DAWN Ontario: DisAbled Women's Network Ontario

Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance Update dd May 27, 2006

What Have MPPs Said About the Controversial Bill 107
in the Legislature since April 26, 2006?


May 29, 2006

 

SUMMARY

Since April 26, 2006, when the controversial bill 107 was introduced into the Legislature for First Reading, the issue of the Human Rights Commission has been debated in the Ontario Legislature on several days. Below we set out:

Read what was said, below. This totals around 40 pages.

To see a "Fact Check" on statements made during these and other exchanges, visit:

http://dawn.thot.net/bill107_fact_check.html

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has posted on its website its preliminary response to Bill 107. To read it, go to:

http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en_text/news/e_bill107-response.shtml

Are you unfamiliar with the process a bill goes through before it can become a law? Do you want to know what all this talk is about First Reading, Second Reading, Standing Committee hearings, etc.? Read the introductory guide to the legislative process that the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee prepared and made available when the ODA 2001 and then the AODA 2005 were going through the Legislature. Visit:

http://www.odacommittee.net/news159.html

Do you want to express your views on bill 107 to the Ontario Legislature? Do you want to let Premier McGuinty know what you think of the way this bill is being handled? You can leave him a message by going to:

http://www.premier.gov.on.ca/feedback/

To read Bill 107 visit:

http://www.aodaalliance.org/bill107.asp

To read the current Human rights Code, visit:

http://www.aodaalliance.org/ohrc.asp

If you want to send us your feedback or you want to be added to the AODA Alliance email list, contact us at:

aodafeedback@yahoo.ca

 



ONTARIO HANSARD April 26, 2006 (first reading)

HUMAN RIGHTS SYSTEM /
SYSTÈME DES DROITS
DE LA PERSONNE

Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General): Today, on behalf of the McGuinty government, I'm introducing legislation to modernize Ontario's human rights system. It's the first such change to our human rights system since its inception in 1962. This is a very proud moment for this government. We are proposing to make our human rights system stronger, faster and more effective, to better serve the people of our province.

I'd like to begin by acknowledging many people in the gallery today: the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Barbara Hall; chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, Michael Gottheil; along with leaders, representatives and champions from community groups, the disability community and the legal community, including past human rights commissioner Raj Anand. Welcome to all of you.

Right now, it can take four to five years for a human rights complaint to go through the full complaints process, from intake, to witness interviews, to referral to the tribunal, to resolution. That's not acceptable to this government and it's not acceptable to the people of Ontario. The system is broken, and we in this Legislature have an opportunity to fix it.

The Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2006, if passed, would strengthen Ontario's human rights commission. Complaints of discrimination would be filed directly with an enhanced Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. It would improve access to justice for those who have faced discrimination and increase protection for the vulnerable. Under this legislation, the human rights commission, headed by Barbara Hall, would become an even stronger champion of human rights. The newly enhanced commission would be a proactive body focused on public education, promotion, research and analysis to prevent discrimination.

The commission would still have a critical role in the resolution of complaints. It would have the ability to intervene in or initiate complaints on systemic issues affecting the public interest before the tribunal. In this way, the commission's time-honoured roles of identifying systemic issues and bringing those issues before the tribunal would not only be maintained but enhanced.

A new anti-racism secretariat and a new disability rights secretariat would be established within the human rights commission to ensure that Ontario and the Ontario Human Rights Commission entrench its long-standing commitment to addressing inequality in historically disadvantaged communities.

Earlier in our mandate, our government created an accessibility directorate to develop and enforce accessibility standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. That directorate will be using an approach to ensure that, within a reasonable period of time, all Ontario service providers and employers comply with these accessibility standards across the province. But if an individual Ontarian with a disability feels discriminated against in housing, employment or in any of the protected areas under the Human Rights Code system proposed today, he or she, with the support of the human rights legal support centre -- more on that in a moment -- would be able to seek justice directly by applying to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. This direct access to individual human rights remedies, firmly anchored by the legal support centre, is a major advance for people with disabilities and indeed anybody suffering from discrimination.

Under the proposed reforms, a new complaints process would be created. Currently, fewer than 10% of complainants have an opportunity to have their case heard by an independent adjudicator at the human rights tribunal. Under the proposed system, all applicants would have that opportunity. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario would receive applications directly and would be responsible for accepting, dismissing, mediating, resolving and adjudicating complaints of discrimination. In other words, we're proposing to shorten the pipeline from complaint to resolution by putting people at the front of the line with direct access to the human rights tribunal. The tribunal would be provided with updated and enhanced statutory powers to determine its own practices and procedures to resolve disputes fairly, quickly and effectively, and to provide for compensation for human rights violations.

Under the proposed legislation, the complaint would be filed with the tribunal. The tribunal would engage in a fact-gathering process to assist the parties to resolve their dispute. The tribunal would assess evidence in an open and transparent process in which the parties would participate directly. The tribunal would have the capacity to ensure that all relevant evidence is before it and would be able to compel parties to provide this information within set time limits. Claims would no longer take years and years to move forward.

Michael Gottheil, chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, will be charged with the task of developing the framework and the procedures for the tribunal. During the development process he will be consulting with stakeholders and be part of the ministry's implementation advisory committee, composed of ministry, human rights commission and human rights tribunal staff, along with all stakeholders.

For the past 40 years, since 1962, when this system was first introduced into this Legislature by Premier Robarts, there have been two pillars to our human rights system: the commission and the tribunal. Today, with this bill, we would add a third pillar to the human rights system: full access to legal assistance. We would establish a new human rights legal support centre to provide information, support, advice, assistance and legal representation for those who are seeking a remedy before the tribunal. This would be a vast improvement over the current system that has been operating for some time.

All Ontarians are grateful to and proud of the hard-working, dedicated professionals who work within the human rights commission and the human rights tribunal today. I want to pay tribute to all of them -- the experience and expertise that they have brought to our system and that they will bring to our system in the years to come. But they are working in a system that has seen no changes or updates in more than 40 years. Currently, commission counsel do not act for complainants; they act as representatives of the public. That is the way the statute has set out their role. A complainant only receives legal support in the current system if they retain their own lawyer at their own expense.

Under the proposed legislation, a streamlined and effective process at the tribunal would work with the parties to resolve disputes quickly and effectively. Moreover --

Mr. Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): He's a hair away from Harnicking.

Hon. Mr. Bryant: I think the justice critic for the third party will want to hear this, because he called for this before.
We would ensure that, regardless of levels of income, abilities, disabilities or personal circumstances, all Ontarians would be entitled to share in receiving equal and effective protection of human rights, and all will receive that full legal representation.

L'Ontario fait preuve depuis longtemps de leadership dans la protection des droits de la personne.
Le système actuel date de 1962, lorsque l'Ontario a adopté le premier Code des droits de la personne au Canada. Nous montrons l'exemple dans le soutien des droits de la personne, et nous entendons continuer.

Historically, Ontario has led the way in protecting human rights. The human rights system that was set up in 1962, in fact, was leading Canada at the time. But a human rights system that's more than four decades old is no longer serving the public in a way that meets the realities of our diverse multicultural society.

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As soon as our government took office and as soon as I became responsible for the human rights system in the government, I heard calls for change. They had been coming for some time.

Last spring the ministry met with individuals and organizations in the fields of human rights and administrative justice to learn as much as possible about what is working well and what could be improved. Participants were universal in their call for change and in their desire to see the human rights system strengthened. They specifically noted the delays in the processing of discrimination complaints. Five years to remedy an injustice is unacceptable. We were told again and again that reforms were long overdue. We listened, and today we're taking action.

This legislation is the culmination of perhaps more study and consultation than ever before in the history of this Legislature. The former NDP government commissioned an excellent task force to review the human rights system. The Cornish report has been sitting on the shelf since 1992, and matters have only gotten worse; they have not gotten better. The prescriptions and the problems have gotten worse; they have not gotten better.

The need for reform has increased over the years. We owe the author of that report, which inspired these proposals, Mary Cornish, a great public debt. I know the key recommendations in her report are really the inspiration for these reforms. We would like to acknowledge that work, and acknowledge the great report and task force she put forward that we are seeking to implement today. Thank you, Ms. Cornish.

It was the same story in 2001, when the La Forest report by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Gérard La Forest came down. Again nothing changed.

Reviews, reports and consultations over the past several years have been strongly urged. The United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed again and again that these recommendations had to be acted upon. The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations recommended that "human rights legislation should be amended at federal, provincial and territorial levels and its legal system enhanced, so that all victims of discrimination have full and effective access to a competent tribunal and to an effective remedy." That was in 1999, and still nothing happened.
I am proud and pleased that we finally have legislation before this House right now that heeds the call for reform that has been in place throughout the entire political careers of every MPP in this House today. With this introduction of the bill, we are seeking to advance the debate. We need to continue to have public debate and consultation. That must continue. We will continue to meet with those in the human rights community to get their input as the bill progresses through the Legislature, and I look forward to province-wide public hearings on this bill to take place as soon as possible.

Our proposed legislation for reform is a great opportunity. I say to all people who have been involved in this debate, "I thank you." We will shorten the pipeline by putting people at the front of the line. We're resolved to act. The opportunity for change is finally here.

I urge all members of this assembly to join me in seizing this opportunity to finally improve and modernize our human rights system.


HUMAN RIGHTS SYSTEM

Mrs. Christine Elliott (Whitby-Ajax): I'm pleased to stand in the House today to speak for my colleagues in the PC caucus and to relay to you some of the concerns we have regarding the human rights reform legislation introduced today by the Attorney General.

We are certainly in agreement that the current state of the Ontario Human Rights Commission needs to be addressed. The inefficiencies that exist in the system must no doubt be remedied to provide a more effective forum in which Ontarians can freely be heard. However, the solution tabled today by the McGuinty government once again proves that this government is not keeping its promises and is not listening to Ontarians.

It should be obvious that shifting the volume of complainants from the commission directly down the line to the tribunal does not really solve the problem of the backlogs that the commission is currently dealing with. Not only is there no alleviation of weight from the overall system, the new proposed changes will compromise and marginalize the rights of complainants.

Complainants who find themselves without means to pursue legal representation -- legal representation that is now accessible through the commission -- will either be forced to drop their concerns because they cannot afford to voice them or will be forced to get in line at the less-accountable legal clinic that will not have the commission's statutory public investigation powers the minister is proposing as part of his solution.

Furthermore, it's unclear how this clinic would even operate efficiently. It simply will not be able to represent 2,400 complainants at hearings every year unless it gets massive new funding. The justice sector budget is flatlined every year under Liberal planning to at least 2008-09. Where is the money that's going to guarantee equal treatment of all complainants? The current commission is an agency that is accountable to the Legislature through the Attorney General. Why are you suggesting that this more veiled approach is the answer?

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The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, a group that represents two million Ontarians living with disabilities, not only believes that your proposed legislation is insufficient to address the needs of the human rights complainants, but believes that it will worsen the situation. This is an organization with which the McGuinty government has now broken faith.

When this group was established in 2005, they did not push for a new and independent enforcement agency because they expected the commission to play that role. In fact, the Premier told them that a separate body would not be required. Furthermore, the Attorney General committed to giving this organization 48 hours' notice before the introduction of any bill regarding human rights into the Legislature, but they have only received 24 hours' notice.

It seems that the McGuinty government's trend of broken promises continues. You have again demonstrated that you are not committed to listening to Ontarians, as interested parties firmly believe that you did not consult with them adequately before the introduction of this legislation. These are organizations that represent millions of Ontarians, organizations like the MS society, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, the Canadian Hearing Society, Community Living Ontario, and the HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario.

We hope that, given the concerns we have addressed, the minister will at least keep one promise and have transparent, accessible and open consultations regarding this legislation with all interested parties.


HUMAN RIGHTS SYSTEM

Mr. Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): In response to the Attorney General, I can say to him and this House that New Democrats simply don't buy it, nor do a whole lot of people out there across Ontario who are angry and frustrated today because they have been left out. These are the very people who rely upon the human rights commission and use it every day. You ignored them. You slammed the door in their faces when they wanted to be consulted and part of the process.

Who are these people? They're groups like the Urban Alliance on Race Relations; Canada's Association for the Fifty Plus; the MS society; the League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith Canada; Disabled Women's Network Ontario; Chinese Canadian National Council, Toronto chapter; National Anti-Racism Council of Canada; African-Canadian, South Asian, and Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian legal clinics; the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

You ignored them; you treated them with disdain and disregard. They're concerned about your privatization of the services of what will be left of the human rights tribunal because, you see, the commission isn't being strengthened; you're gutting it, you're abandoning it and you're destroying it.

These folks, just like New Democrats, are concerned that you're following the same path as British Columbia, which introduced legislative reforms just like yours some three years back, and now is suffering under a gigantic, even huger backlog. They're concerned, like New Democrats are concerned, about giving powers of investigation to the same tribunal that will decide whether those claims have merit. What about conflict of interest? It's so fundamental, Attorney General, that it should have been at the forefront of your mind. These folks, as are we, are concerned about the lack of firm legislative timelines that guarantee that complaints are heard and remedied in a reasonable time.

Attorney General, you should have stood up today and announced a clear plan for more funding, resources and staffing at the commission and the tribunal. You should have stood up today and announced that the commission and tribunal will be made truly independent bodies, free from your direct supervision. You should have stood up today and announced that the human rights commissioner will be an officer of this assembly and not a partisan political appointment by you and your government, who has no accountability to this chamber.

I tell you that New Democrats are very clear in terms of what we'll be monitoring over the course of examining and analyzing this legislation, and yes, you're darned right there are going to be public hearings. There are going to be extensive public hearings. There aren't going to be 10- and 15-minute time slots where you can wave people out of the committee room after giving them short shrift. There'd better be meaningful hearings with full consultation, full discussion, and this bill better not come back to the House after second reading in committee until that committee process is thorough and complete.

I say to you that you'd better ensure that there's adequate funding for all aspects of the tribunal and a healthy commission. Don't you understand, Attorney General? That commission resolves 48% of all complaints through mediation alone. That's incredibly low-cost, efficient and effective. That's the very same commission that you're shutting down. You're forcing people into what you call direct access. I have no doubt that you and your private lawyer friends think this is a good plan, but I tell you, people affected by discrimination, whose lives are impacted by discrimination on a daily basis, know that it's wrong-headed and ineffective. Quite frankly, it's a process that's going to deny them access to a tribunal and access to any justice or fairness.

The public prosecution of complaints is essential; it's critical. I tell you that your privatization of the prosecution of complaints is going to leave huge numbers of people out of the tribunal system and you're going to deny them any justice, any access, any remedies. Your barriers to participation in the process are aggravated by your barriers that you're creating to participation in human rights processes at the tribunal. I say to you, Attorney General, you shouldn't be proud today; you should be ashamed. We're going to be on top of this one, following it all the way.



 

ONTARIO HANSARD April 27, 2006

ONTARIO HUMAN
RIGHTS COMMISSION

Mrs. Christine Elliott (Whitby-Ajax): My question is for the Premier. The human rights legislation that was introduced in this House yesterday by the Attorney General has caused great concern in many communities across this province, particularly among those serving ethnic groups and persons with special needs. These organizations feel that they've been ignored by this legislation and that their concerns have not been addressed. The Urban Alliance on Race Relations has said, "We strongly oppose a move to the proposed model, which would facilitate a two-tiered system [for complainants] ... the protection of human rights should not only be available to those who can afford it. The government should strengthen and appropriately fund the Ontario Human Right Commission, not dismantle it." Many community organizations share valid concerns like these. Why are you not listening to them?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): I thank the honourable member for the question. I take this opportunity to welcome her and to wish her the very best with her responsibilities. I'd be leery of the advice of the federal member in the riding, though.

I'm sure it won't come as a surprise that we see this differently. We think that this proposed legislation will in fact represent real progress, that it will both modernize and strengthen Ontario's human rights system, that it will be more efficient and more effective. There have been calls now in Ontario for at least 10 years calling for change to our human rights system. Our new law will ensure that the system improves services to the public and advances human rights in the province. I look forward to providing more details through the supplementary.

Mrs. Elliott: Premier, the African Canadian Legal Clinic wrote a letter to you on April 12 of this year, which indicated that they had asked for a meeting with you in January 2005. Apparently the matter was referred to the Attorney General, but the April letter indicates that he did not address their concerns. The clinic states in the April letter, "The government is moving ahead with rushed legislative change where no recent consultation has occurred. This speaks to the government's disconnect from the needs of our community." The African Canadian Legal Clinic and many other groups are fiercely concerned that, although you tout your proposed human rights legal support centre as the third pillar to the human rights system, the fact of the matter is that if claimants proceed directly to the tribunal, as proposed, there will be no legal services available to assist them in conducting their investigation in the first place.

Why have you rushed forward with this legislation without holding the consultations so needed to ensure that the rights of all Ontarians are protected?

Hon. Mr. McGuinty: I disagree with the characterization that this somehow represents a rushed effort. Various constituencies have been seeking change in this area for 10, 20, 30 years. It's been a long, long time coming. There will be opportunities for constituents and interested parties to make representations during committee.

But let's listen to what some people have said about this legislation. Here's what the chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario said: "Under this legislation, Ontarians would be able to have their human rights complaints resolved quickly, efficiently and effectively. I look forward to working with the government on implementation." The executive director of the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic says, "I applaud the Attorney General's legislation to reform the human rights system. Human rights and community groups have asked for this for many years. We welcome this government's commitment to human rights."

I have many more. We have never, ever pretended that any piece of legislation we put forward is perfect. We look forward to introducing it to committee and getting feedback from Ontarians so we might look forward to improving it further.





ONTARIO HANSARD May 8, 2006
HUMAN RIGHTS

Mrs. Christine Elliott (Whitby-Ajax): My question is for the Attorney General. Minister, the only information that we've received so far with respect to the funding for your proposed new human rights system is a vague answer that you gave to the media concerning $1 million-plus being committed to this project. In your legislation, you've also proposed the establishment of two new bodies: the Anti-Racism Secretariat and the Disabilities Rights Secretariat. You also announced a legal support centre, which was markedly absent from the legislation. Can you be clear with us about how you intend to fund three new bodies when the justice sector budget is flatlined until at least 2008-09? Clearly, $1 million isn't going to cut it. Can you please tell us where is the plus, how much is it and how's it going to happen?

Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General): Let me start by saying that there's no question that providing public legal support through the human rights legal support office is a critical component of the human rights reforms that we have brought forward to this Legislature, the debate of which will begin today. There's no question that as we propose movement to a direct-access system which, in the words of the NDP task force chair, Mary Cornish, is a consumer-oriented -- one might say victim-oriented -- system, we need to ensure that we have the supports there for them -- absolutely, no question, full stop. This is something that needs to be entrenched by way of legislation. We certainly look forward to getting that recommendation from the official opposition. This is a debate. We are looking for recommendations. We anticipate that this should go to committee as soon as --

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

Mrs. Elliott: There are currently 2,400 human rights complaints under review in Ontario. If your bill is passed in its current form, this would subject all of these Ontarians to the new legislation, many of whom are under the impression that they would continue to be able to get legal aid certificates to continue with their complaints. Since your legislation gives us no indication of where the funding is going to come from, can you please tell these 2,400 people what you plan to do with them now that there's no guarantee that their complaints will be dealt with without paying their own way?

Hon. Mr. Bryant: This is the very problem. The official opposition asks about the state of legal representation right now. There is basically no legal representation whatsoever provided to a complainant who goes before the Human Rights Commission or the Human Rights Tribunal -- zero. There are very, very, very few legal aid certificates that are provided. Right now, the way the system works is, the Human Rights Commission takes over a complaint and then it takes about five years to get a resolution.

But if the member is asking about budgets and funding, I'm sure she'll want to acquaint herself with her government's record when they were in power. Between 1995 and 2003 we saw cuts after cuts after cuts after cuts. The contribution made by the very party that brought in the Human Rights Code in 1962 -- for the past 15 years, the party and that government has turned its back on the human rights system. I welcome the newfound interest in it, and I look forward to this debate.

 



Ontario Hansard May 8, 2006


HUMAN RIGHTS CODE
AMENDMENT ACT, 2006 /
LOI DE 2006 MODIFIANT LE CODE
DES DROITS DE LA PERSONNE

Mr. Bryant moved second reading of the following bill:

Bill 107, An Act to amend the Human Rights Code / Projet de loi 107, Loi modifiant le Code des droits de la personne.

Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General): I am very pleased kick off second reading debate on this bill. I don't think I can do any better than to refer to the words of a former chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, a professor at Ryerson University, Catherine Frazee, in a letter of April 5, 2006, that she wrote to, in her words, her "colleagues in the social justice movement."

"Nearly 15 years ago the people of Ontario spoke about the pressing need for human rights reform....
"Was anyone listening?" she asked.

"Until now, it would seem that no one else was listening. Until February of this year," when the government announced its intended changes, the result of which is Bill 107 that's before us today.

"Reasonable people will disagree about the precise shape that change should take." She goes on to say, "The issue of the moment is not the question of whose views will prevail on the nuts and bolts questions of human rights reform -- crucial though these questions may be. What matters at this moment is that we seem to have the attention of the government of the day," she writes, "an on-the-record commitment and a timetable for reform this spring. I urge my colleagues in the social justice movement, for whom I have nothing but the greatest of affection and respect, not to squander this opportunity," she writes.

Just one more sentence. She said: "But please, let's not demand another public consultation that can become one more excuse for government inaction. We can have full, open and accessible public hearings on the basis of tabled legislation.... But let's remember that every day of talk takes us one day further away from the moment of political resolve, one day further away from reforms now at least 15 years overdue, and still counting."

Again, that's from Catherine Frazee, a former chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, who is a leader in her field.

It is helpful because it very much frames the debate in which we're in. There is, I would argue, a note of anguish and concern in her letter, and the anguish is simply this: For many, many years, there has been talk within social justice circles and the human rights community of the need for updating and modernizing our human rights system. I think it would surprise most Ontarians to learn that our human rights system has never been changed since it was introduced in 1962. The concern I think being expressed quite explicitly by Catherine Frazee and by many others is that here is our opportunity to undertake those necessary changes, and there is a great concern, as opined by Ms. Frazee, of the possibility of the opportunity being squandered.

So this debate is a very, very, very important debate, but this legislative debate is the beginning of a very positive opportunity. Remember, Ms. Frazee wrote her letter before the bill was introduced. I would imagine that she is very supportive of the fact that there is a bill before us for us to debate. I would submit that the direct-access-plus-public-support system that is put forward by this government, and that this bill ought to receive the support of this House at second reading -- of course, second reading being support, or not, in principle for the bill -- and that the very, very important questions about, as she puts it, the nuts and bolts of human rights reforms -- very important questions -- have to be addressed and will be addressed, and quite specifically will be addressed in the province-wide public hearings that will begin once we are able to get this bill to committee for those province-wide public hearings, but that we be clear on what we're debating here. I take up the submission and question and plea from Ms. Frazee and suggest that the debate is about whether or not we should reform a 40-year-plus-old system, recognizing the changes to the human rights system that have come and adopting a direct-access-plus-public-support model.

There are those who disagree with that model, and I understand that. I don't agree with them, but I understand that. But let's not mix up the debate over the nuts and bolts of this model with the debate over direct access, because I say to you that the direct-access-plus-public-support model enshrined in this bill is better for Ontario human rights, full stop. The debate about the nuts-and-bolts implementation of this is an important debate, but we ought not to squander the first opportunity in the name of the second question.

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I guess the first thing I should do is say: Why would we change the system -- simply because it's 40 years old plus? Is that good enough reason to change it? Well, let me give you this picture. The Human Rights Commission takes in about 2,500 cases per year. The commission refers to the tribunal, on average, 50 to 100 cases per year. At most, 6% of the complaints that come forward find their way to the tribunal. The average length of time for a case to be referred to the tribunal is three to four years, and then it takes approximately a year for the tribunal to do its work. That's an average of five years for a matter to be resolved.

The great concern is -- and the Speaker knows this, and many members in this House know this as well -- that if, as MPPs, we have a constituent come in and tell us about something that happened to that constituent, that their employer or prospective employer said or did, that a landlord might have said or done, that government might have said or done, we have to tell them, "The MPP has a role to play here, but really you need to take your complaint to the Human Rights Commission." Our heart sinks a little bit because we know that there will be no justice for that complainant for about five years. Years pass, witnesses go elsewhere, evidence goes elsewhere; sometimes complainants go elsewhere. Five years is truly justice chronically delayed and justice denied.

How did this happen? The 1962 system imagined a certain number of complaints coming forward to the commission. The kind of complaints that came to the commission were, in many cases, different from the kind of complaints that come to the commission today. Remember, in 1962, Robarts is Premier, Bill Davis is a backbench MPP and the leader of the official opposition is a very young man and the leader of the third party is a very young man. They're both about eight and 10 respectively. Of course, there's no Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The model that was put forward by Premier Robarts was that most complainants coming forward to the commission are not going to be versed in their human rights, are not going to be able to -- the argument goes -- direct a complaint in a particular direction, and because of the state of civil rights in Ontario at that time -- and there was no human rights commission in existence in the country -- the commission will take over the complaint.

Many of these complaints were very straightforward. Most of them involved explicit discrimination -- not systemic discrimination; explicit discrimination. Over time, the commission, which initially had been charged with two functions, (1) dealing with complaints and (2) promoting human rights, became completely and utterly overtaken by the first mandate, and that is dealing with complaints. Eighty-seven per cent of the commission's budget is spent on processing, mediating, litigating and witness statement taking around complaints -- 87% of the budget.

So the ability of the commission to undertake preventive efforts to promote human rights, which was the second part of its mandate, has been extremely marginalized. Notwithstanding that, the commission has done a remarkable job. The mandatory retirement bill that came before and passed this Legislature: Arguably the impetus for that was a Human Rights Commission report. The Human Rights Commission has come forward, time and time again, with reports that have led to government change of all party stripes, but the commission's ability to deal with those matters that don't come before the Human Rights Commission by way of complaint is seriously curtailed when in fact such a small part of its budget ends up being spent on matters of prevention, government policy and systemic investigation.

So the system right now is broken. I don't just say it; Mary Cornish, in her report, which I will get into in a moment, has said it; the Honourable Gérard La Forest, former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has said that of this commission and other commissions that include these kinds of delays. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has, time after time after time, castigated provincial and federal governments for not making amendments and putting forth reform necessary in order to provide for direct access. Many, many people -- I just cited Catherine Frazee, and others who I'll cite in a moment -- have said we need to make those changes, we need a direct access system, because the current system isn't working.

The statistics, as I say, speak for themselves. I should say also that a discussion paper was released quite helpfully by Ms. Cornish. It was prepared by Fay Faraday and Mary Cornish. It's called Ontario Introduces Legislation to Reform Human Rights System. It is quite extensive. It responds to this bill and it asks a lot of very tough questions that I think we're going to be debating today, hearing from people on and trying to remedy during the committee stage of debate of this bill. Ms. Cornish chaired a task force that was commissioned by the NDP government. The report came out in 1992. Basically, silence was the response to that report by that government then and by the subsequent government. That report and its recommendation is in many ways the inspiration for the reforms here today.

One of the concerns expressed by Ms. Cornish is that the commission is not consumer-oriented. Of course, it acts in the public interest, and the men and women who work in the commission are utterly devoted to a human rights system and utterly devoted to improving the human rights system. There's no question about that. They're working within a 40-year-old-plus human rights construct. In this discussion paper, Ms. Cornish points out that, "The commission's role is to act as an impartial third party representing the public interest. It does not act on behalf of the complainant. The commission does not provide legal representation for either complainants or respondents." So if people are imagining that we're moving from a system where thay get legal representation to a system where they're not, they're just flat out wrong. They're just mistaken. In fact, there is only legal representation right now for those who can afford it and for a very small number of people who are able to obtain legal aid certificates. The vast majority of people who bring forward a complaint get no legal representation and we are replacing it -- and this is the point -- we are seeking to replace it with a system where they do get legal representation, where you don't have a matter taken over by the commission and thereafter become a bystander, but you in fact are provided with legal representation and then you direct the complaint, as with every other complaint that comes before our justice system in the administrative law world.

There are other statutory straitjackets that the commission currently exists in, but there are also some myths about exactly how the commission works. One of them is that everybody gets legal representation. In fact, nobody gets public legal representation. She goes on in her discussion paper to say, "The commission is not required to deal with all complaints on their merits. The commission can, without a hearing, decide that a complaint will not proceed." This "without a hearing" is the whole point, arguably, of direct access -- direct access to the human rights tribunal, which is being proposed in this bill, where you don't go to the commission, wait four years, be one of the 6% of cases that goes before the tribunal and then wait another year to get the results. Instead, you get your day in court. For many, many people, that day in court, that due process is very much part of the justice that they are seeking. Yes, they are seeking a remedy, but they also want to be heard and they want to get their day in court, not five years down the line. That's why we say we're shortening the pipeline for complainants between complaint and hearing and response. We do it in the name of giving that direct access, not only to massively reduce delays in the system and get rid of the duplication in the system at every part, but also to give people that hearing that 94% of Ontarians who go before the human rights system don't get.

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The vast majority of people who go to the commission don't get that day in court. So what happens? You go to the commission, witness statements are taken and you become a witness in the proceeding. Again, as Ms. Cornish says in her discussion paper, "Because relatively few claims are referred to a hearing before the tribunal, human rights enforcements happen out of the public eye through the mediation-conciliation-dismissal process. This lessens the systemic impact at rectifying discrimination."

There are two changes here that address the issue of systemic discrimination. If all the complaints that come before the tribunal are at least given the opportunity for a hearing -- some people may decide they don't want to have a hearing, and some people may decide they want it to be mediated -- you're not going to have 94% of complainants not getting a hearing. That means that all those complaints that come before the Human Rights Commission right now and are resolved behind closed doors result in either no written decision at all from the Human Rights Commission -- again, it's not their fault; that's the way the statute and regulations work -- or a boilerplate decision is offered.

Because it happens behind closed doors and you don't get a full decision at the end, it is very unfortunate but also a reality that some businesses -- not all, but some -- see human rights complaints to the commission as just a cost of doing business. Why? Because they're not going to be before a tribunal with the media sitting in the gallery, watching their behaviour; they're not going to have their practices considered in an open tribunal by the Human Rights Commission. It's going to be done through a number of witness statement-taking exercises that happen behind closed doors.

So first, you're going to have transparency in a system, which means that if someone brings a complaint against a respondent and you choose to defend yourself, you're going to have to defend yourself in public. That will help address systemic issues.

But more importantly, what about everybody else who doesn't go to the commission? We hear that 2,500 cases come to the commission every year. We hear that about 6%, at most, get a hearing from the tribunal. What about the thousands, maybe millions, of Ontarians who don't go to the commission? What about them? Who's going out there to determine whether there's systemic discrimination affecting their workplace or their situation at the hands of government, of business or of housing? Who's doing that right now? The Human Rights Commission has a very hard time doing that right now, when about 13% of their budget is devoted to that, and much of that gets taken up by government policy analysis and their annual report.

Imagine a Human Rights Commission that can go out and find the glass ceilings that aren't coming to our human rights system; imagine a Human Rights Commission that can reach out and remove barriers for Ontarians with disabilities who don't go to our human rights system; imagine a Human Rights Commission that can take on sometimes very politically sensitive issues and pursue them with a rigour of investigation and report, which right now we haven't even contemplated. What about all that discrimination which currently goes entirely and completely unchecked by our human rights system? Under this proposal, the commission will focus its task on just that. It will focus on prevention, public education and policy analysis. It will be able to focus on the systemic, and it will have the stick that it needs.

I don't mind telling anybody who cares to ask that our chief commissioner, Barbara Hall, had very strong feelings about the ability of the commission to have the power to bring someone, or a business or government, to the tribunal, so that as she and the commission go forth and root out discrimination and alert businesses to their non-compliance with statutes, for example, they can't just brush it off and say, "Oh, whatever. I'll just have to deal with the publicity." They're going to know that if the commission isn't satisfied, they'll have to answer for the allegations of systemic discrimination before the Human Rights Tribunal, and the commission will be able to intervene on those complaints before the tribunal where the commission says, "Yes, that actually is an example of systemic discrimination that we're either working on now or have worked on or ought to be working on."

Those are very important tools of the commission. It is a sword that the commission can use to ensure compliance, but it is also a shield against those who suggest that the commission become solely a reporting body. It's not just reporting, not just analysis, not just public education, not just investigation that the commission would do under this new model. It's also a sword, a very powerful sword, a very powerful tool that it will be able to exercise before the Human Rights Tribunal.

Some of the tough questions that have been asked by Mary Cornish and others include, "You need to define that better in the legislation, in this bill that you have before you." That is exactly what we need to address in committee. But again, let us not mistake the debate over the clarification and nuts and bolts of the new model that's being presented for a rejection of the model in this legislation that is before this House.

Ms. Cornish, as I say -- again, the report is authored by Fay Faraday and Mary Cornish -- in her discussion paper asks a lot of very good questions. But she begins with this: "The current Ontario government ... have committed themselves to achieving a truly accessible and effective system and they should be commended for that." You don't have to commend me, Speaker; that's okay. "While Bill 107 is a major start in that direction" -- she then goes on to ask the tough questions, but Bill 107 is "a major start in that direction," and Bill 107 seeks to bring in this direct access model that many have been asking for for a very long time.

Who else is asking for the direct access model? John Fraser, the executive director of the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, writes on May 4, "The present human rights system does not work for our clients in any way. The move to a model where all complaints can proceed to the Human Rights Tribunal with publicly funded legal supports, and where the commission can focus on what it does best -- public education, research, advocacy and public interest complaints -- is a huge step forward. In our view, Bill 107 could produce one of the most advanced and progressive human rights systems in the world."

Ruth Carey, executive director of the HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic: "I applaud the government's legislation to reform the human rights system. Human rights and community groups have asked for this for many years. We welcome this government's commitment to human rights."

Joel Richler, chair of the Canadian Jewish Congress, writes that the Canadian Jewish Congress "applauds the government for the proposed creation of an anti-racism secretariat and a disability rights secretariat within the commission. We look forward to working with the Ontario government on the key details in this new legislation and subsequent regulations, ensuring continued access to a practical remedy in human rights cases for everyone in this province."

Kathy Laird, director of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, writes that these reforms are "long overdue."
Mary O'Donoghue, constitutional, civil liberties and human rights chair of the Ontario Bar Association, writes in a press release in February of this year, "The changes proposed are timely and well designed to solve current system problems.... Ontario will reap long-term benefits from these changes. We applaud the plan to permit direct access for complainants to the Human Rights Tribunal, as we believe that this will greatly enhance access to justice for those who believe that their human rights have not been respected."

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A Toronto Star editorial said, "The long overdue reforms are welcome."

Raj Anand, former chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, has also been arguing for a direct-access system and is supportive of the model.

Again, the debate is about which model to embrace. The current one with its inherent delays and its approach to human rights complaints that does not reflect the modern reality of discrimination in Ontario to the extent that it does not permit for systemic discrimination hearings before the tribunal in a meaningful way -- right now the system responds. It responds to complaints that are brought forward to it -- 2,500-plus complaints are brought to it. But it doesn't reach out and say, "Here's an area of systemic discrimination that we need to highlight. We need to either embarrass government or embarrass this business or this industry," and then, if they won't comply "We'll take you to the Human Rights Tribunal with new, more powerful remedies contained in this legislation and we will root out that injustice." Right now, it is purely an ad hoc response to complaints brought forward to the system.

So I argue that in fact the direct-access model with public supports, an invigorated Human Rights Commission with an arguably new focus -- but in many ways a return to a focus on the promotion of human rights -- along with the entrenching through this bill of the long-standing and critical commitment of the Human Rights Commission to issues affecting Ontarians with disabilities and Ontarians who are victims of racial discrimination by establishing an anti-racism secretariat and by establishing a secretariat devoted to Ontarians with disabilities -- just so we're clear, there's an accessibility secretariat established in a different ministry, but that is a secretariat intended to ensure compliance with legislation affecting Ontarians with disabilities. It is there for the long term to ensure compliance. It doesn't deal with those matters that amount to violations of the Human Rights Code, and it doesn't deal with matters affecting systemic discrimination.

I know that at least one member of the Ontarians with disabilities committee has argued that we ought to put off debate over human rights reforms until 2025. That's the date on which the accessibility legislation is to be implemented in its entirety. I disagree. I do not think that we should wait another 20 years to debate and have the opportunity to make changes to a system for which changes have been asked for 15 years and which has seen no change in some 40 years.

The purpose of a direct-access system, I have said before, is partly to address the delays and the inability of the commission to deal with systemic issues, but it is also partly to provide access to those, give that due process and give timely justice to those who appear before the Human Rights Tribunal.

I've cited a number of people in support of this model, but I want to pause with respect to some of those endorsements and respond to a particularly invidious line of inquiry that has been brought by both of the opposition parties in trying to label some the people who support this model as somehow acting in their on self-interest. Those who support this have been dismissed as lawyers by the leader of the official opposition and by the justice critic in the third party. Certainly, the former chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Catherine Frazee, doesn't happen to share the profession that is being castigated here.

But I want to say something about the people who work in the human rights system. Believe you me, if they wanted to act in their self-interest, they would be in a different area of law. They would be practising something else; they would not be in the area of human rights. People who work in the human rights field, who have devoted their careers, their talents and their energies to that area, do so out of a spirit of social justice and for assistance, trail-blazing, championing in many cases the underdog, people who are victims of human rights discrimination. I think it would be helpful in the debate going forward if that really invidious line of argument did not play the prominent role it has played thus far, because it does not, firstly, in any way characterize the people who have lent their name and support to this social justice reform.

It also, of course, provides a clever distraction from the real debate, which is: Is this direct-access-plus-legal-support model in the public interest, and is it going to serve those Ontarians better? I have said before, again and again, and I'll say again: The men and women who work at the Human Rights Tribunal and who work at the Human Rights Commission and who work in the human rights community, either as part of their profession or not, are devoted to human rights. But we're not doing these reforms for them, and this human rights system is not in place for them. It is supposed to be here for the victims of discrimination. These human rights reforms are brought in the name of victims unheard, or unheard for many years. We ought not to get distracted, I think, by those nuts-and-bolts questions that deal with the actual people working in the system when all of those people, in my respectful submission, are totally dedicated to human rights in the province of Ontario.

There has also been an effort by some to suggest that we're going down the path of British Columbia in their human rights reforms. They provided direct access all right, but they didn't provide any legal supports, and they got rid of the Human Rights Commission. They eliminated it. They didn't embolden it, as this does; they didn't expand it; they got rid of it. But the suggestion that Ontario is pursuing the BC model is entirely misconstrued.

It was quite helpful, I thought, in a discussion paper by Mary Cornish which is not uncritical, that she refers to whether or not Bill 107 adopts the British Columbia model. She says, "The model that has been introduced in Bill 107 is not similar to the British Columbia model, which has been strongly criticized by human rights advocates." So rather than, again, imagine that we're doing something that we're not, let's focus on the direct-access model and ask those important questions about the nuts and bolts.

The opportunity to make these changes obviously does not come along very often. The NDP government established a task force: the Cornish report. The recommendations were entirely ignored. The previous government chose not to embark on any human rights reform that I am aware of at any time in the eight years in which they were in office. The budgetary decisions made by the previous two governments also speak for themselves.

But this is an opportunity, which does not come along very often, to have that debate about a new model and a new system -- a new system that will see access to justice for Ontarians where now there is none; a new model that will seek to remove the duplication that takes place and increase the transparency in not only what happens when the decision comes out but what happens during the hearing itself.

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It's also an opportunity, in some ways, to return the commission to its roots and its focus on promoting the human rights of Ontarians while, at the same time, recognizing that, since 1962, when boards of inquiry had to be set up after the Human Rights Code and the commission were established to deal with those complaints that could not be resolved by way of mediation, eventually resulting in the Human Rights Tribunal -- that that progression, as society changed, as the complaints changed and as the nature of discrimination changed, has led to the need for these reforms. Many, many people have been calling for these reforms for many years.

I look forward to hearing dissent on the subject of a direct-access model. Obviously some people disagree. I've been told by a very respected member of the human rights community -- he said to me point-blank, "I'm fundamentally opposed to a direct-access model." Well, this is a debate about the direct-access model. I say to you that those who work in this field -- past human rights commissioners have called for this very proposal. A task force brought together people in the sequel to the task force, a very extensive discussion paper by the same author. People who work in the system every day are calling for it, but we can agree to disagree on that and then also move forward to a debate -- an important one, with important questions asked about the nuts and bolts as to how this system works.

I started with a lament from Ms. Frazee with respect to her concern about more public consultations. Granted, as I understand it from this letter, she is supportive of the province-wide public hearings that will be launched as soon as this bill completes debate at second reading and can go to the committee stage. She said, "[L]et's not demand another public consultation that can become one more excuse for government inaction. We can have full, open and accessible public hearings on the basis of tabled legislation."

To those who say that the consultation has been inadequate, I think it is quite appropriately and entirely addressed in Ms. Cornish's discussion paper where she outlines multiple meetings that the ministry had with people. I understand that the opposition sometimes, when they disagree with a bill -- and I know because I was in opposition and I remember this. Sometimes you disagree with a bill. But instead of saying, "No, no. I'm against direct access; no, no, I don't want that," and instead of saying, "No, the status quo works well," you say, "We need more public consultation." I know we'll hear that.

I just want to say, though, that there is a time where something has to come here, and we have an opportunity, as MPPs representative of our communities, to debate issues. If we'd had more and more public consultations, public hearings, task forces and studies, which we've had before, to precede the introduction of this bill, I say to you: This bill would never have hit the Legislature and the debate would go on and on.

We haven't had a case where a previous government introduced a bill of this type at least in the last 15 years where we actually did have an opportunity to debate it. So I say, of course the charge will be levelled by the opposition that there hasn't been enough consultation on this. I say that there have been decades of consultation on this. But in any event, all right, fine; now we get an opportunity to have a debate.

I look over and I see one of the deans of the Legislature, who is a big believer of having important debates in the Legislature and not outside of the Legislature, and I agree with him on that. The committee hearings will be critically important where these very specific questions that are being asked now will need to be answered by the time the committee hearing stage is complete and we have an opportunity, if we get there, to go to clause-by-clause amendments without presuming to imagine that the Legislature will go there, although I hope it does.

In the words of Ms. Frazee, let's remember that every day this continues, while these are important days of debate, we need to come to a decision point on this. We need to say, "Yes, that system is broken and we need a new one, and this one looks like it's going to address the major flaws of the current system."

In 1962: Robarts, Premier; Bill Davis, backbencher. None of us in this House was in the Legislature, which means that from Mr. Sterling and Mr. Bradley right through to the class of 2003, we have spent our entire political lives hearing about problems with the human rights system. I say to this House that now is our opportunity to fix it.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Michael Prue): Questions and comments?

Mr. Norman W. Sterling (Lanark-Carleton): This bill, the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, is the kind of legislation that should not, in my view, involve heavy partisan debate. It's the kind of legislation where it's very difficult for any government to reach proper balance when dealing with justice issues.

I had very early experience in my parliamentary career, as a parliamentary assistant to the Attorney General in 1977-78 -- a long time ago -- to deal with many new reforms in law that were brought forward during a minority Parliament at that time. The debate and the committee hearings were extremely good, because there was a constructive atmosphere in the committee room and in the Legislature. One of the great things about a minority Parliament is that the opposition has to take a responsible position because, in the final analysis, they hold the votes in the House and they hold the votes in the committee.

My druthers on this kind of legislation when there's a majority government would be for the Attorney General to have sent this bill out after first reading. As you may remember, when I was the House leader, we changed the standing orders to allow a minister to do that. The advantage of doing that, for government purposes, is for the government to come to the Legislature, to come to the committee of the Legislature, and say, "Anything can be changed in this bill if good arguments are put up." The problem with carrying this bill forward after second reading is that people start to entrench themselves in particular positions that may or may not sustain themselves after they hear committee representations.

I look forward to a constructive debate on this and to constructive committee hearings. Let's hope we improve the Ontario Human Rights Code as a result of that process.

Mr. Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): I want to make it very, very clear that New Democrats are adamantly -- adamantly -- opposed to the proposition being put forward by the Attorney General and the Dalton McGuinty Liberals today. The complete dismantling of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, with its skilled, trained staff and the service it has provided over the course of decades, is a thoroughly objectionable exercise by this Attorney General and this government at this point in time when the role of that commission has never been more important, in view of the incredible diversity of our society and the regrettable failure of us as a provincial community to reject racism and abolish racism, to reject discrimination and abolish discrimination.

This is the privatization, the Americanization, of human rights advocacy here in the province of Ontario, and New Democrats want no part of it. To talk about a right under the Ontario Human Rights Code when the person seeking justice, the person seeking redress, has to retain private counsel is a mockery. It's a right when, in fact, there will be no right, and there certainly won't be righting of any wrongs. For the Attorney General to say, "Oh, well, the commission doesn't provide lawyers," is to suggest that the victims, by virtue of the crown attorney prosecuting their case -- of course it's not their personal lawyer, but it's their advocate in a litigious process. New Democrats look forward to this debate and to committee hearings.

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Mr. Wayne Arthurs (Pickering-Ajax-Uxbridge): I've spent the last hour or so, or something just less than that, listening to the Attorney General very carefully in his opening comments.

I was particularly struck by a couple of things. One is the whole issue of how long it's been -- legislation around human rights has been in place more than 40 years and, as I understood it, it's some 15 years since there's been a variety of consultations, papers, white papers and others trying to move the agenda forward. In each of those instances, government failed, for whatever reasons, to act on a series of recommendations that came forward. I want to commend the Attorney General and the government for bringing legislation forward that clearly sets out and articulates a strategy of direct access so those with complaints will be able to have those complaints heard, certainly in a more timely fashion than is the current situation.

I listened carefully to his comments about how people want to have access to justice. Often it's not the outcomes at the end, but the opportunity to have that access to a system in a very public way that's important to the complainant, to ensure that those views are heard even if, at the end of the day, their desires are not met. So I want to commend him for bringing this forward at this point in time, desiring to see this move through second reading debate so that it can move into the public realm yet again, in a more formal fashion, and his desire, as is the desire of those in the social justice community, to see this matter dealt with through legislation and, if successful, have the yardsticks move forward; at the very least, to have the yardstick move to today after some 40-plus years.

Mrs. Christine Elliott (Whitby-Ajax): There are three points that I would like to make concerning the Attorney General's comments this afternoon.

The first one is, I certainly agree with him that there's no question that with any legislation that's been outstanding for 40 years and hasn't been reviewed and modernized to reflect the needs of our modern and diverse community, that certainly needs to happen, and the sooner, the better.

Secondly, it's also clear and there's no question that there are many groups that have been involved leading up to the passage of this legislation. There has been some consultation, but there are many people who are involved and have been deeply involved with passing human rights legislation and working on human rights issues for many years, and this is too important an opportunity to pass up to just get it done. We need to get it right, which means we need to have full consultation. My recommendation is that any committee hearings are not going to be adequate unless the minister agrees to broaden the scope of amendments beyond those which are traditionally allowed and allow for reasonable amendments. That's one point.

With respect to the issue of legal representation, while it is true that there has not been legal aid provided in many situations where human rights complaints are being pursued, it perhaps wasn't as important under the old system as it will be under the new system, because the commission is going to be relieved of its investigatory and public prosecutorial abilities under this new legislation, which makes it all the more important, because people will be otherwise left with nothing, that they need to have this essential legal aid assistance.

Finally, there's no guarantee that people will actually get a hearing under the tribunal, under the new system. There is the ability on the part of the tribunal to either accept or reject the hearing of a complaint, and the complaints won't proceed unless they are allowed to by the tribunal. There's also a wide variety of methods in which the tribunal can proceed, and it is to proceed in the most expeditious way possible. The question is, for whom?

The Acting Speaker: The Attorney General has two minutes in which to respond.

Hon. Mr. Bryant: I want to thank the member for Pickering-Ajax-Uxbridge, the member for Lanark-Carleton and the member for Whitby-Ajax for their comments. The nature of the member for Whitby-Ajax's comments and her question today indicated a desire to ask tough questions about the nuts and bolts of this, and I appreciate that. I also appreciate, by the way -- all members of this House -- that in my debate I enjoyed a heckle-free 40 minutes or whatever it was, and I certainly want to reciprocate.

One thing the member for Lanark-Carleton said, which obviously the justice critic for the NDP disagrees with, is that this ought not to be a partisan debate. I agree with the member for Lanark-Carleton: It ought not to be, but clearly the NDP has chosen to make it so.

The motivation and direction for the NDP's position on this issue is entirely political. It is not the nuts and bolts and the substance of it. Helen Henderson, the Toronto Star's disabilities columnist, has written two columns, one saying firstly that this rights debate has been marred by Chicken Littles -- we heard that from the justice critic for the NDP -- and a second column which again asks very tough questions in it, but said this:

"Everyone agrees change is needed." The government "has delivered promising ideas for efficient, effective, accessible justice." The government "has nothing to lose by listening and learning. Public consultations this spring could translate into strong legislation on human rights reform this fall."

I entirely agree. The government can and will benefit from public hearings, but let us do this. Let us take this opportunity to in fact bring forward to this House for a vote a stronger human rights system for victims of discrimination.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr. Robert W. Runciman (Leeds-Grenville): At the outset, I'd like to indicate that I'll be sharing my time with the member from Whitby-Ajax, who was a highly respected lawyer prior to entering the assembly a few weeks ago as the result of a by-election. She will be having carriage in this legislation for our caucus, and she will get into more of the detail surrounding the intricacies of the legislation. My comments will be more general in nature. I'm talking about my observations as an MPP over my years in this place with respect to the operations of the commission and the tribunal.

I don't often agree with the current Attorney General, but I do share his view that a change with respect to this is long overdue. Of course, he couldn't escape spending some time patting himself on the back with respect to this initiative; I think self-congratulation is a character trait of the Attorney General. In any event, I do agree that it has been long overdue. I guess our difference, and he predicted it, would be with respect to how this was carried out.
When he was first appointed to cabinet, he was assigned responsibilities for democratic renewal. For some reason, those responsibilities have been taken from him. Perhaps actions belie words with respect to how this and other initiatives have been carried forward by the Attorney General.

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I share the view of my colleague from Lanark-Carleton to some degree concerning the initiative that could have been carried out through first reading, so that we could have had more extensive consultation prior to the legislation coming into the House. His argument, which I think is a valid one, is that that would have given the government opportunities for extensive input without tying it into specific language. That's one of the drawbacks, I agree, based on his experience around this place and mine. Once legislation is tabled for first reading and we go through second reading, which we're beginning today, it's a more difficult proposition for any government to dramatically alter the direction they have decided to take. We have seen occasions -- it happened within our own government -- when significant amendments did come forward through the committee process, but it's a rare occurrence. Governments are loath to make those kinds of admissions of error or misdirection once they've gotten to the stage of going through and completing second reading debate and having a vote and seeing a referral to committee. So first reading would have been an opportunity to do that.

I think as well, in talking about democratic renewal and providing members of this assembly with more extensive opportunities to debate significant initiatives like the reform of human rights legislation, that this is the sort of thing, from my perspective, that could and should have been referred to a select committee of the Legislature. There are significant roles that we have seen select committees play over the years, whether on the energy file or on a range of other important initiatives, which involved members of this Legislature from all walks of life and from all corners of the province.

In my view, what happens in situations like this, where the Attorney General has made reference to a group that was involved in providing input, is that you get vested interests; you get people with a particular bias who tend to staff these committees that have been appointed by the government of the day. I think it colours the final version that comes forward, and you don't hear from the ordinary Joe or Jane, if you will, in terms of what their concerns would be. The member from Whitby-Ajax will be speaking in terms of the party line. I'm giving you more my views as a layperson and as someone who has had to deal with complaints over the years -- not too many in my office, but certainly a number. I wouldn't say it's on a regular basis, but over the course of the year I make a number of referrals of constituents to the Human Rights Commission.

One of the problems I see, again from sitting back and observing their activities over the years -- and I know that in many respects they are performing worthwhile duties and responsibilities in providing support and assistance on many occasions to people who otherwise simply wouldn't have that support and assistance. But it often bothers me, in situations -- and these are perhaps anomalies; they're not the normal course of activity of the Human Rights Commission. But one jumps out at me, I guess because I lived around the corner from this place and enjoyed access to the facility which others, for reasons of disability, were unable to access and a complaint was filed. I'm talking about the Uptown Theatre on Yonge Street south of Bloor. The Human Rights Commission, apparently based on a complaint -- I don't know if this was self-initiated; I can't recall that specific detail. It was a beautiful old theatre; I think one of the largest, if not the largest seating theatre remaining in the city of Toronto. They were ordered to install, I believe, an elevator, escalators and so on -- they may have had an escalator; I think it was an elevator -- and the cost was going to be very prohibitive in terms of all the changes and capital investments that had to be made.

The theatre said, "We simply can't do this. We can't get enough return on the investment to justify continuing the operation of the theatre. As a result of this ultimatum, we have to close the theatre." I think that's a real loss to the community, and it's regrettable if the government of the day -- an arm of the government -- says, "We're going to require you to do this."

You provide a service. You provide an attraction to a municipality that has some benefit to the municipality, has some benefit, over the years, to thousands and thousands of people. If a government or an agency of the government is going to make a decision that is going to obligate you to make a decision to close and no longer provide that benefit to a great many other people in the community, perhaps there is an obligation upon the government to participate in making it make sense from a financial perspective. That's the sort of thing that always gets lost in the shuffle. There's no opportunity for that sort of option to be provided. That's the sort of commonsense approach that I would like to see taken to these decisions.

They may be few and far between, but that's certainly one that jumped out at me, because I was one of those part-time residents of the city who enormously enjoyed that theatre over some 20 years and felt it was a service, if you will, a benefit, if you will, to thousands and thousands of people. And also providing employment for a significant number of people -- students as well who were able to gain employment there on a part-time basis. All of that was lost because of a requirement by the Human Rights Commission to make a significant investment. Again, I say that those are the kinds of things that if we could build in -- and I don't know how we do that. Perhaps it's through the appointment process -- I'm not sure -- but it would be helpful if we could see some sort of commonsense approach and perhaps some monies available to address those, I think, legitimate concerns that the folks who have to respond to the decisions made by the commission -- and many of them certainly are not out to do harm to the community or to those who are less fortunate in society. They are doing business in a way that they have been doing business for many, many years, and now, faced with the realities of society's desire to provide those kinds of services to all in our community, sometimes simply can't for financial reasons or other reasons respond in an adequate way. Perhaps we have to look at providing them with some kind of support or assistance to be able to do that without penalizing them and penalizing in many respects a great number of other people who are affected by those decisions.

We can also talk about the funding issues. It was interesting that our critic for this legislation, the member from Whitby-Ajax, posed a question to the Attorney General today about funding and the changes that are being made, and the only public commitment he has made to date apparently is an additional $1 million. I believe it's a topping up of $1 million on an annualized basis. She rightfully pointed out the three new bodies being created under this legislation. How are they going to be appropriately funded? As we all know in this place, it's question period, not answer period. The Attorney General avoided answering the question and got into political rhetoric and talking about the past, as they are wont to do on a very regular basis in this place, rather than dealing in specifics with how he's going to accomplish these objectives that he's laid out in the bill. I don't think he made any reference to it in his contribution here this evening, either.

I think those are important questions which at some point along this path I believe he or his representatives are going to have to spell out in some detail. Certainly when the bill goes to committee that question is not going to be as easily escapable as it perhaps is in one- or two-minute responses during question period. I think it is a valid question if you look at the issue of monies and the projections of the government with respect to the budget in the justice sector for this government being flatlined. The member for Whitby-Ajax mentioned that.

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We also know that a few months ago, when a document called Justice Modernization was somehow found in the hands of the media and some of the recommendations there were made public, the Attorney General and his colleague the Minister of Community Safety had signed off on recommendations to cabinet that would have seen $339 million cut from the justice budgets of both the Attorney General's ministry and the community safety and corrections ministry. How does that jibe with what we're hearing here today? When that became public knowledge, especially in the wake of all of the gun crime in the city of Toronto last summer, the government panicked, I guess, and refused to accept the cutback recommendations of the two justice ministers. Now we have him here indicating that we're going ahead with these changes, which are going to create new bodies in government, but again failing to tell us where the monies are going to come from.

If they flatline the budget, that would suggest to any casual observer that the monies are going to have to come from some other part of the ministry. I think we have a right to know what is the projected cost of the creation of these new bodies on an annualized basis and, if this is not new money, where the Attorney General is suggesting those monies are going to come from. What programs or agencies of the government are going to suffer as a result? I think those are legitimate questions that require a response.

There is no question -- I said this from the outset -- that problems have been around at the Human Rights Commission for some time, especially the backlog. I would suggest this is not unique to the Human Rights Commission; we see it in a number of other agencies. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which we hear has a backlog of 10,000 cases, is another agency that falls under the responsibility of the Attorney General. So hopefully the minister will be moving on that one in the not-too-distant future as well.

Some issues have been raised as well about the independence of the commission, the fact that it does answer to the Attorney General, and the appointments to the commission. The chair may be a Premier's appointment; I'm not sure. But the members of the commission themselves are all order-in-council appointments from the Attorney General. Again, it's a very politicized structure, with people who have and can have -- I shouldn't say "who have," but who can have clear biases that reflect the political position, the ideology, of the government of the day. You may say, well, that's appropriate. I'm not sure that that is appropriate in this specific case. It might be more appropriate to have the human rights chair be a servant of this place, like the Provincial Auditor, as an example, and reporting back on an annual basis to this place rather than to a politician, a member of the executive council. I think it, again, may tend to colour the approach taken by the chair in terms of his or her responsibilities to be more reflective of the political will of the government of the day. Is that the sort of thing that we wish to see occurring here? I would suggest that it may well not be. That's the sort of issue that I think is worthy of being the subject of discussion and debate as we go forward with this legislation.

I know we'll be hearing more again about consultation. There was a long list of individuals and organizations and firms who felt they were not consulted or were totally ignored in the process towards development of this bill.
Certainly one of the most critical that I've seen was the African Canadian Legal Clinic. They were, I think, deeply offended by the remarks of, I gather, the Premier, in reading this letter, where the Premier had indicated that the Attorney General had consulted with the organization on the bill. The writer, Margaret Parsons, indicates that this is not true and that either the Premier was misinformed by the minister or something happened in terms of the messaging. I'm quoting from this letter, which I'll provide for Hansard afterwards:

"The African Canadian Legal Clinic has not been consulted at any time by the Attorney General.... To the contrary, we have been ignored and deliberately excluded by the Attorney General and his staff from any consultations on the bill, despite our many requests."

They go on to say that the announcement of the legislation came as a complete surprise. They've made subsequent requests for a meeting, including one to the Premier himself, with respect to this, and they've gone unheeded.
"The African Canadian Legal Clinic was not informed of nor invited to the prebriefing by ministry staff which took place the day the bill was introduced, while others were asked and chosen to attend."

Again, I think this points to a political bias perhaps with respect to how this would be presented, if there were people who had concerns and wanted to make sure that those were heard -- not necessarily criticisms, but concerns and constructive suggestions on how this matter could be approached -- and they were not only not allowed to enter the door; they weren't even shown the door, let alone provided an invitation to enter and participate. But then to have it suggested by not just a member of the government but the Premier that they were consulted had to be deeply offensive and hurtful, I would suggest.

Another organization that I have a letter from is the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. Again, they have written to the Premier to "express our strong disappointment with the ... decision to proceed ... without first consulting with those most affected by the proposal." Again, they're referencing the question period of April 27 and the Premier referencing consultation with community organizations, "including our clinic." They suggest that the brief exchange of correspondence that they had was anything but consultation and have asked the Premier to clarify his comments made during that question period.

There's a whole list of groups who have expressed concern for a variety of reasons, and perhaps our critic will get into more detail during her comments with respect to specific concerns that all of these organizations have. I'll just mention them. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance certainly have been very proactive in contacting, I suspect, all members of the assembly with respect to their concerns. They obviously share the common sentiment that the system isn't working properly now, but they have another range of concerns, which I will let our critic expand upon. There's the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, B'nai Brith Canada, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, the Chinese Canadian National Council, Community Living Ontario, the Disabled Women's Network of Ontario, legal clinics -- this is the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, the African Canadian Legal Clinic, the South Asian Legal Clinic, Parkdale Community Legal Services -- the MS Society, the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada, the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, Operation Black Vote Canada, our old friends in OPSEU, Toronto Residents in Partnership, and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations. They are the only groups -- only? There's quite a significant number who are very critical of the proposed reforms.

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I suspect that once this legislation goes out to committee -- we've advertised the legislation and encouraged people to take a look at it on the website -- we're going to find even larger numbers of people coming forward, individuals and organizations, who have expressed concern. I think we can lay this at the doorstep of the government's failure to appropriately consult. There were opportunities there, as we mentioned earlier, either at first reading or through a select committee of the Legislature. Either one of those approaches would have been very helpful and certainly would have been allowing us and the government to avoid the concerns that we're now hearing about and that are going to, to some degree, delay the passage of this legislation.

We have to ensure, as opposition members, that people who do have these concerns have an opportunity to be heard -- and not a 10-minute presentation where they don't have time to put their own concerns on the record, let alone members of the committee adequately questioning them to ensure we have appropriate input. That too often is the case, where we try to jam in a number of people who want to appear before a committee. We jam it into two, three or four days and we simply don't have an opportunity for them to make the contribution they'd like to make or for members of this place to have an opportunity to question.

We hear an awful lot about democratic renewal from the Liberal government. Of course, we've seen little to substantiate that over their almost three years in office. This is another case in point, where we should have been dealing with this in another way so that we aren't facing this kind of criticism, or the government isn't facing this kind of criticism.

I'm perhaps getting off the party message a little bit here, but I talked at the outset about common sense in how these issues are approached. I know we have to look at the people who require assistance and we have to make sure they receive that assistance. There has to be a way, clearly, in terms of dealing with frivolous complaints so that they don't tie up the system. There has to be a way of assessing that appropriately and accurately.

I mentioned the Uptown Theatre, but there are other issues. Again, they may be anomalies. I don't know; I have to base it on people. I'm no expert in this field and I will be the first to say that. I had a call from a reeve of a township in my riding who had had a complaint filed against them by someone who appeared before council. A complaint was lodged about something he said in response to a delegation. The complaint was filed with the Human Rights Commission. He told me that he was advised by the council for the municipality, "Yes, we'd win this if we took this through the process, but it's going to take a significant period of time and it's going to cost the municipality at least $100,000 to take this complaint through the process." That's the other side of the coin. What happened? The council apparently reimbursed -- I guess "reimbursed" isn't the right word -- paid this constituency $50,000 to withdraw the complaint, because they were told by legal counsel for the municipality that it would have cost the taxpayers at least $100,000 to pursue it through all of the processes that are necessary. That's something that we should be looking at and discussing as well.

There should be some opportunity, if someone makes these complaints, in my view -- I'm not a lawyer. I'm looking at the other side of this, as well as at the folks who have legitimate complaints to take forward and need help, assistance and support. But what about the people where, at the end of the day, there has been no substance proved to the allegation and people have been pulled through the ringer? What recourse is available to them? I think those are the kinds of things that we should be talking about as well.

The Attorney General talked about his wish to have some kind of team fanning out across the province to investigate companies and individuals to see if they're violating the Human Rights Code. I think that's a pretty scary prospect, a pretty scary vision from my perspective, because you're generating a lot of things that perhaps don't have merit and putting a lot of good citizens in this province under threat, and financial ruin perhaps, with that kind of an agenda. Fortunately, that's not going to happen, but I think it gives us some insight into the mindset of the Attorney General of the day.

Mr. Speaker, I think I have taken up about half our time. With your permission, I will now yield the floor to my colleague from Whitby-Ajax.

Mrs. Elliott: I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill 107, An Act to amend the Human Rights Code, on behalf of the Progressive Conservative caucus. I'd also like to thank my colleague the member from Leeds-Grenville for his comments.

The Attorney General introduced this bill on April 26, 2006. Since its introduction, there have been significant concerns expressed about this bill by disability and anti-racist groups. I want to add my own comments and concerns today, but before doing so, it might be helpful to step back for a moment to consider the purposes for which the Human Rights Code was established, in order to consider these comments in context.

The Human Rights Code was passed by the Robarts government in 1962. The preamble of the code states:
"Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world and is in accord with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as proclaimed by the United Nations;

"And whereas it is public policy in Ontario to recognize the dignity and worth of every person and to provide for equal rights and opportunities without discrimination that is contrary to law, and having as its aim the creation of a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person so that each person feels a part of the community and able to contribute fully to the development and well-being of the community and the province;
"And whereas these principles have been confirmed in Ontario by a number of enactments of the Legislature and it is desirable to revise and extend the protection of human rights in Ontario...."

The code proceeds to state that "Every person has a right to equal treatment" with respect to services, accommodation, and freedom from harassment because of "race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability."

These rights are currently enforced by the Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Tribunal. The Human Rights Commission has a number of responsibilities, including the promotion of the aims of the act, the development of public and education programs aimed at eliminating discrimination, and to initiate investigations into incidents of discrimination. But its primary responsibility is to initiate investigations following complaints of discrimination by individual complainants.

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The commission is given broad powers of investigation in assessing the merits of each complaint. Following its investigation, the commission has an obligation to attempt to effect a settlement of the complaint. If the settlement attempts fail and where it appears to the commission that the subject matter of the complaint is not frivolous or vexatious, it will refer the subject matter of the complaint to the tribunal. The tribunal then holds a hearing to determine whether a right of the complainant has been infringed, to determine who infringed the right and to decide upon an appropriate order. Orders may be made directing a party to do whatever is necessary in order to achieve compliance with the act, both in respect to the complainant and in respect to future practices, and may order a party to make financial restitution as well as a monetary award not exceeding $10,000 where the infringement has been engaged in wilfully or recklessly. Finally, it's important to note that any orders of the tribunal can be appealed to the Divisional Court of Ontario for a final determination. That's the background.

Now on to the proposed amendments to the code. In his statement on April 26, the Attorney General noted it was time to modernize Ontario's human rights legislation and that the goal of the amendments was to make our human rights system stronger, faster and more effective. We would certainly agree that the time has come to modernize the human rights system in this province and to eliminate the tremendous delay involved in having a complaint concerning a violation of the code investigated. Currently, there are over 2,400 complaints in the system that remain unresolved, with no apparent plan to speed up the process for their investigation. Justice delayed is justice denied. This legislation will not in any way make our human rights system stronger, faster or more effective. It is a deeply flawed piece of legislation that has ignored the legitimate concerns of many Ontarians and has broken faith with the promises made by this government to disability groups and anti-racist organizations.

I would like to spend a few moments discussing the major problems with the legislation as drafted. In February 2006, the Attorney General announced his intention to proceed with the amendments to the code as currently drafted. After this announcement, many important community groups and individuals contacted the government and urged that there be open, accessible, province-wide public consultations and that these happen before any bill was introduced to reform the Human Rights Code.

One of the groups who contacted the Attorney General was the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. In a letter from its chair, Ms. Catherine Dunphy, to the Attorney General, dated April 12 of this year, the alliance asked the Attorney General and the executive council to take the following steps:

(1) The government would not now introduce the legislation that we see before us.

(2) Instead, the government would launch an open, accessible public consultation on any options for reforming human rights enforcement.

(3) This would be a time-limited consultation, not to drag on, but to be finished before the end of July of this year, with a view to a bill being introduced in the Legislature in September 2006.

(4) The consultations would be modelled after the public consultations which took place prior to the passage of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

(5) The consultations should be open to considering any option, including a reconsideration of the plans announced by the Attorney General in February 2006.

Notwithstanding the reasonable and practical suggestions, this government proceeded on the basis of the February plan. Although the Attorney General has indicated that this legislation is the culmination of perhaps more study and consultation than ever before in the history of this Legislature, in fact he is relying on information from the Cornish report, a study that was done 14 years ago, and has refused to listen to the legitimate concerns of individuals and groups who are dedicated to working with human rights issues and work with very vulnerable people on a daily basis. Little wonder that they feel betrayed by this government.

Secondly, this bill fails on many counts to provide more effective human rights protection for Ontarians and is a fundamental betrayal of the 2003 Liberal election promises to Ontarians with disabilities. The disability community was promised a disabilities act which would see the Human Rights Commission as the investigative and enforcement agency. Less than a year after the disabilities act was passed, the government proposes to eviscerate the commission. Now, the code gives everyone who files a timely, non-frivolous human rights complaint the right to have the Human Rights Commission conduct a public investigation of the matter. Bill 107 abolishes that right, and there is no requirement for a public investigation. Instead, all complaints will be referred directly to the tribunal, which can either dismiss or hear the complaint.

There are many problems with this so-called direct-access model. First, many of the people who wish to put forward complaints to the tribunal are among the most vulnerable people in our communities. With these amendments, they will be required to conduct their own investigations and present their own cases to the tribunal. This will be difficult, if not impossible, for many of these complainants without legal assistance, and has not been dealt with in the bill in any kind of substantive manner. As a result, there will be many complaints that simply cannot be brought before the tribunal, thereby restricting access to justice for our most vulnerable citizens.

With respect to the operation of the tribunal, there are significant concerns regarding the conduct of hearings. Under the current system, the commission conducts an investigation and acts as the public prosecutor at hearings before the tribunal. With the new system, the tribunal decides whether or not to hold a hearing and can dismiss a complaint on much broader grounds than those available to the commission. The tribunal can then proceed with a hearing, mediation or any other means that are the "most expeditious" way possible, but the question becomes, expeditious to whom?

Currently, the code provides that a decision of the tribunal can be appealed to the Divisional Court. Under the proposed system, the right of appeal from a tribunal decision will not be as of right but only if the tribunal ruling is "patently unreasonable," which of course is a far tougher test.

These are fundamental changes to the human rights system that do nothing to enhance access to justice for our most vulnerable citizens, but instead restrict it further.

Finally, there is the question of funding. The proposed amendments to the code will establish the anti-racism and disability secretariats. There is also the issue of the backlog of more than 2,400 unresolved complaints. The Attorney General has stated that all Ontarians, regardless of income or personal circumstances, will be assured "full legal representation" in presenting their complaints before the tribunal, yet there is nothing in the amendments that strictly addresses this issue. The only reference is in section 46 of the bill, which states that the minister "may enter into agreements with prescribed persons or entities for the purposes of providing legal services and such other services as may be prescribed to applicants or other parties to a proceeding before the tribunal." Any agreement may provide for payment for the services by the ministry.

The Attorney General has stated that there is going to be "$1 million plus" for these initiatives, but how can one reasonably assume, with the establishment of three new organizations, being the two secretariats plus the proposed legal support centre, which isn't even referred to in the legislation, that all of this can reasonably be done with this much money? There's also the fact that the justice budget sector has been flatlined until at least 2008-09. I would suggest that under the circumstances, this simply can't happen.

These are only my comments. There are many, many other organizations that have come forward to address these concerns with respect to the proposed legislation. I'd like to refer to some of them, because they're really illustrative of the many, varied concerns and the many, many groups that have come forward with concerns to express with respect to this proposed legislation.

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First of all, with respect to some general comments from stakeholders regarding the operation of the proposed new system, the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada has said, "Although we want change, this bill has quite a number of flaws. These flaws are going to impinge on the more vulnerable communities in this province."

Similarly, the Chinese Canadian National Council has said, "Going to the direct-access model is putting together an invisible barrier for those with limited means. Those who are disadvantaged will have less access to justice."

The Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic states that, "Chinese-Canadian community advocacy groups are outraged by the Ontario government's decision to quickly push through amendments to the province's Human Rights Code that can only serve to diminish the rights of all Ontarians."

Cynthia Pay, a legal aid lawyer and director of the Chinese Canadian National Council, states, "Many groups from racialized communities and disability groups voiced their concerns about these so-called reforms before Bill 107 was introduced last week. This bill gives too much power to the tribunal to dismiss cases without proper and fair hearing."

The executive director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic states, "The Attorney General has absolutely gutted and taken away our right to a strong human rights enforcement and protection body in this province."

"Simply getting rid of the commission's gatekeeper function is not going to address [the] gaping resource problem. `Direct access' may simply mean the transfer of delays and the gatekeeping function from the commission to the tribunal." This is from the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, African Canadian Legal Clinic and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario in a joint op-ed for the Toronto Star on March 13 this year.

Next, again from the same piece by the same groups: "It will be a shame if the Ontario Human Rights Commission goes down the path travelled by its counterpart in British Columbia. The Liberal government in BC gutted its commission in 2002, leaving the tribunal as the only vehicle residents have to enforce their rights. Interestingly, the BC government cloaked the changes under the guise of `direct access.' The BC model has been criticized roundly by advocates across the country and even by some international human rights experts."

With respect to the issue of funding and the legal aid aspect of this legislation, the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada states, "The bill would no longer protect the ability of the complainant to make a claim without worrying about money. There is the risk that the defendant, be it a large corporation or the government, will have the capacity to represent itself, while the complainant will not."

The African Canadian Legal Clinic states, "You need to actually have the funds to do the job you have to do, but this has not been forthcoming [from the government]. There is no guarantee [in this legislation] that there will be a human rights legal support centre."

Even OPSEU president Leah Casselman states, "This proposed legislation is a disaster for human rights in Ontario; it does nothing to improve the system. It takes away guaranteed rights to investigation and legal support and allows the tribunal to charge user fees."

Avvy Go, the director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, states, "What Premier Dalton McGuinty's government is doing is an affront to human rights in Ontario. Bill 107 in its current form will only serve to weaken the province's human rights system and will remove legal and institutional supports that currently serve the victims of discrimination."

On the issue of investigative powers, the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada states, "Under the proposed system, the competition would be disengaged from the investigative process, even with respect to systemic matters. When these powers are eliminated, individuals are compromised because they have no independent agency to assist them in finding evidence."

With respect to the issue of the secretariat: "The secretariat is not going to be effective. It will basically have the same research functions as the commission, according to this legislation." It goes on and on. You can see from these comments what the various groups have to say about this legislation with respect to funding, with respect to the substantive nature of the legislation and with respect to the lack of consultation before this legislation was introduced.
It's imperative, because the issue is so important to all Ontarians, that the matter be dealt with properly, and it's important, with respect to all of the groups, that work with all of these people with disabilities and anti-racist groups that we do it right. What we need to do is make sure that any amendments that are reasonable and practical are dealt with, since we did not have the opportunity to have this matter go following first reading of this bill. We need to make sure that we get it right, not to rush it through in a hurry but make sure we spend the time we need. After 40 years, this is a unique opportunity. We shouldn't squander it. I hope the Attorney General will address these issues that so many groups have brought forward.

The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments?

Mr. Kormos: I am thankful to Ms. Elliott, the member for Whitby-Ajax, for her contribution to this second reading debate, and I look forward to working with her on the committee which reviews Bill 107.

I'm afraid I can't be quite as charitable as some of the others in this chamber about the bill because, quite frankly, at this point in time the only solution New Democrats see is to simply withdraw it, because the fundamental flaw is the dismantling of the commission and the failure to understand the real thrust of reform. You want reform? Then do what people have called upon you to do for what seems like from the beginning of time and make the commission responsible to the Legislative Assembly. Make the commissioner an officer of the Legislative Assembly. Give that commission and tribunal true independence from the government of the day and political influence.

The government had the opportunity to do that in this bill, didn't it? But it failed miserably once again in that regard, because it continues to leave the commissioner accountable only to the government through the Attorney General, and turns her or him into a mere political servant, when that person and that role should be a role of true independence.

I quite frankly say to you that we're going to have a lot more to say next time this bill is called on the second day of second reading, that the government, in my view, has not only misunderstood the Cornish and La Forest reports, but also misunderstands what's going on out there, what's really happening out there in the pursuit of redress around complaints, be it discrimination via race or disability or any number of discriminatory bases enumerated in the code.
Mr. Bob Delaney (Mississauga West): I guess I can be a little more charitable than the member for Niagara Centre. Instead of focusing on the process of how the Ontario Human Rights Commission operates, I think Ontarians are more concerned with the outcomes and with the results. That's what this bill addresses; it addresses outcomes. One of those outcomes is very simple. It's a mechanism that's 40 years old. Try to imagine if you were still driving a car circa the mid-1960s. That car, however lovingly you might have maintained it, is 40 years old and at the very least needs a complete overhaul.

That's pretty much what this legislation does. It strengthens the Ontario Human Rights Commission. It focuses it to be able to address systemic issues. It allows it to use education, promotion, public advocacy, research and monitoring. The commission retains the capacity to bring systemic issues before the tribunal. It retains the capacity to intervene in an individual's complaint where the systemic issues warrant. A new complaints process is going to be introduced. It allows direct access to the Human Rights Tribunal.

The bill would establish within the Ontario Human Rights Commission two new secretariats that don't exist now, to conduct research and to develop public policy. One would be an anti-racism secretariat and the other a disability secretariat, both issues that this Legislature has focused on, both areas the subject of legislation in and of themselves. This would enable the Ontario Human Rights Commission to catch up with much of the legislation this body has been writing for decades.

We would establish a human rights legal support centre. We'd be able to provide support to people who need it, when they need it, in the way they need it.

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Ms. Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton): It's a pleasure to be here this evening. I'd like to congratulate my seatmate for making a wonderful speech today and giving us a very thorough précis of how she feels about the bill. One thing she touched on was on the lack of open and accessible consultation on the reform of the human rights system. We believe it should have been held before introducing the legislation. I think right now would be a good time to pick up on it on the other side.

We're hoping they'll take what is going on in here today, in terms of this debate, and listen to some of the community groups that have come to our party or through the media voicing their concerns. Some community organizations have indicated that they are insulted that the government has claimed to have consulted with them, and they'd like an explanation and an apology.

I'd like to read an excerpt from a letter from the African Canadian Legal Clinic to the Premier on May 1, 2006. They say, "We read with great concern your remarks in the Legislature on April 27, 2006, with respect to your government's human rights bill.

"You claimed in question period that the Attorney General had consulted with the African Canadian Legal Clinic ... on this bill. This is simply not true....

"The African Canadian Legal Clinic has not been consulted at any time by the Attorney General on this bill. To the contrary, we have been ignored and deliberately excluded by the Attorney General and his staff from any consultation on the bill, despite our many requests.

"The announcment of the proposed legislation by the Attorney General in February 2006 came as a complete surprise to us. Since then, our requests for a meeting and consultation, including to you, have gone unheeded. Our inquiries as to when the bill would be tabled went unanswered....

"Given the above, it is indeed a shame that you and your government continue to ... mislead the public on the consultation process and on the real impact of Bill 107 on the protection and enforcement of the human rights of African Canadians and other marginalized communities."

I do hope, now that this is read into the record, that there will be some action with the African Canadian Legal Clinic by the Premier.

Ms. Shelley Martel (Nickel Belt): I just want to reinforce some of the opposition with respect to this particular bill. Some was mentioned by the opposition members. This comes from a Toronto Sun article on March 17, quoting some participants in that particular press conference: "The provincial government is privatizing the enforcement of human rights complaints at the peril of those who are being discriminated against, disability groups are warning.

"The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance says the governing Grits are weakening human rights by planning reforms to the Ontario Human Rights Commission that will eliminate its role in leading cases to the human rights tribunal.

"`It will force discrimination victims ... to investigate their own complaints,' said Gary Malkowski, a former MPP who is also deaf. `It is wrong of the Dalton McGuinty government to privatize the human rights enforcement on the backs of those discriminated against.' ...

"The disability coalition, which held a news conference at Queen's Park yesterday morning, said the plan leaves many complainants in the lurch, either depending on an already strained legal aid program or having to pay for their cases -- often against deep corporate or government pockets -- on their own.

"`There's been a real sense we've been treated unfairly,' said David Lepofsky, former coalition chairman."

Let me also read from a letter by Avvy Go, Margaret Parsons and Uzma Shakir, which says the following: "Those who favour the new model say the reform is a step in the right direction because it will allow complainants to take their cases straight to the human rights tribunal.

"In exchange for the `direct access,' however, the commission will no longer help individuals with the investigation and prosecution of their complaints. Instead, the commission will dedicate its resources to public education, research and monitoring systemic discrimination.

"Is this the kind of reform our communities ... need? We think not."

It goes to make a number of other points, but I think the important point is that now the government is going to tell complainants they have to rely on their own financial resources to fight, often, big corporations or big government. That's entirely against the reason the commission was set up in the first place and what it should be doing for those individuals.

The Acting Speaker: The member from Whitby-Ajax has two minutes in which to respond.

Mrs. Elliott: I think all the comments we've heard today have certainly pointed to the need to revise the existing human rights legislation, but this is truly a unique opportunity. We really need to make sure that we make the right decisions and do the right thing for the 1.5 million people living with disabilities in this province and the many, many groups who are subjected to racism each and every day in our communities. We have an obligation to all of these people to take the time that we need -- not to drag things on for months and months, but to take the time that we need to come up with legislation that is clear, coherent, properly funded, that makes sense and that applies fairly to all Ontarians.

I would certainly urge the Attorney General to take these comments into consideration, knowing that so many groups have commented on and voiced their concerns with respect to the legislation. I would urge the Attorney General to take them into serious consideration so that we end up with legislation at the end of the day that is going to be fair to everyone concerned.

The Acting Speaker: It being nearly 6 of the clock, this House stands recessed until 6:45.

 



ONTARIO HANSARD May 11, 2006
QUESTION PERIOD

PUBLIC CONSULTATION

Mrs. Christine Elliott (Whitby-Ajax): My question is for the Acting Premier and also deals with issues of credibility. On April 27, the Premier stood in this Legislature and listed the names of a number of organizations that he said had been consulted with concerning Bill 107, the proposed human rights legislation. Since that time, it has become increasingly clear that your government really has no idea who was consulted with after all. I'm pleased to say that we've received confirmation from one group, the HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic, that actually had been consulted with, but we've received at least two letters from other organizations saying they were shocked to find out that they had been consulted with when in fact they had not been. In light of this, acting Premier, can you please explain to Ontarians why they should trust your government on anything, especially with respect to legislation dealing
with this vital issue of human rights?

Hon. George Smitherman (Minister of Health and Long-Term Care): The honourable member is new, and that will excuse, I think, circumstances that include the fact that she doesn't know this issue has been ongoing for something like a couple of decades. If you want to talk about it, the reality is that it is the honourable member the Attorney General who has had the courage to move forward on a piece of legislation that many, many people believed to be long-standing.

Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith, South Asian Legal Clinic, African Canadian Legal Clinic, Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, Advocacy Resource Centre for the Handicapped, Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, Bromley Armstrong --

Interjection.

Hon. Mr. Smitherman: You're not in your seat.

Operation Black Vote Canada, Raj Anand, Nelligan O'Brien Payne, Gowlings, OPSEU, University of Ottawa, Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services, Centre for Spanish Speaking Peoples, Ontario Labour Relations Board, Council of Ontario Universities, Ontario Public School -- you get the point, less than halfway through the work, the very extensive consultation that was involved in this legislation coming forward. We're very proud of our government's commitment on that point.

Mrs. Elliott: Just to show what a big mess this is, I have to say that I'm quoting from the African Canadian Legal Clinic, which wrote to the Premier on May 1, stating, "You claimed in question period that the Attorney General had consulted with the African Canadian Legal Clinic on the bill. The African Canadian Legal Clinic has not been consulted at any time by the Attorney General on this bill." Now I'm going to have to paraphrase because I can't be unparliamentary. They continued, "It is a shame that you and your government continue to be unclear about the consultation process."

In a letter from the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, also cited by you and also dated May 1, they said to the Premier that they were "shocked" to learn that he claimed they had been consulted. They continued, "We have much to be worried about regarding the true state of democracy in this province," if the Premier maintains this claim.

This is just another example of saying one thing and doing another. How can you even have any credibility with respect to the people of Ontario when you don't even know who he has consulted with?

The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): The question has been asked.

Hon. Mr. Smitherman: It's a wonder that the honourable member, knowing what she does about the history of the government that someone close to her served in, would dare to stand in her place and talk about a government's commitment to consultation. It is, after all, a long-standing practice now of our government that every substantive piece of legislation goes out for committee hearings. That party when in government randomly brought forward motions in this chamber that cut off any access the public might have even to committee work.

To clarify: My understanding is that Avvy Go, someone well known to many of us, met on April 6 and was consulted. Similarly, the African Canadian Legal Clinic -- Margaret Parsons and Marie Chen -- met on April 7, 2005. Of course, I'm depending upon information that has been put forward in very, very good --


 

 


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