Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action

OPPOSITION PARTIES BLAST MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT IN THE LEGISLATURE FOR PLANS TO SHUT DOWN PROMISED PUBLIC HEARINGS ON CONTROVERSIAL BILL 107 - BARBARA HALL WRITES PREMIER TO OPPOSE GOVERNMENT'S CLOSURE MOTION

November 21, 2006

SUMMARY

During today's Question Period at Queen's Park, at least the first half of the hour was taken up by Conservative leader John Tory and NDP leader Howard Hampton blasting Premier McGuinty and Attorney General Michael Bryant for their high-handed motion to shut down the promised public hearings on the controversial Bill 107. We will circulate the text of these debates when we get them.

This was an extraordinary event at Queen's Park. Rarely does an issue get so much attention at Question Period unless it is a top headliner news item. The opposition parties have signaled that this is an important issue. The media got the signal and were interviewing some of the many who came to Queen's Park on short notice to sit in the public galleries as the Government dodged the opposition questions confronting them.

We are deeply indebted to both the Conservatives and the NDP, and their leaders John Tory and Howard Hampton, for their strong support on this issue. Some reported that Liberal MPPs appeared quite uncomfortable as the opposition parties repeatedly pounded them with questions.

As one dramatic development, NDP leader confronted the Liberals on the fact that their own hand-picked Chief Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, Barbara Hall, wrote the Premier to oppose the Government's plans to shut down the public hearings. See the text of the letter below, also available on the Human Rights Commission's website.

As a similarly dramatic development, Conservative leader John Tory offered a procedural compromise. He offered that if the Government agreed to let the public hearings go on over the winter, the Conservatives would agree that Third Reading on Bill 107 could be the first item of business when the Legislature resumes in the spring. This would allow all to be heard at the Standing committee, while ensuring a final vote on the bill. For the Government to oppose this proposal would be to show that the Government's sole motive in shutting down the promised public hearings is to muzzle those who have concerns with the bill and who want input. Neither the Premier nor the Attorney General directly answered the Tory compromise.

We remind everyone that it is urgently needed that one and all immediately call the Premier's office to oppose this "closure" motion. For more on how to do this and what number to call, visit:

http://www.aodaalliance.org/reform/update-112106.asp

contact your local media. Urge them to cover this issue. Call your local phone-in programs to alert the public to this.

Remember to watch the debates on the Government's "closure" motion on your cable TV Ontario Legislature channel from 6:45 to 9:30 p.m. tonight.

We also call on those in the community who support Bill 107, including some lawyers, some legal clinics, and some community advocates, to join our call for withdrawal of this closure motion. The issue here is not whether Bill 107 is a good bill or a bad bill. The question here is whether all deserve a chance to present at the public hearings, as many of the bill's lead proponents did last week.


 

Letter to the Premier of Ontario regarding the Government's notice to invoke
closure and prematurely end debate on Bill 107, An Act to Reform the Ontario

Human Rights Act. November 21, 2006.

Statement

November 21, 2006
Honourable Dalton McGuinty,
MP/Premier of Ontario
Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1A1

Dear Premier,

I wish to express my profound dismay at your Government's notice to invoke closure and prematurely end debate on Bill 107, An Act to Reform the Ontario Human Rights Act.

From the start of the Bill 107 process, more than a year ago, the Commission has commented on the need for full consultation by the Ministry of the Attorney General. What should have been a broad, consensus-building exercise
in the best traditions of promoting human rights, was undertaken in a way which, instead, caused division within the communities concerned.

Despite that, some progress had been made in bringing the parties together and attempting to reach a viable compromise, based on amendments to the Bill. It has been my hope, as I suggested in my presentation to the Justice Policy Committee, that the Committee's hearings would lead to further progress with more common ground being found. In particular, there is a need to fine-tune the Attorney General's proposed amendments, and to allay fears within the community by making clear the transition from the old system to the new. By bringing an abrupt halt to the proceedings that opportunity is
lost; I fear the existing divisions will become more polarized and bitter.

It may seem trite to remind you that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done. This is an essential truth within the law and, particularly, in regard to human rights. Such rights have come to form the foundation of our democratic principles. There are those who will see your actions as a denial of those principles.

The Justice Policy Committee clearly felt that an extended period of consultation would have value; however the invitation to speak may now be withdrawn. Dozens of groups and individuals who have waited to take part could be denied the opportunity at the 11 the hour. We at the Commission
have stated our support for the amended legislation. However, it remains our intention to make a formal response once we see the legal text of the amendments. We are left with the question: will it receive appropriate consideration?

On behalf of the Commission, I urge you to withdraw the motion for closure. This should be a time to encourage discussion, for consultation and for healing of divisions. All sides share the goal of a stronger, more effective human rights system for Ontarians and care passionately about human rights. It is crucial in this context to seek common ground, for the sake of the people we both serve. Please, let their voices be heard.

Sincerely,
Barbara Hall, B.A., L.L.B., Ph.D. (hon.)
Chief Commissioner