Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action

MORE MEDIA MOURNING THE MCGUINTY MUZZLE MOTION
November 25, 2006

SUMMARY

The rising tide in opposition to McGuinty's muzzle motion on Bill 107 public hearings continues to escalate. The Toronto Star's disability columnist Helen Henderson wrote a powerful column, published today, that blasts the McGuinty Government for using its majority in the Legislature to shut down the promised hearings on the widely-criticized Bill 107. See text of the article below.

We need everyone right now to put as much pressure on the McGuinty Government as possible to restore the public hearings they promised. This is especially so between now and next Wednesday, November 29. On Wednesday, the Standing Committee is slated to debate amendments on the bill.
The Government has suggested that it will have additional amendments beyond those which they referred to in their vague November 15, 2006 statement to the Legislature's Standing Committee. The McGuinty Government has still not publicly released the specific text of any of their planned amendments to Bill 107. This prevents us from having the time we need to analyze and comment on this wording. The devil is so often in the details when it comes to such amendments.

Please call your local Liberal MPP today. Urge them to restore the promised Bill 107 public hearings. You can call their local constituency offices on the weekend. You can also leave messages for them at their Queen's Park offices. Just talk to their voice mail.

Also write letters to the editor of the Toronto Star in support of Helen Henderson's article. You can write the Star at:

lettertoed@thestar.ca

Contact your local paper. Urge them to do an editorial slamming the McGuinty muzzle motion on Bill 107.


The Toronto Star November 25, 2006
Life
Wrong to quash public debate on Bill 107

Helen Henderson
Barbara Hall is in an upbeat mood this summer upon the release of a report on restaurant accessibility in Ontario. But she's incensed these days about the government's handling of human rights legislation .

No matter what, Ontario's human rights record will be forever tainted by this week's effort to quash public input into Bill 107.

With Attorney General Michael Bryant recklessly determined to use the Liberal majority to cut off debate, the battle over reforms to the province's human rights legislation turned decidedly ugly.

So ugly that chief commissioner Barbara Hall stepped into the fray, formally expressing her "profound dismay" at the subversion of the process in an open letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Let's face it. Hall's integrity is such that her very acceptance of the job last year bestowed an underlying faith in the integrity of the commission and the government that appointed her.

My faith is still with Hall. Her letter says it all.
"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," she reminded the premier.

Instead, "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.

"It may seem trite to remind you that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done," Hall wrote. "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."

Hall says she had long ago made her position clear to the province's justice policy committee. "The Justice Policy Committee clearly felt that an extended period of consultation would have value," she noted.

"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?"

Will it, indeed, in a process that has become so tainted?

No one doubts the need for human rights reform. No one wants rights trampled on the way to achieving it.

Bryant argues his proposed law would make Ontario's human rights system "stronger, faster and more effective" by offering complainants direct access to the province's human rights tribunal.

(As things stand now, they go first to the human rights commission. If it decides a complaint has merit, commission staff take it forward to the tribunal. The process typically takes years.)

But under the new system, critics point out that victims of discrimination rarely have the training to argue their own cases or the financial wherewithal to hire lawyers to do so for them.

Bryant has proposed a support centre to provide complainants with free legal representation. He also would limit the powers of the tribunal to dismiss cases out of hand without first holding a hearing.

But he has failed to allay concerns about funding for the new system. And his approach to the process has been flawed from the start.

Bryant justified his move to cut off public input by telling the Legislature he believes "we need to ... have a lengthy debate but not an indefinite debate."

That's simply playing with words.

Perhaps Bryant and McGuinty are convinced that former premier Mike Harris inflicted such damage on the name of the provincial Conservatives that the Liberals have a free ride heading into an election year.

Don't count on it.