissed for "performance issues;" a hotel rents the dirtiest rooms to a person of colour; an employee with cancer who requires time off for chemotherapy finds that his job is "restructured;" a condominium won't lease to gay or lesbian families.

Where is the public to turn for help? The public will effectively be on its own.

Of the 100 recommendations in the 1992 report prepared by lawyer Mary Cornish for improving the human rights system, Bryant selected two -- direct access and bolstering the commission's research functions. Bryant ignored all the necessary recommendations for minimizing the consequences of directly accessing the tribunal, including: ensuring an adequately resourced commission that is independent of the government; ensuring that the government (as the worst violator of the Human Rights Code) is accountable for eliminating discrimination (within) through comprehensive plans; holding broad-based community consultations on the draft legislation; and establishing province-wide advocacy centres to assist with the complaint process.

Instead, Bill 107 proposes a one-track, self-service system akin to a super-market express check-out. Depending on the circumstances, an express line to the Tribunal can work if the items on the complaint are limited, uncomplicated and no one wants to see if the complaint can be resolved.

For respondents, the allegations against you are immediately made public. You will be identified as racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, harasser, whether true or not.

You think you'll get your day in court? Think again. Bill 107 gives the Tribunal sweeping powers to toss out your complaint and charge you for filing it and other costs. Plus, you have no right of appeal.

Ontarians want a strong and effective Commission, one that is both comprehensive and flexible; not one that merely achieves a so-called case management efficiency by the slashing and burning of human rights.

Bill 107 only benefits the government, which saves administrative costs; and human rights lawyers who will be hired by the government. Expediency at any cost is too high a price to pay.

Lorne Foster is a sociologist who teaches at York University in the areas of social justice studies and human rights.

“Straight Goods” On-Line Monday May 22, 2006
www.straightgoods.ca .

Still fighting for our rights

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act needs to be heard.

Dateline: Monday, May 22, 2006

From: Cathy Vincent-Linderoos, London ON

What would it take, we wondered, all those years ago. It was an exercise like no other. It was about raising the bar sufficiently high that government would
see the need to identify, eliminate and remove unnecessary barriers to people with disabilities — by the letter of the law. It was fought so that people
wouldn't have to take their human rights complaints, every time, one by one, to the Ontario Human Rights Commission just to get a "level" field at work,
school and play. It was fought so that people with disabilities could live life to the fullest.

It took ten long years, people and organizations all across Ontario, a change of government, countless meetings, Queen's Park sit-ins, and the voice and
ink of the media to win that war of words. People with and without disabilities, throughout the province, held their heads high and fought hard for their
friends, families and co-workers with disabilities. Victorious at the end, the now-disbanded Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) Committee celebrated
a new law called the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act — the AODA. I accept that the implementation stage will take another couple decades.
However, numerous valuable precedents were set in this epic struggle.

Now we're up against it all over again because the "teeth" — aka the "enforcement" — upon whose very strengths the AODA was negotiated, drafted and passed,
are in imminent danger of being seriously defanged. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance - successor to the ODA Committee - is asking Attorney General Michael Bryant to ensure that the upcoming public hearings on Bill 107 are fair, open and accessible. The government is moving
far too fast, without giving sufficient notice and time to all affected, and it is setting the stage for too many unnecessary barriers, to say the least.

Please note that Bill 107 (the new bill currently being swept through the legislature which revamps the "teeth") 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).
The bill doesn't require the government to do this. It would let the government discontinue any such funding without needing the legislature's approval.

As Catherine Dunphy, chair of the AODA Alliance, said in her letter to the Attorney General on May 15, 2006, describing the steps needed to make the public
hearings fair, open and accessible, "We very much appreciate that while in opposition, your party was highly critical of the previous government if it
did not 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 the government's proceedings on Bill 118, the AODA, 2005".

In order to read what constitutes "fair, open and equitable" according to the AODA Alliance, please go to the website called DAWN: Disabled Women's Network
of Ontario at the link below. People with disabilities, among others, need to be carefully consulted and our voices heard. That's what it took to create
a strong, effective law then and that's what it will take now!

Cathy Vincent-Linderoos,
London ON

Contact:URL 1:
dawn.thot.net/aoda-may15-06.html

The North Bay Nugget
Sat 20 May 2006 - Ontario - A4
Bill limits rights for disabled, activists say

TORONTO (CP) -- A coalition of activists from Ontario's disabled community launched a campaign Friday to convince the province to make major changes to proposed legislation that they say does more harm than good to the rights of the disabled.

The alliance of groups is united in its opposition to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which is before the legislature for second reading.
"The bill takes away important rights the Human Rights Code has enshrined for decades," alliance chairwoman Catherine Dunphy told a news conference.

Those rights include "the right to public investigation of human rights cases, the right to public prosecution where evidence warrants and the right to appeal to court from the (Human Rights) Tribunal," Dunphy said.

Under the proposed legislation, the Ontario Human Rights Commission would no longer have the power to conduct public investigations, to prosecute all cases it investigates and to launch its own human rights complaints.

Alliance member David Lepofsky, a longtime crusader for the rights of the disabled in Ontario, said the bill has betrayed the understanding the Liberal government had with Ontario's disabled community.

People who are denied jobs and services because of their disabilities would have less opportunity to file their complaints, Lepofsky said.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission gets more complaints from disabled people than any other group, he said. If the legislation is passed, those denied jobs and services because of their disabilities will have less opportunity to file complaints, he added.

Last year, the commission staff dealt with 43,000 telephone inquires, 1,760 letters and 760 personal visits.
Lepofsky, who is blind, won a case compelling the Toronto Transit Commission to require subway drivers to make audible announcements before stops.

"Under the new regime, I have to take them on without the assistance of the human rights commission."

Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant has denied the changes would undermine the work of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Bryant said the bill would refocus the commission's attention on public education and prevention of discrimination.

Most other provinces have a human rights commission with the same investigative and prosecutory powers, Lepofsky said.
The coalition is urging members of the public to speak out against the legislation by voicing their concerns to the province and in letters to newspapers across the province.
SOURCE Canadian Press

London Free Press Saturday may 20 06
Changes urged for disabled rights legislation
By CP

TORONTO -- A coalition of activists from Ontario's disabled community launched a campaign yesterday to convince the province to make major changes to proposed
legislation they say does more harm than good to the rights of the disabled.

The alliance of groups is united in its opposition to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which is currently before the legislature for
second reading.

"The bill takes away important rights the Human Rights Code has enshrined for decades," alliance chairperson Catherine Dunphy said.

Those rights include "the right to public investigation of human rights cases, the right to public prosecution where evidence warrants and the right to appeal to court from the (Human Rights) Tribunal," Dunphy said.

Under the proposed legislation, the Ontario Human Rights Commission would no longer have the power to conduct public investigations, to prosecute all cases it investigates and to launch its own human rights complaints.

Last year, commission staff dealt with 45,500 inquires.

Toronto Star May 16, 2006

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Only some oppose change

Liberals right on human rights repair

Opinion, May 13.

Ian Urquhart got it right about the Ontario government getting it right, at long last. But one point that must be made about the resistance to reform, referred to by Urquhart, is that it is coming from a limited segment of the social justice community. A great many equality rights and justice advocates support the reform initiative and want to work with the government to get all the right pieces in place. This includes numerous community legal clinics across the province - precisely the organizations that represent the most disadvantaged communities that are so ill-served by the present system for so many years.

We need to keep the legislative process moving, so Ontarians will have a human rights enforcement system that can be truly effective in building an equitable and discrimination-free society.

Kathy Laird, Director of Legal and Advocacy Services, Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, Toront

Time to restructure human rights system

Liberals right on human rights repair

Opinion, May 13.

Thank you, Ian Urquhart, for accurately summarizing and analyzing the pressing need that exists for structural reform of Ontario's human rights system.

Not only is the system in need of mechanisms to speed up the processing of complaints, but such a system must also provide that claimants are given the opportunity to have their concerns heard by an adjudicator (such as in a human rights tribunal) before having their claim eliminated without any hearing
(as currently happens with the majority of the complaints to the Ontario Human Rights Commission). And all of these changes must provide for the effective protection of human rights in Ontario.

This is not to say the commission does not and cannot fulfill a valuable leadership role in the human rights system. As mentioned by Urquhart, the new commission will have an important mandate to initiate complaints, intervene in cases before the tribunal, conduct systemic case work, set policies and provide human
rights education.

As one of the many people supportive of the government's initiative who is involved in "social justice" work, I too agree with Catherine Frazee's comments that we have a unique opportunity to improve an aging system that we have long cared about and have long sought to improve. Human rights advocates should focus their efforts on ensuring that there is an effective, well-resourced human rights system for Ontario.

Kim Brooks Bernhardt,

Grant & Bernhardt, Barristers & Solicitors, Toronto

Toronto Star May 18, 2006

Letters to the Editor

Bill won't provide universal access to a hearing
May 18, 2006. 01:00 AM

Liberals right on human rights repair

Opinion, May 13.

Has Ian Urquhart read Bill 107? If he had, he would have learned the Liberal's do not intend to provide universal access to a hearing through their euphemistically
named "direct access" system.

Section 34 of Bill 107 gives the tribunal the authority not to hold a hearing at all. Section 40 allows the Tribunal to "defer" applications at the tribunal's
discretion. Section 41 allows the tribunal to dismiss an application without a hearing with far greater gate-keeping powers than the current Human Rights
Code ever had.

Complainants are not necessarily looking for "their day in court" and, like plaintiffs in civil actions who settle on the courtroom steps, a vast number
of complaints are settled at mediation prior to a referral to a tribunal. And how many years does it now take to get trial dates in civil actions?

Urquhart brazenly takes up another misstatement repeated by Attorney General Michael Bryant, that Bryant has consulted with groups "... that are now declaring they have not been consulted." Precisely which groups are those? The African Canadian Legal Clinic and the Metro Toronto Chinese and South East Asian Legal Clinic have each written to the AG and premier asking they publicly retract their statements that those agencies have been consulted.

Columnist Helen Henderson, on April 1, called those opposing the reforms "Chicken Littles." After meeting with Mary Woo Sims, former chief commissioner of the now defunct B.C. Human Rights Commission, Henderson in a column on April 8, courageously called for more consultation as there appeared to be serious flaws with the proposed reform.

Why are the very groups which benefit from the work of the commission opposed to the reforms? And why is no one listening to those with the most to lose?

Cheryl Gaster, Toronto