Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action

WILL MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT BETRAY ITS UNDERSTANDING WITH ONTARIO'S DISABILITY COMMUNITY ON THE TWELFTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTH OF THE DISABILITY ACT MOVEMENT?
November 29, 2006

SUMMARY

Today, November 29, 2006, is the twelfth anniversary of the birth of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, the predecessor of the AODA Alliance. As a cruel irony, today is also the day that the McGuinty Muzzle Motion forces on all clause-by-clause debate on Bill 107, after canceling promised public hearings on that bill. Bill 107 would take away our right to a public investigation and, where evidence warrants, a public prosecution of human rights violations. That right was a bedrock on the basis of which the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was negotiated.

Here is other news on this topic.

* On November 28, 2006, the AODA Alliance formally filed its brief on Bill 107 with the Standing Committee on Justice Policy. It is in substance the same as the draft brief we circulated last July. The only changes to it, which are just fine-tuning, are connected with Recommendation #41. You can download the brief at:

http://www.aodaalliance.org/reform/default.asp

* On Tuesday, November 28, 2006, a Queen's Park news conference was held to urge the McGuinty Government to restore the cancelled public hearings on Bill 107. Presenting at the news conference were Conservative leader John Tory, NDP MPP Peter Kormos, former Ontario Human Rights Chief Commissioner Keith Norton, and the AODA Alliance's Human Rights Reform Representative David Lepofsky. See the news release below. We thank the Conservatives and NDP for working together on this issue, and for inviting us to take part in this event. We also commend Keith Norton for speaking out both against the McGuinty Muzzle Motion and in support of the need for public investigations in human rights cases. See the news release below

* A joint news release was also issued yesterday by groups with whom we are working closely to focus on today's clause-by-clause debate on Bill 107. See that news release below.


* Today is the ninth straight day of media coverage on the McGuinty Muzzle Motion. See below letters to the editor from November 28 and 29, 2006.

* On Tuesday, November 28, 2006, the McGuinty Muzzle Motion again came up in the Legislature. See the proceedings below.

In answering a question in Question Period, Premier McGuinty said, among other things: "We are, in fact, listening. As the Attorney General indicated just a short time ago, the amendments that we plan to introduce tomorrow will reflect that. We have been asked by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, as well as the ??African Legal Clinic, as well as OPSEU, to make amendments to the appointment criteria of commissioners. They’re right, and that’s reflected in the amendments we’re introducing tomorrow."

In fact, in the Government's amendments released yesterday, the McGuinty Government did not act on our key recommendation that there be an independent process to screen appointments to the Human Rights Commission, the Human Rights Tribunal and the new Human Rights Legal Support Centre. Without that safeguard to take political favouritism out of these appointments, the Government's amendments, announced yesterday, will change little if anything in the appointments process.


For Immediate Release
November 28, 2006

OPPOSITION PARTIES, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS URGE MCGUINTY NOT TO SHUT OFF INPUT ON BILL 107
Non-partisan press conference urges gov’t to reconsider cancelling consultations

(Queen’s Park) – Both Opposition Parties, the former Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and a leading human rights advocate came together for a Queen’s Park news conference today to urge the McGuinty Liberals to reconsider cancelling consultations on new human rights legislation.

“The courts have repeatedly described human rights legislation as quasi-constitutional, making it among the most important laws we see passed by our governments,” said Keith Norton, three-term chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. “Such a massive overhaul of the human rights system as proposed by this government deserves full and complete public hearings.”

The McGuinty government originally scheduled consultations on new human rights legislation over the winter but recently cancelled those hearings and now is trying to rush Bill 107 through before the end of the year. Over 200 groups are still waiting to speak to the legislation and both opposition parties oppose the move.

“The McGuinty Liberals promised Ontarians they could have a say about human rights in Ontario,” said Progressive Conservative Party Leader John Tory. “Dalton McGuinty should keep his word. There are hundreds of people wanting to speak to this bill and they deserve to be heard.”

Tory added: “If Dalton McGuinty listens to these people, the PC Caucus will agree to have this legislation come to a vote in March. There is no need to ram this legislation through and shut the door on Ontarians, including some of the most vulnerable.”

"The McGuinty Liberals have turned their backs on their responsibility to ensure human rights and justice for all Ontarians. They’ve done this by muzzling the voices of the most vulnerable and canceling public hearings," said NDP Justice critic Peter Kormos.

“The McGuinty Government promised public hearings for all who want to present. Then it advertised the hearings. Then it scheduled the hearings. Now it flip-flops and cancels the hearings. This is a slap in the face to Ontarians with disabilities, racial minorities and all others seeking equality”, said David Lepofsky, the Disability Act Alliance's Human Rights Representative.”


November 28, 2006 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT WILL FACE ITS MUZZLED CRITICS IN TOMORROW’S CONTROVERSIAL BILL 107 CLAUSE-BY-CLAUSE DEBATE

(Toronto) - The McGuinty Government’s widely-criticized proposed law to weaken the Human Rights Commission will come under fire tomorrow. The most concerted dismantling of Ontario's Human Rights Commission to occur in over fourty years is set to receive only one day of clause-by-clause debate.

WHEN: Wednesday, November 29th, 2006 - starting at 9:30 a.m.
WHERE: Room 151, Queen’s Park
WHO: Legislature’s Standing Committee on Justice Policy

Many community groups and individuals across Ontario condemned the government for ramming through the McGuinty Muzzle Motion last week that shut down public hearings on Bill 107. The very same groups and individuals who were excluded from the original consultative process and who voiced concerns about Bill 107’s privatization of the human rights system were lined up to present through to the end of December. Their hearings were cancelled, while many of the bill’s lead supporters were given front-line time slots.

Those community groups and individuals will face the government directly tomorrow to witness the government’s silencing them yet again.

“The McGuinty Government has broken its promise to listen to our communities for “however long it would take”. It has denied itself the benefit of the wisdom and expertise from members of racialized communities and other equality-seeking groups”, said Avvy Go, Clinic Director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. “We want a new system that will work for all, not just the privileged few.”

"It's vital that the public hearings be re-opened now. Last week Legal Aid Ontario rejected the McGuinty Government's request that it operate the promised new Human Rights legal clinic as a replacement for the Human Rights Commission in individual discrimination cases", said David Lepofsky, the Disability Act Alliance's Human Rights Reform representative. "Now, the McGuinty Government is back to square one on how it will deliver on McGuinty's extravagant promise of free lawyers for all complainants."

“It is a cruel irony that this human rights reform claims to guarantee a right to a hearing for all, and yet the government has denied much of the equality-seeking community a right to a hearing before the Standing Committee. We and others from our community intend to watch the government closely tomorrow”, said Margaret Parsons, Executive Director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic. “If the Government does not take our concerns about this bill seriously, this will certainly be an election issue next year.”

Many community groups urged the compromise that Bill 107 be amended to give discrimination victims the choice of either taking their case right to the Human Rights Tribunal, or opting for the Human Rights Commission process. They also want to ensure that the government keeps its promise that legal counsel, not simply legal support, is provided to all complainants regardless of income.

Community leaders and individuals will be on hand tomorrow from 9:30 a.m. for questions.


Woodstock Sentinel-Review November 28, 2006
Page: 4
Democratic process muzzled by McGuinty

Column: Letters to the Editor
I think it commendable that (Oxford) MPP Ernie Hardeman stood in the legislature recently and chastised the Liberal government for forcing the closure of public hearings on Bill 107. This controversial piece of legislation introduced last spring has diverse opinions on its content and effectiveness. All equality seeking groups can agree that the present system is inadequate. There are many views as to how the bill can be salvaged -- some of them can be read at www.humanrightsreform.ca and www.adoaalliance.org
There are a few points everyone can agree upon, one of those being disadvantaged groups have waited far too long for an effective human rights system, the present system is woefully inadequate. The other point is it is reprehensible on the part of the McGuinty government to attempt to muzzle the public by cancelling hearings. Well over 200 groups were set to appear before the standing committee. The draconian dismissal of conscientious comments, some critical some not, that groups representing concerned, vulnerable Ontarians had expected and deserved to bring forward, is something worthy of the Mike Harris regime, in which the ruling Progressive Conservatives invoked closure over 100 times, not a government which promised to listen.
Given the decision to muzzle the democratic process, groups as varied as Ontario Association for Community Living and the Canadian Auto Workers will not have the opportunity to make deputations. The government held one-day hearings in Ottawa, Thunder Bay and London. I made a presentation as an advocate in London. They also had two days of hearings in Toronto. However on such an important piece of legislation, this is woefully inadequate especially in the light of a promise by the attorney general that everyone will have an opportunity to be heard.

I encourage everyone to watch how this piece of legislation unfolds, for if a government is willing to trample opposition as well as well as supporters on an issue which is a cornerstone of democracy and human rights, what else are they capable of doing?
Marianne Park
Woodstock


The Toronto Star November 29, 2006
Letter
Support centre model unknown
Many questions to be answered about rights law
Letter, Nov. 28.

In two recent editorials concerning Bill 107, the Star has called upon the government to supply details as to how legal support will be provided under the new human rights regime and to reinstate public hearings so as to permit needed discussion of the bill and its amendments to continue.

Since that time, two critically important facts have emerged that make clear how breathtakingly impolitic the "guillotine motion" for closure was. The government plans to enact the bill, no matter what, by Thursday next.

First, Legal Aid Ontario has announced that it will not run or fund the proposed "Human Rights Support Centre." Second, ministry officials, when questioned on the as-yet-to-be-revealed amendments, advised that they do not know upon what model the support centre will be based, what funding it would receive, or what services it could extend.

Worse, the ministry advised, as recently as last Friday, that the much-heralded amendments are not yet drafted - this with clause-by- clause debate scheduled to begin today.

With no plan in place to fund the support centre and provide legal services and with a vast number of critics of the bill scheduled to appear in front of the Standing Committee on Justice Policy over the next month or so, it is no wonder the government invoked closure.

Toni Silberman, Immediate Past Chair, Ontario League for Human Rights, B'nai Brith Canada, Toronto


ONTARIO HANSARD NOVEMBER 28, 2006

MEMBERS' STATEMENTS

CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mrs. Christine Elliott (Whitby–Ajax): Despite an all-party endorsement by the justice policy committee to hold hearings into the winter to accommodate the hundreds of groups waiting to be consulted with respect to Bill 107, and despite commitments by the Attorney General to do the same, it seems nothing will stop this McGuinty government from quashing debate on this fundamental piece of legislation.
The irony of not consulting with the people on what is certainly among the most vital and essential pieces of legislation we have to protect the people seems to be entirely lost on this government. As Keith Norton, former chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission aptly put it, this decision is just unconscionable.

This morning, our leader, John Tory, joined with the member for Niagara Centre, Peter Kormos, and David Lepofsky, the disability act alliance’s human rights representative on this bill, and Mr. Norton in a non-partisan press conference to make a final effort to convince Premier McGuinty and his Attorney General to honour their government’s promise to extend public hearings.

“This should not be about politics,” said Mr. Tory. “There was no trickery; this was decided upon by all three parties,” said Mr. Kormos in reference to extending the hearings. “The government has not heard everything. More importantly, they have not listened,” said Mr. Lepofsky. “I implore the government to try to find a way to get this back on track,” said Mr. Norton.

We have repeatedly asked the Attorney General to come forward with his plans to fund the linchpin of the overhaul, the legal support centre. He has repeatedly refused to answer my question. I’m simply confounded by this government’s arrogant belief that it knows better—knows better than a former chief commissioner, knows better than the current chief commissioner and knows better than the champions of vulnerable people across all—

The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): Thank you.


QUESTION PERIOD

CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mr. John Tory (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Premier. I asked only for aggregate statistics, not for judge-by-judge statistics, but in any event.

My question for the Premier is this: It has been a week now since the Premier dropped the guillotine on Bill 107, breaking the promises of his Attorney General to hold extensive hearings on the legislation. In fact, as the Attorney General put it, to hold hearings for, “however long it takes.”

Now, today, together with the member for Niagara Centre; Keith Norton, former chair of the Human Rights Commission; and David Lepofsky, the human rights representative for the disability act alliance, we had a news conference simply to indicate on behalf of the people the disability act alliance represents that there are hundreds of people who want, as promised and advertised, to have their chance to have a say on this bill. We have proposed a timeline to the government; I have proposed it to you. You allow the people to be heard, we will have the matter brought to a vote March 19 or the next day if you wish. Why won’t you agree to consider that proposal?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): I don’t know whether or not the leader of the official opposition has secured the agreement of the NDP to this particular proposal, but I’d be very surprised if he obtained their consent.

Our position has been very clear for quite some time now. We believe that there is something that seriously ails the human rights system in the province of Ontario. In fact, criticism has been levelled against this system, which we inherited, for many, many years now. Complaints take too long to be heard. Five to 10 years, in some cases, for resolution is simply unacceptable.

We believe there has been a healthy debate. We’ve heard from many people. Legislation has been under discussion now for over 200 days. We’ve heard from over 80 separate presenters. The Attorney General in his own capacity through his office has also met with more than 40 groups over the past six months. We’ve heard from many Ontarians, we have received their advice and we’re acting on their advice. Even more recently, well, tomorrow, in fact, with the introduction of still more amendments.

Mr. Tory: Well, still more amendments indicates in and of itself that the listening perhaps shouldn’t be finished as yet. There’s really no debate in the House on the need to fix the Human Rights Commission. The listening is so that we maybe can understand from others than those privileged enough to be here how to fix it.

Keith Norton, David Lepofsky, Barbara Hall, June Callwood, the Confederation of University Faculty Associations, John Rae of the Alliance for Blind Canadians, Marianne Park, Barbara Anello, the Jewish Congress, Helen Henderson, the Toronto Star: These are some of the people who have said either that they want to be heard and/or that you are wrong to cut off this debate.

Keith Norton pointed out this is legislation that is quasi-constitutional. That’s how important and that’s how fundamental it is in our system. So I would ask you why, when it is quasi-constitutional legislation, why when we’ve said it could be brought to a vote the first week back here on a timetable, frankly, you can determine, why will you not let these people be heard in the meantime, listen what they might have to say and then proceed to pass what I’m sure would be better legislation? Why won’t you agree?

Hon. Mr. McGuinty: We are, in fact, listening. As the Attorney General indicated just a short time ago, the amendments that we plan to introduce tomorrow will reflect that. We have been asked by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, as well as the ??African Legal Clinic, as well as OPSEU, to make amendments to the appointment criteria of commissioners. They’re right, and that’s reflected in the amendments we’re introducing tomorrow.

We were asked by the Human Rights Commission to mandate that the commission report annually to Ontarians. The commission is right, and that’s reflected in the amendments we’re introducing tomorrow.

We’ve been asked by the Canadian Hearing Society, local agencies serving immigrants and the Ottawa chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council to provide for the ability to enter, examine records and compel testimony and enforce compliance. Those groups are all right and that, again, is reflected in amendments that we are introducing tomorrow.
We are listening to Ontarians, we are taking into account their good advice and we’re acting on that advice.

Mr. Tory: The only problem that I’m pointing out to you is there are a lot of other groups who I think you would agree are groups worthy of respect that may themselves have some more ideas that could make this bill even better, and you refuse to listen them. Not only that, you make appointments to hear them, advertise hearings that they can participate in and then shut that down in mid-process.

Now, one of the bigger issues that we have going forward is whether or not people will be able to have access to the legal representation they will now need as they don’t under the current arrangement to go in front of the tribunal. The member for Willowdale said on August 8, “the Attorney General has publicly committed…to provide full legal support….” The member for London North Centre said that the minister had said people will get the legal representation they need. The minister had given that assurance. We have no details. The only person asked to run it, legal aid, are themselves broke, and they’ve said they won’t run it. There’s been no budget amount set out and no real idea anybody has. I want to know if you, Mr. Premier, through the Speaker, are prepared to tell the people of Ontario right here and now, people will have the full legal representation they are entitled to, that every single person will have access to a lawyer they need in front of this tribunal under your new regime?

Hon. Mr. McGuinty: Again, this is not a new issue that is being raised before me or certainly before the Attorney General and the committee that considered this. We have listened to and heard from countless numbers, either through the committee process itself or through the Attorney General’s office, in its usual workings.

The leader of the official opposition is very much focused on the process of this place. We are much more focused now, after devoting so much time and effort and energy to working as hard as we can to get the bill right, on the process that takes place in which traps so many people as they try to work their way through our Ontario human rights system. So the leader of the official opposition may continue to focus on this process. We’re going to focus on the needs of people who need to avail themselves of Ontario human rights system. There’s been something troubling with that legislation for a long time. Those people out there can no longer wait, and we intend to move forward on their behalf.


CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mr. Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): A question to the Premier: Premier, today former Ontario human rights commissioner Keith Norton joined the chorus of outrage about your cancellation of public hearings into Bill 107. Government members of that committee voted unanimously to conduct hearings through to when the House rises on December 14 and then commence those hearings once again in January so that those people could be heard. You and your government promised those people an opportunity to participate in those hearings. Why are you breaking your promise to them?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): I know that the member opposite is going to want to recollect and put on the record the fact that he promised that he would do everything that he possibly could to prevent passage of this bill—to filibuster. I do not question his sincerity, his devotion, his commitment or his perseverance when it comes to preventing passage of this bill, but on behalf of the thousands and thousands of Ontarians who had to suffer under a terribly-less-than-adequate human rights system, we feel a sense of responsibility to move forward, and that is exactly what we will do.

Mr. Kormos: That, sir, is hooey, and you know it. You know full well that if you wanted to time-allocate third reading debate, you could have time-allocated third reading debate; you didn’t have to slam the door in the faces of scores of people who you promised—your promise—would have an opportunity to appear in front of that committee.

Keith Norton says you’re wrong. Your current commissioner, Barbara Hall, says you’re wrong. June Callwood, whose endorsement you relied upon when she was agreeing with you, says you’re wrong. Why are you breaking a promise to people who relied upon your advertising, which indicated a December 15th cut-off date to sign up to make submissions? What are you talking about? You spent over $100,000 of taxpayers money on ads promising a December 15th cut-off date. Why are you breaking your promise to those people?
Hon. Mr. McGuinty: Sometimes it seems that the NDP caucus is the only place on the planet where heat travels faster than light. Sometimes it seems like that.

I always appreciate my colleague’s passion. But I can say that we feel we have devoted a considerable amount of time, a reasonable amount of time and effort and energy, to listening to all of those who have something to offer, who have good advice, good counsel, solid recommendations. Earlier today I referenced the AODA, the African Legal Clinic and OPSEU. I have referenced the Human Rights Commission, I have referenced the Canadian Hearing Society, Local Agencies Serving Immigrants, the Ottawa chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council. Also, we’ve heard from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office. All those people we have recently heard from once again and their advice has now been incorporated into amendments to be tabled.