Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action

TORONTO STAR EDITORIAL SLAMS MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT FOR SHUTTING DOWN PROMISED PUBLIC HEARINGS ON BILL 107

November 23,2006

SUMMARY

Today's Toronto Star includes a powerful editorial. It opposes the McGuinty Government's November 21, 2006 closure motion that shut down promised public hearings on Bill 107. Presenters had been waiting for these Toronto hearings for months. See this editorial and also a Globe and Mail column below.

Please write letters to the editor of these papers and any other newspapers you can. Urge others to do so too. Voice your opposition to the McGuinty Government's shutting down the hearings.

You can write the Star at:

lettertoed@thestar.ca

You can write the Globe and Mail at:

letters@globeandmail.com

On Wednesday, November 22, 2006, the Government was again confronted with questions in Question Period about its muzzling further public hearings on this important bill.


Toronto Star November 23, 2006

Editorial

Wrong way on rights

Just eight days ago, Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant said he looked forward to controversial human rights reforms being debated in a legislative committee "not only tomorrow and the next day, but however long it takes."

Despite that assurance, the Ontario government, effective today, is ending public hearings into the bill designed to streamline how human rights complaints are handled.

The sudden and short-sighted move shuts out many groups and individuals who wanted to speak in favour or against the legislation and will only fan the bitter debate that has surrounded the proposed law since it was introduced last spring.

The decision has even upset supporters of the bill, including Barbara Hall, who heads the human rights commission. She voiced her "profound dismay" in a letter this week to Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Including today, a total of eight days of public hearings on the bill will have been held in four cities.

That is not enough.

Clearly, halting hearings before they had barely started is an affront to basic fairness. And to rectify it, McGuinty should reinstate planned public hearings to allow a reasonable amount of time for opponents and supporters to present their views.
Anything less would do a disservice to those who have a stake in the proposed reforms and undermine the credibility of this long- overdue and well-intentioned effort to overhaul the human rights complaints system, which has been bogged down in lengthy backlogs for far too long.

The government's proposed changes would streamline the current human rights process in several ways. The Ontario Human Rights Commission, which currently investigates individual complaints, would instead focus on fighting systemic discrimination. Individuals would take their cases directly to the Human Rights Tribunal, which currently handles only the small number of complaints that are not settled by the commission.

Most controversially, individuals would no longer have cases investigated and argued by commission staff. Instead, a legal support centre would be created to provide them with free advice and representation, regardless of income, although questions remain about how the centre would be staffed and funded.

McGuinty says it is important to move forward, but it is also important the government get this right.

At the very least, McGuinty should hold the hearings that were already scheduled. And supporters and opponents alike should seize this opportunity to make their views known, without engaging in wasteful delaying tactics.

After waiting decades to reform this important public institution, it would be a shame if all sides do not get a fair hearing.


The Globe and Mail November 23, 2006
National News, Thursday, November 23, 2006, p. A7

How much debate is enough?

Murray Campbell


How much debate on a piece of spectacularly controversial legislation is needed in a democracy before a government has the right to ram it through into law? That's the subtext of the furor this week over the Ontario government's decision to cut off debate on its bill to overhaul the province's human-rights
system so that it can be proclaimed into law by the end of the month.

Attorney-General Michael Bryant says there has been "ample" debate since the legislation, Bill 107, was introduced in April. Premier Dalton McGuinty says his government has the right to act as it sees fit. "At the end of the day, we've got to make a call and we're making that call," he said yesterday in defence of the closure measure passed by the legislature Tuesday.

But critics, many of whom were among the 200 or so still waiting to speak about the bill before a legislative committee, are crying foul. They say the government is simply trying to muzzle its opponents.

The move to end debate came as newspapers carried advertisements asking for submissions for winter hearings by the committee, which is both costly -- $106,000 was spent -- and embarrassing for the government.

The reason that it invoked closure -- a "time-allocation" measure allowed under the legislature's rules since the 1990s -- is simply to avoid a legislative logjam. It wanted Bill 107 passed before the Christmas recess because it is afraid it will have too many bills in the queue for the session that begins
in March, the last before the October election. Such a situation would prevent the government from cutting short the next session by several weeks and strategists want to have that option in case Question Period becomes toxic.

Such considerations couldn't be voiced publicly and so the debate this week centred on Bill 107. Not on its merits or failings, of course, since few minds are there for the changing. There are only a few thousand people in Ontario who follow the human-rights issue closely enough to take a strong position. But, Lord, when they do, their positions are impregnable.

Everyone agrees the current cumbersome, 44-year-old rights system under which people who complain of abuse can wait for five years for an adjudication needs to be overhauled. But that's where the agreement stops.

One camp supports the government's plan to provide complainants direct access to a tribunal without the Ontario Human Rights Commission acting as a gatekeeper. Opponents of Bill 107 propose that the current system should be fixed but not discarded.

The government argues that these positions have been fixed since the legislation was unveiled in April. Mr. Bryant argues that he has introduced amendments to meet his critics' arguments but that he's not hearing anything new after 200 days of argument and seven days of committee hearings. He wants the bill passed by Nov. 30.

The Attorney-General is smart enough not to be pinned down on what he means by "ample" debate. In a parliamentary democracy, with a majority government acting as a sort of temporary dictatorship and MPPs reduced to a supporting role in the face of a powerful Premier's Office, it is clearly unwise to tell voters they can have this much input and no more.

The Attorney-General says the answer to how much debate is subjective. He said he changed his mind -- last week he agreed to committee debate for "however long it takes" -- after he concluded that views were entrenched and "we were never going to get agreement" on the bill or even on how many days of debate were needed.

He also came to believe those who wanted more discussion were too far gone. "It's an age-old tactic where you complain about the process in order to avoid dealing with the substance of the bill," he said. "All of the people who are complaining about the process . . . are against the bill."

Not quite. Chief human-rights commissioner Barbara Hall has expressed her "profound dismay" about the closure measure. And June Callwood said Bill 107, which she supports, is "much too valuable to be hurried through these critical final stages."

Mr. Bryant may think he knows what constitutes "ample" debate but clearly not everyone agrees.

mcampbell@globeandmail.com