Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action

Is the Mcguinty Government thinking that some new “quick fix” funding will repair the controversial Bill 107?
July 27, 2006

The McGuinty Government has been under fire for bill 107’s serious problems. We must be on alert for the possibility that it may try an inadequate “quick fix” to deflect this criticism.

Specifically, it is possible that the Government may soon announce the funding it will provide to the human rights legal clinic it promised to establish. Last February, the Government said it would eliminate the Human Rights Commission’s core role of investigating human rights violations, and prosecuting where evidence warrants. The Government said it would instead provide legal representation for discrimination victims who take their case to the Human Rights Tribunal. When it introduced Bill 107 last spring, it made the extravagant promise that each and every human rights complainant would be given legal representation at the Human Rights Tribunal, regardless of their income. A new Human Rights legal clinic would do this work.

The Government has so far committed no long-term new funding for these promises. It has been over five months since it announced its massive plans. We have asked and asked for details of how it will deliver on its commitments.

Back on June 8, 2006, attorney General Michael Bryant said he will propose amendments to Bill 107. These will address provision of legal representation, among other things. The AODA Alliance wrote him on June 28, 2006 to ask for specifics of these amendments. With under two weeks before public hearings on the bill, we’re still awaiting an answer.

The human rights enforcement system clearly needs significant new funding. However, if the Government just announced some funding for its promised new legal clinic, this “quick fix” won’t alone solve Bill 107’s many serious flaws. This is because:

* Any new “quick fix” funding won’t change the fact that Bill 107 makes the Human Rights Commission much weaker. It largely removes the Commission’s enforcement powers. It takes away from discrimination victims the right to have their complaint publicly investigated, the right to ensure that hearings at the Human Rights Tribunal are fair and the broad right to appeal to court from a Tribunal decision against a complainant.

* Any new “quick fix” funding for this year can easily be cut again next year, or after the next election.

* Unless the new funding is very, very substantial, it won’t live up even in the short term to the Government’s sweeping commitment to ensure that every human rights complainant has legal representation at the Human rights Tribunal. Now there are at least some 2,500 cases in the human rights system. More will be launched in the future.

* Any “quick fix” funding this year won’t undo Bill 107’s serious breach of the McGuinty Government’s understanding with the disability community regarding enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. In the 2003 election, Premier McGuinty promised a new disability act with effective enforcement. After winning the election, the McGuinty Government rejected disability community requests to create a new independent agency to enforce the new disability act. The Government said it isn't needed since persons with disabilities can use the Human Rights Commission to enforce their rights. Now Bill 107 removes most of the Human Rights Commission's public enforcement teeth. New “quick fix” funding of the proposed legal clinic won’t restore those teeth.

We don’t know when or if the McGuinty Government might try offering up this possible “quick fix”. If it does, we wanted you to know that it’s no answer to Bill 107’s many serious flaws. To learn more, read the AODA Alliance’s draft submission to the Legislature’s Standing Committee on Justice Policy, available at:

http://www.aodaalliance.org/reform/standing-committee-submission.asp