Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action

Join Our "Dial Dalton" Campaign -- Liberals Passed Their Closure Motion Last Night To Shut Down Promised Scheduled Hearings On Bill 107 -- Keep Calling The Premier's Office To Press For The Government To Re-Open The Public Hearings

November 22, 2006

SUMMARY

Last night the Liberal Government used its majority in the Legislature to pass its anti-democratic "closure" motion. This shut down the promised public hearings on Bill 107 after this week. That is the bill which the McGuinty Government brought forward to weaken the Human Rights Commission and privatize human rights enforcement.

We applaud the Conservatives and NDP for opposing this motion and for fighting to keep the public hearings open.

We need everyone to keep up the pressure. You can do two things to help.

1. Join our "Dial Dalton" campaign. Phone the Premier's office at 416-325-1941. Urge his office to retract its closure motion and tell them to let the public hearings continue. Tell him to let people present their views on Bill 107.

Tell the Premier's office that there is a compromise to the clash between the two sides to the debate over Bill 107 - Let discrimination victims have the choice of either taking their discrimination case to a better-funded rejuvenated Human Rights Commission for a public investigation and public prosecution of it, or take their own case directly to the Human Rights Tribunal if they prefer.

2. Write letters to the editor of your local paper, and any other paper you can, to make these points.

Get friends to help with these two actions. Circulate this update far and wide.

We need you to act now. The McGuinty Government wants to ram this bill through the Legislature next week while the media is distracted with the federal Liberal leadership convention.

This issue got coverage all over Ontario yesterday and today. See two sample articles below.

Also, more voices have joined our call in opposition to the McGuinty Liberals shutting down the promised public hearings - June Callwood (whom the Liberals keep quoting as supporting their bill), as the letter below shows, and the Canadian Jewish Congress, whom the McGuinty Government also quoted earlier this year as supporting Bill 107. (see their news release below)


Toronto Star November 22, 2006
News
Liberals curtail human rights hearings

The head of Ontario's human rights commission is joining activists furious at the government for cutting off public hearings into its controversial human rights reforms so they can be passed before Christmas.

Barbara Hall, appointed to the job by Dalton McGuinty, yesterday accused his government of poisoning the process with its move to stop public presentations
to a legislative committee after tomorrow.

"I fear the existing divisions will become more polarized and bitter," Hall wrote in a letter to McGuinty before the Liberals used their majority late last night to pass a time allocation motion 36- 24 that ends public submissions tomorrow on a bill to overhaul Ontario's Human Rights Code. About 200 more people had hoped to outline their concerns.

Supporters say the overhaul will streamline a cumbersome process that takes years to get rulings on human rights complaints by letting individuals put cases to a tribunal without the commission being a gatekeeper.

Critics contend the changes will leave vulnerable people whose rights have been violated to navigate a complex system on their own, with the commission concentrating instead on fixing systemic discrimination via research, advocacy and education.

Attorney General Michael Bryant had promised to extend the hearings some weeks, critics and opposition politicians said.

"This is a blistering betrayal," said disabilities activist David Lepofsky. "... they front-ended the first few days with their cheerleaders and (now) they want to muzzle the critics."

He called for a "compromise" to allow complainants to take cases directly to tribunals or to follow the decades-old method of getting the commission's aid.

Bryant said it's time to fix a "broken" human rights law, noting hearings took place in Thunder Bay, Ottawa and Toronto.

McGuinty, under heavy opposition attack during question period, said, "We are determined to move ahead with this." He promised more amendments would improve Bill 107.

Rob Ferguson


Globe and Mail November 22, 2006 The Globe and Mail
p. A20
Ontario accused of using 'guillotine' on rights' debate
Karen Howlett
With a report from Murray Campbell

Toronto ONT - The Ontario government was accused of bringing down the "guillotine" yesterday on its controversial overhaul of the province's Human Rights Commission.

The opposition said a time-allocation motion introduced by the government this week was a blatant attempt to cut off debate and ram through the proposed changes.

The motion, which passed in the legislature last night, will see debate wrap up next Wednesday and the bill tabled for third reading the following day.

The motion amounts to a sharp reversal by the government. Only last week, Attorney-General Michael Bryant said in the legislature that he looked forward to the debate lasting "however long it takes."

Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said the public has a right to be heard on legislation that has not been amended for more than 40 years.

"Why is the Premier bringing the guillotine down on this debate?" he asked in Question Period.

New Democratic Party Leader Howard Hampton asked Premier Dalton McGuinty how he could justify this "betrayal of trust." Mr. McGuinty said the public has had ample opportunity to have its say.

The proposed legislation, known as Bill 107, would streamline the complaints process by having the human-rights tribunal instead of the commission deal directly with cases of discrimination.

But the bill has been contentious since it was introduced in April.

Groups representing the disabled and visible minorities said most victims of discrimination cannot afford to hire lawyers to bring their cases to the tribunal -- a task now done by commission staff.

Mr. Bryant has proposed setting up a legal support centre to help address this concern.

Critics of the bill were out in force yesterday. David Lepofsky, who has campaigned against the legislation on behalf of the disabled, accused the government of trying to muzzle its critics.

"This is a blistering betrayal," said Mr. Lepofsky, who speaks for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. He was scheduled to appear before the committee in early December.

Margaret Parsons, executive director of the African-Canadian Legal Clinic, said she felt blindsided by the government.

She said that Mr. Bryant had written her last week in order to assure her that the committee would continue public hearings into the winter.

"This is a fundamental betrayal, we feel we were lied to by the Attorney-General," Ms. Parsons said. She was scheduled to appear before the committee in early January.

Even Barbara Hall, the chief commissioner who has spoken out in favour of the changes, weighed into the controversy yesterday.

"I wish to express my profound dismay at your government's notice to invoke closure and prematurely end debate on Bill 107," she said in a letter to Mr. McGuinty. "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."


November 21, 2006

To the Premier and Attorney-General

I welcome the efforts of your government to improve the badly-clogged operations of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and there is much in Bill 107 to
celebrate.

I am concerned with some sections of it, however, and I assumed these would be addressed in scheduled hearings over the next few weeks.

To my great dismay, these hearings have been cancelled, and the government will not have the benefit of listening to thoughtful analysis of those elements
which could cause some injustice.

This bill is much too valuable to be hurried through these critical final stages. I beg you, I urge you, to reschedule the hearings.

We all want what you want --- the finest solutions to the Human Rights process that can be produced.

Sincerely,

Original signed

June Callwood


Nov 22, 2006 - CJCONT disappointed by Ontario govt move to end debate early
on Human Rights legislation amendments

For immediate release

TORONTO - Canadian Jewish Congress Ontario Region expressed disappointment that the Ontario government has moved to put an early end to debate on proposed amendments to the Ontario Human Rights Code, cutting off public discourse.

"When the amendments were announced in the spring, CJC Ontario Region welcomed the government's actions to improve and expedite the human rights complaints
process for the benefit of all complainants," said CJCONT Chair Joel Richler. "The people of Ontario have a vested interest in strong, responsive and accessible human rights legislation, and we are disappointed that debate is being ended before all stakeholders can be heard," he added.

Hearings and debate on the legislation are being held by the Standing Committee on Justice Policy, and were expected to run until mid-December. They will now conclude November 28, after which the amended legislation will immediately go back to the legislature for final vote.