Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance Update dd May 27, 2006
MPPs Said About the Controversial Bill 107
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:
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has posted on its website its preliminary response to Bill 107. To read it, go to:
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:
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:
To read Bill 107 visit:
To read the current Human rights Code, visit:
If you want to send us your feedback or you want to be added to the AODA Alliance email list, contact us at:
HUMAN RIGHTS SYSTEM /
Hon. Michael Bryant
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.
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.
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.
L'Ontario fait preuve
depuis longtemps de leadership dans la protection des droits de la personne.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
Kathy Laird, director
of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, writes that these reforms
are "long overdue."
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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:
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:
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
(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.
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
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.
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."
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
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
The Acting Speaker:
Questions and comments?
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.
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.
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.
in question period that the Attorney General had consulted with the African
Canadian Legal Clinic ... on this bill. This is simply not true....
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.
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
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
"`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.' ...
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.
a real sense we've been treated unfairly,' said David Lepofsky, former
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.
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.
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.
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
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 --
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.
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