ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO
JUST-RELEASED HUMAN RIGHTS LEGAL SUPPORT CENTRE 2009-2010 ANNUAL REPORT DOCUMENTS THAT THE CENTRE WARNED MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT IT COULDN'T PROVIDE APPROPRIATE LEVEL OF SERVICE FROM 2008-2010 – AND MORE NEWS ON UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PINTO HUMAN RIGHTS REVIEW
February 1, 2012
Here is the latest news on the Independent Review of the McGuinty Government's 2006 privatization of the enforcement of human rights in Ontario under Bill 107:
* The just-released 2009-2010 Annual Report of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre shows that the McGuinty Government was warned that large numbers of people seeking legal advice couldn't even get the Centre to answer their calls. The Annual Report admits that"…the Centre’s capacity to respond to the public falls far short of reasonable standards", and that "…the Centre is not meeting an appropriate level of service to the public."
The Toronto Star wrote about this problem two years ago. You can read it at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05292010.asp
* There's no good reason why only one of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre's Annual Reports has been made public. Given the very troubling information contained in the one Annual Report that the Centre has made public, and given that the McGuinty Government kept this Annual Report from the public far too long, there is an even more pressing need for the Human Rights Legal Support Centre or the McGuinty Government to make all the Centre's Annual Reports public now.
* The Pinto Review has still not answered our call for dates for its public forums and stakeholder meetings to be pushed back.
* The Pinto Review has still not announced times and locations for its Public Forums even though its website said these would be announced in January.
* The Pinto Review hasn't answered the AODA Alliance's request for a stakeholder meeting with it, even though these meetings were to take place this week.
* More information has come in to us from the Human Rights Tribunal and Human Rights Legal Support Centre, but we're still waiting for all the information we requested from the three Ontario human rights agencies.
* NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo wrote to the McGuinty Government, urging that it address our concerns about the Pinto Human Rights Review.
* The Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic and African Canadian Legal Clinic each wrote to the Pinto Review, endorsing the AODA Alliance's Concerns.
Taken together, it seems that the Pinto Review may not have decided how to proceed in light of the serious concerns that we and others have raised. We and the public deserve prompt responses to our unanswered questions.
In 2006, the McGuinty Government's Bill 107 privatized the enforcement of Ontario's Human Rights Code. The Human Rights Code is the law that bans discrimination on grounds like disability.
Bill 107, the Ontario Human Rights Commission
was responsible for investigating and publicly prosecuting individual
human rights cases in
Last summer the McGuinty Government made the controversial appointment of Toronto lawyer Andrew Pinto to conduct a mandatory Review of how human rights are enforced in Ontario under Bill 107. To learn why his appointment was so controversial, see http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/08292011.asp
In the past weeks, we have raised serious concerns about the way the Pinto Review is being conducted. You can find details about this at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/0109022012.asp
1. Just-Released 2009-2010 Annual Report of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre Shows McGuinty Government Was Warned that Large Numbers of People Calling the Centre for Advice Could Not Even Get their Calls Answered
The Human Rights Legal Support Centre has delivered a series of annual reports to the Ontario Government, as the Human Rights Code requires it to do. In our November 14, 2011 letter to the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, we asked for copies of all its annual reports. That letter is available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11152011.asp
In its January 9, 2012 response to us, the Centre confirmed that it had delivered a series of these annual reports to the Government. However, as of then, none of these Annual Reports had been made public.
Days later, the Center told us that only one of its Annual Reports, the one for 2009-2010, was just made public on its website. That 2009-2010 Annual Report includes shocking information. The McGuinty Government should not have kept this Annual Report from the public all this time.
To explain, during the controversial 2006 Bill 107 public debates, we had warned the Government that Bill 107 would force many discrimination victims, for the first time, to have to investigate and argue their own human rights cases before the Human Rights Tribunal, and that this would be unfair. Bill 107 took the Human Rights Commission out of the business of investigating and publicly prosecuting individual human rights complaints.
The McGuinty Government responded in 2006 by promising that under Bill 107, all human rights applicants would have a free, publicly-funded lawyer to represent them through the Tribunal process. To see what the McGuinty Government promised about Bill 107, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07022008.asp
The Human Rights Legal Support Centre's 2009-2010 Annual Report shows that the Government was in serious breach of that promise. It also shows that the Government was given early and ample notice of this situation by the Human Rights Legal Support Centre. The Government had chosen to keep that Annual Report from the public for quite some time, until we started pressing for it.
Specifically, the Centre's 2009-2010 Annual Report shows that the Centre wasn't then able to provide an appropriate level of service. It warned the Government that very troubling portions of people calling the Centre for legal advice couldn't even get through to a human being at the Centre. The Annual Report states, among other things, the following:
"Providing Quality Services with Limited Resources
The Centre continues to experience a high and increasing level of demand for its services. For example, in March 2010 the Centre received approximately 2700 new inquiries to its telephone advice lines, up from 2200 calls in March 2009. Each of these calls was from a person phoning the Centre for the first time to seek information, advice or legal services.
As reported in the 2008/9 Annual Report, the Centre is concerned about its ability to provide an appropriate level of service to the individuals who contact the Centre seeking information about human rights, legal advice about discrimination or legal assistance in filing an application to the Human Rights Tribunal.
Between April 1st, 2009 and March 31st 2010, the Centre was only able to respond to 57% of the almost 40,000 telephone inquiries to its intake lines. Long wait times resulted in calls being abandoned before the inquiry line could be answered. Although this rate is an improvement over 2008/9, when the Centre was only able to answer 52% of incoming calls, the Centre’s capacity to respond to the public falls far short of reasonable standards.
The Centre knows that many callers reach our inquiries staff on a subsequent attempt, eventually receiving legal assistance. We also know that a percentage of unanswered calls are from employers, landlords or service providers who hang up after hearing on the taped message that the Centre assists potential applicants only. However, the Centre cannot assess the number of calls that fall in these two categories and, even accounting for these calls, the Centre is not meeting an appropriate level of service to the public.
The 2008/09 Annual Report also highlighted the Centre’s challenges in meeting the demand for legal representation at the Tribunal. In order to provide representation to as many people as possible, the Centre changed its service model, providing more legal assistance through inquiries staff, as opposed to lawyers, and accepting retainers later in the process, at the mediation or hearing stage. This change in how we provide service has put more pressure on our inquiries lines as staff assisted more people to draft their own applications. Even with these adjustments, the Centre was able to provide representation in almost 100 fewer new applications in 2009/10."
The Annual Report lists measures the Centre was then taking to address this backlog. The full Annual Report is available on the Human Rights Legal Support Centre website at http://www.hrlsc.on.ca/en/AnnualReports.aspx
The Toronto Star wrote about the Human Rights Legal Support Centre's backlog of cases in the spring of 2010, quoting the Centre. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05292010.asp
2. No Good Reason Why Only One Of The Human Rights Legal Support Centre Annual Reports Has Been Made Public
On January 27, 2012, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre gave us this answer to our request for their other annual reports:
Under the Code, the Centre, unlike the Commission, is required to submit annual reports to the Minister and has no authority to release reports to the public. Our audited financial statements are in our annual reports.
We posted our 2009/10 Annual Report on our website as soon as we received notice that it had been tabled in the legislature and could be released. http://www.hrlsc.on.ca/en/AnnualReports.aspx
We have not provided copies of our Annual Reports to Andrew Pinto but sent him the link to newly-posted 2009/10 Annual Report on January 23, 2012."
The Centre offers no good reason why it or the Government has withheld these annual reports from the public for so long. As we read it, the Human Rights Code does not require the Government to submit the Centre's annual reports to the Legislature. (See s. 45.17 of the Code.) In contrast, it does require the annual reports of the Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Tribunal to be submitted to the Legislature. (See sections 31.6 and 45.10.) Even had it been required that these Annual Reports be submitted to the Legislature before they can be made public, the Government has had a long time to do this.
Beyond all this, it is inexcusable that fully five months after Andrew Pinto was appointed to conduct this Independent Review of Bill 107, he has still not seen the rest of the Centre's Annual Reports.
We have urged the Pinto Review to push back the dates for the public hearings and stakeholder meetings for two reasons. First, these events have not been sufficiently publicized, so that many who might want to take part likely don't even know about them. Second, the Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Tribunal, and Human Rights Legal Support Centre have not fully answered all the important questions we've asked of them. The public lacks important information needed to provide the Pinto Review with informed input, and needs time to absorb and analyze the information these organizations disclose. The unreleased Annual Reports of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre are just one good example of this.
The Pinto Review has still not responded to our request. This is so even though its deadline for signing up for its public hearings and stakeholder meetings (which we've asked to be extended) expired over a week ago, on January 23, 2012. We reinforced our request that the dates for the public forums and stakeholder meetings be pushed back in our January 23, 2012 letter to the Pinto Review. You can read that letter at : http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/0123022012.asp That letter too has not yet been answered.
Thus, the public does not know whether the deadline will be extended.
4. Pinto Review Has Not Announced Times And Locations For Its Public Forums Even Though Its Website Said These Would Be Announced In January
On the Friday afternoon before the December holiday season the Pinto Review announced, on its website and by email, that it scheduled public forums around Ontario for mid and late February. However it did not then announce times or locations for the cities and dates it listed for these public forums. Its website tells the public to keep checking its website in January 2012 for the announcement of times and locations of its public forums around Ontario.
We have been checking the Pinto Review's website at http://www.ontariohumanrightsreview.org throughout January.
January is now over. The Pinto Review's website has announced no times or locations for its public forums. The public still does not know whether the dates for these events will be pushed back, as we requested.
5. Pinto Review Hasn't
The Pinto Review also announced, by email and on its website, on the eve of the December 2011 holidays, that it would hold stakeholder meetings, stating: "Stakeholder meetings will be held from January 30, 2012 to February 3, 2012. Details will be confirmed as proposals are received and reviewed." We asked for a stakeholder meeting in our January 9, 2012 letter to the Pinto Review. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/0109022012.asp
We have still not heard back from the Pinto Review on this. We do not know if it is holding these stakeholder meetings this week, as it earlier announced, or if it is pushing back the schedule for these stakeholder meetings, as we had requested. We do not know if we will be granted a stakeholder meeting.
6. More Information Has Come In To Us From The Human Rights Tribunal And Human Rights Legal Support Centre, But We're Still Waiting For All The Information We Requested From The Three Ontario Human Rights Agencies
gotten some more responses from the Human Rights Tribunal and the Human Rights
Legal Support Centre to our January 23, 2012 supplemental requests of those
organizations, and of the Human Rights Commission. We will eventually be posting
new information received from
If you want to see the more recent disclosures from any of the human rights agencies, before they are posted on our website, send us a request to firstname.lastname@example.org
7. NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo Writes the McGuinty Government Urging it to Address Concerns about the Pinto Human Rights Review
NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo wrote to the McGuinty Government on January 23, 2012 to urge that the Pinto Review's public consultations be held off, until the Government sorts out and deals with concerns that we and others have raised about the Pinto Review. This letter is set out below.
The Metro Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic and the African Canadian Legal Clinic have each written to the Pinto Review. They have endorsed our concerns about the Pinto Review and raised additional concerns. Their letters are set out below.
Send us your feedback. Write to us at: email@example.com
LETTER TO MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT FROM NDP MPP CHERI DINOVO
Hon. John Gerretsen MPP
Ministry of the Attorney General
720 Bay Street, 11th Floor
January 23, 2012
Dear Hon. Minister Gerretsen,
Ontario Human Rights Review
In late August of last year, the Ontario government appointed Mr. Andrew Pinto to conduct the review of the human rights system in this province as mandated by the Human Rights Code Amendment Act.
It has come to my attention that concerns about the scope and process of the review have been communicated in writing to Mr. Pinto by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance (AODAA) and the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.
They are concerned that the review, as currently designed is not abiding by the Terms of Reference set out in Section 57 of the Human Rights Code Amendment Act.
Specifically, they argue that the questions being posed in the consultation paper for the Review will not solicit the necessary information to fully explore “the implementation and effectiveness” of reforms, as the Review is mandated to do. The current questions solicit input only from individuals and fail to adequately consider and explore issues of systemic discrimination.
Second, these groups are concerned that there are significant barriers to participation in the review by individuals who first language is neither English nor French. They urge Mr. Pinto to post a translation of the consultation paper in languages other than English and French, and to provide interpretation services for the public hearings.
As Minister responsible, I ask that you look in to this matter, and make a determination as to whether the consultation design, as proposed by Mr. Pinto, does in fact fulfill the requirements under the Terms of Reference for the review.
I urge you not to allow public consultations to begin until these outstanding concerns have been explored and resolved.
I have attached copies of the letters with my letter. I am urging you to carefully consider their letters and respond to their concerns in order to make the review fair and inclusive.
Cheri DiNovo MPP
MPP for Parkdale-High Park
LETTER TO PINTO REVIEW FROM METRO TORONTO CHINESE AND SOUTHEAST ASIAN LEGAL CLINIC
January 10, 2012
Mr. Andrew Pinto Via Email Only
Ontario Human Rights Review
393 University Avenue
Dear Mr. Pinto:
Re: Ontario Human Rights Review
We are writing with respect to your recent appointment by the Attorney General of Ontario to conduct a review of the human rights system. Notwithstanding our previously expressed concerns regarding the independence of the review, we would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment, and to affirm our intention to participate in this review.
The purpose of this letter is mainly two-fold: First, to offer suggestions on the scope and process of the review and second, to ask for a stakeholder meeting.
Comments on the Scope of Review
We have received a copy of a letter dated January 9, 2012 from AODA Alliance to you with respect to the Alliance’s wide-ranging recommendations regarding the review. We echo all of these recommendations and we urge you to adopt them so as to ensure that the review of the human rights system will truly be fair and comprehensive.
As you have pointed out on your website, the review is mandated by legislation. Section 57 of the Human Rights Code calls for a review of the “implementation and effectiveness of the changes resulting from” the reform that was brought in just over five years ago (emphasis added).
The only way to make sure that the review does in fact examine the implementation and effectiveness of the human rights system is by asking the right questions. In face of such legislative intent, we were surprised by the type of questions posed in your consultation paper. The questions are clearly designed to elicit input only from individuals, and only those who have in fact accessed the system. More importantly, it would appear that the questions are designed in such a way so as not to invite any feedback about the effectiveness of the system.
It is our view that the human rights system in Ontario can only be said to be effective if it is accessible, transparent, open, and if it provides effective remedies for both individual as well as systemic discrimination.
An accessible system is one that is barrier free in every sense of the word. While your questions do invite comments about certain accessibility issues, they do so in such a general and ambivalent fashion that only those who are keenly tuned in to such issues would be ready to offer any detailed and specific comments. A much preferred way of soliciting input regarding accessibility is to provide a list of possible options regarding barriers faced by people with human rights issues including, but not limited to, people with disabilities and people who do not speak English or French as their first language. The latter groups of individuals are of particular concern to our clinic given the mandate of the clinic and given the complaints we receive from time to time from individuals with language barriers who have difficulties accessing the system in general and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre in particular. The absence of such specific questions regarding access would almost guarantee that no such input would be offered during the review.
More disturbingly, you raise two particular questions that will not only impede access, but in fact introduce new barriers to accessing the system, namely, the introduction of a filing fee and legal costs. As you have pointed out, your mandate is limited to what the legislation requires you to do, namely, to conduct a review of the system as set up in 2006. We would like to know how could questions about features that are not even found in the current system be possibly considered as falling under your mandate.
As the AODA Alliance has pointed out in their letter, none of your questions address the role of the Ontario Human Rights Commission to initiate its own application before the Tribunal. The omission, we fear, is consistent with the decidedly narrow focus of your review on individually-based human rights applications, as opposed to the real issue of the effectiveness of the system to address discrimination in this province.
As you are no doubt aware, a truly effective human rights system is one that will not only provide remedy to individual complainants, but will also redress the root cause of discrimination at a systemic and fundamental level. In other words, a human rights system can never be described as effective – or even efficient for that matter – if all it does is to process individual complaints through an assembly line, without any mechanism to affect the underlying conditions that give rise to these complaints in the first place. Yet, oddly enough, none of your questions are aimed at exploring these fundamental questions, even though they are clearly called for by the very wording of s.57 of the Code.
In view of the above, we would like you to add the following questions to your review:
• How effective is the new system in dealing with systemic discrimination?
• How effective is the system in dealing with racial discrimination?
• Are there applications resulting in public interest remedies and if not, why not? How can these remedies be tracked in the new system?
• How easy is it for applicants to obtain legal representation in the new system? How can this be improved?
• How well is the HRLSC accommodating barriers to access such as disability and language?
• Is the HRLSC effective in promoting public interest remedies? How is this tracked?
• How does the HRLSC decide on its casework priorities? How is it accountable to the public?
How representative are staff in the new system of
• How is the Commission involved in applications before the HRTO? Have they initiated applications dealing with systemic discrimination? Have they intervened in applications? If not, why not?
There are many other questions that need to be added, but they have largely been covered by the AODA Alliance letter. As such, we respectfully ask you to carefully consider the said letter in order make the appropriate changes before the public meetings begin.
Process of Review
The AODA Alliance letter also raises a number of process issues and suggests a short postponement of the public meetings and stakeholders meetings in order to encourage more participation. We agree.
In addition, we would also like to make the following suggestions with respect to the process so that people with multiple barriers, most notably linguistic barriers, could also have their say.
To start, we submit that the consultation paper and website should be made available in languages other than English and French. Even if the whole website cannot be translated into different languages, key information about the review as well as the consultation questions should be translated into other languages. By limiting the review information to English and French, the process is guaranteed to exclude people who are not fluent in the official languages. And given the current immigration pattern, it is safe to assume that the majority of these individuals are from racialized communities, who may just have something to say about the human rights system.
same token, we submit that interpretation services (in addition to
French) must be provided in all public consultations across
If you have not done so, we would strongly encourage you to do outreach into ethno-racial communities via various media outlets in these communities as well as community agencies serving these communities.
Request for Stakeholders Meeting
Finally, we would like to set up a meeting between you and representatives of our clinic with regard to the review.
In conclusion, building an effective human rights system is key to the broader societal goal of advancing and promoting equality for all. While our clinic has many misgivings about the way in which the Ontario Government has chosen to undertake this review, we believe it is important for us, and for all Ontarians who believe in equality to participate in this review to make sure that it is done properly and in accordance with the legislative intent.
As such, we look forward to working with you and we urge you to make the appropriate changes to make the review as meaningful as possible. Thank you.
Avvy Yao-Yao Go
Barrister & Solicitor
LETTER TO PINTO REVIEW FROM AFRICAN CANAIDAN LEGAL CLINIC
January 23, 2012
Chair, Ontario Human Rights Review
393 University Avenue, Suite 2000
Toronto ON, M5G 1E6
Dear Mr. Pinto,
Re: Participation of ACLC in Ontario Human Rights Review
The purpose of this letter is to (1) request that the African Canadian Legal Clinic (“ACLC”) be permitted to make a presentation at a public meeting; (2) to request a stakeholder meeting with the Ontario Human Rights Review; and (3) to offer some suggestions on the scope and process of the review so as to make it as inclusive, accessible and comprehensive as possible.
Participation in Public Meeting
The ACLC wishes to make a presentation at one of the public meetings to be held across the province. Below you will find the information requested in the Consultation Paper.
Name: Moya Teklu, Policy Research Lawyer
Organization: African Canadian Legal Clinic
Phone: 416-214-4747 ext. 23
Session: Morning or Afternoon
Due to a prior commitment on February 24, 2012, the ACLC requests that it please be permitted to attend the session being held on February 15, 2012.
Participation in Stakeholder Meeting
Established in 1994, the ACLC is a not-for-profit organization incorporated under the laws of the Ontario, and funded by Legal Aid Ontario. The primary mandate of the ACLC is to engage in test case litigation in the areas of racial discrimination and anti-Black racism. The Clinic also acts as an advocacy agency and as a resource centre for individuals and other organizations dealing with racial discrimination.
The ACLC represents and advocates on behalf of the African Canadian community by: (i) addressing systemic racism and racial discrimination through a test case litigation and intervention strategy; (ii) monitoring significant legislative, regulatory, administrative and judicial developments, and (iii) engaging in advocacy, law reform and legal education aimed at eliminating racism in general and anti-Black racism in particular.
The work of the ACLC seeks to challenge anti-Black racism in all arenas including employment, education and the provision of police services. To this end, the ACLC has appeared before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in a number of capacities, including as intervener and as counsel for applicants seeking to challenge instances of individual and systemic racial discrimination. In addition, the ACLC often provides summary advice, brief services, and/or referrals to intake clients that contact the Clinic with questions about Ontario’s human rights process. Finally, the ACLC was actively involved in opposing Bill 107 due to concerns that, inter alia, taking away the investigatory power of the Ontario Human Rights Commission would deprive complainants of an important right to access publicly funded investigation and legal representation.
Bearing in mind that the ACLC is still in the process of gathering research and data, and without unduly limiting the scope of the stakeholder meeting, the ACLC will likely address the following issues:
o The number of self-represented applicants appearing before the Tribunal, the reasons why these individuals are self-represented, and the ease with which self-represented litigants are able to navigate the human rights system;
o The accessibility of the services provided by the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (“HRLSC”) with respect to such things as language, literacy and cultural barriers;
o The effectiveness of the new system in addressing issues of systemic discrimination and anti-Black discrimination;
o The number of race-based applications resulting in public interest remedies and the perceived quality of those public interest remedies;
o The number of race-based applications resulting in monetary compensation, the types and quantity of monetary compensation ordered, and whether this has changed since the reforms; and
o The role of the Ontario Human Rights Commission with regard to such things as the number of applications that the Commission has initiated, the number of applications in which the Commission has intervened, and the whether the Commissions research, monitoring, policy development, education and training activities have increased, decreased, or remained unchanged;
Scope and Process of the Review
The ACLC has received a copy of a letter from the AODA Alliance to Mr. Andrew Pinto, dated January 9, 2012. In this letter, the AODA Alliance raises a number of concerns with respect to the scope and process of the review and makes a number of recommendations designed to make the process as accessible, inclusive and transparent as possible. The ACLC adopts and supports these recommendations.
In particular, the ACLC wishes to highlight the following:
1. Section 57 of the Ontario Human Rights Code (“Code”) calls for a review of the “implementation and effectiveness of the changes resulting from” Bill 107. Questions relating to the introduction of a filing fee and/or legal costs do not fall within the scope/mandate of the Review and ought not to be considered.
2. Given the particular vulnerability of the groups and persons protected by the Code, the Review ought to make a concerted effort to broadly publicize its public forums using accessible mediums. The ACLC recommends publicising the consultation through such things as community-based media outlets, community-based organizations, social media outlets, and the internet. These communications ought to be translated into languages other than English and French. Information about the consultation ought also to be more prominently displayed on the websites of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
3. Much of the relevant and important information from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission has either not been made available or not been widely disseminated. As such, the Review ought to push back the timelines for the scheduled public forums, stakeholder meetings and written submissions so as to give the public enough time to properly review and respond to these materials.
4. The Review ought to make available and announce the availability of such things as interpretation services, captioning, and other measures.
Implementing these and the other recommendations of the AODA Alliance will ensure that the views and experiences of those that have been most deeply impacted by the changes to Ontario’s human rights system will be considered.
Moya Teklu, B.A., J.D.
Policy Research Lawyer