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ON HUMAN RIGHTS REFORM ISSUE
For those who haven't
received recent AODA Alliance email updates, and for those wanting a
re-fresher, here's a quick summary of recent events.
The AODA Alliance
is deeply troubled by the Ontario Government's announcement on February
20, 2006 that it plans to introduce a bill into the Legislature this
spring to weaken the Human Rights Commission, the law enforcement agency
that is now required by law to investigate all discrimination complaints
properly filed with it. The Government plans to privatize human rights
enforcement. Under the Government's plan, you would have to investigate
and prosecute your own discrimination complaint before the Ontario Human
Rights Tribunal. Right now the Human Rights Code requires the Human
Rights Commission to investigate properly-filed non-frivolous human
rights complaints. Because the Commission is so badly under-funded,
its investigations are far too slow and back-logged.
The Government vaguely
claims it will provide some new means for discrimination victims to
get legal advice and help. However the Government has stubbornly refused
over the past 5 weeks to answer any inquiries about what these legal
supports will be. Even the few who support the Government's plans, largely
a small group of lawyers who do human rights cases, don't claim to know
what those important plans are. The AODA Alliance agrees that the current
system for enforcing the Human Rights Code is broken and needs to be
fixed. However, the Government's plans will make things worse not better.
We can't wait for
the Government to reveal its plan's details. The Government's proposal
is inherently flawed at its core. We need the Human Rights Commission
strengthened, not weakened. We need its budget increased, not further
Those few, mainly
some lawyers, who have applauded the Government's plan say the biggest
problem with the human rights enforcement system now is that the Human
Rights Commission is the "gate-keeper" that decides if your
case goes to a full hearing before the Human Rights Tribunal. In fact,
the biggest problem with the system now is that it is drastically under-funded
and needs to be stream-lined, so that the Human Rights Commission can
be a strong, effective investigator and prosecutor of human rights violations.
In any event, the Government's plans don't eliminate the gate-keeper
role. They just shift around who will keep the gate!
plans are an unfair turnabout on the Government's position when it negotiated
the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Last year many
cheered the McGuinty Government for passing the AODA to make Ontario
accessible for persons with disabilities. Premier McGuinty's plan to
weaken the Human Rights Commission will undermine that endorsement.
McGuinty promised the AODA would have effective enforcement. The disability
community asked that the AODA have a new independent public enforcement
agency. The Government said we don't need one, since the Human Rights
Commission investigates and prosecutes disability discrimination. After
the disability community cheered the AODA, it's unfair for the McGuinty
Government to turn around and rip out most of the Human Rights Commission's
teeth. Neither the Ontario Government nor the few who have applauded
its new plans have answered this point.
The few who support
the Government's plans put out a blizzard of statistics about the Human
Rights Commission's caseload. Don't be distracted by these. We don't
share their interpretation of those statistics. More importantly, we
don't dispute the system needs to be fixed. It's just that the "fix"
is wrong. You don't strengthen the enforcement of human rights by weakening
the human rights enforcement agency.
We and many others
have called on the Ontario Government to hold an open, accessible, province-wide
consultation on how to fix the broken human rights enforcement system
before deciding how to fix it, and before introducing any new bill on
this topic in the Legislature. Even some of those who previously supported
elements of the Governments plans have supported our call for this consultation.
The message is simple - Consultation Before legislation.
In the Ontario
Legislature this past week, Ontario's Attorney General refused to do
this. He claimed he's consulted enough. Yet any "consulting"
he's done to date have been closed, invitation-only discussions, mainly
with a small group of lawyers who do human rights cases. The Government's
dismissive response in the Legislature is sadly similar to the kinds
the disability community too often got from the previous Harris Government.
Some among the few
who have applauded the Government's announcement say we don't need a
consultation because there have been previous consultations as far back
as the early 90s. We respond that we need to be consulted now. For example,
fifteen years ago, the movement for the AODA hadn't even formed, much
less been consulted on this topic.
Some claim we should
be silent now and wait to be consulted until after the Government introduces
its bill. It's very important that we be consulted now, before a bill
is introduced. When a bill is before the Legislature, the Government
is already committed to it. The public is restricted in what changes
it can propose. We need input before the Government drafts and introduces
its proposed new law. Of course, after a bill is introduced, we also
need open-accessible province-wide public hearings by a Standing Committee
of the Legislature before the bill is passed.
We need everyone
to call their nearest Liberal MPPs and tell them to call off these wrong-headed
plans, and instead to hold a proper open public consultation. For more
details on who to call, including a helpful action kit, visit:
You Are Invited
A Community Forum On The
Need To Rescue The Ontario Human Rights Commission
The Ontario Federation of Labour & Sam Gindin Chair In Social
Justice And Democracy, Ryerson University
& Judy Rebick (Co-Moderators)
5, 2006 At 5:30 P.M.
United Steelworkers Hall
25 Cecil Street (Spadina & College Area)
Guest Speaker: Mary-Woo
Sims, Former Chief Commissioner of the B.C. Human Rights Commission
Margaret Parsons, African Canadian Legal Clinic
David Lepofsky, Disability Rights Activist
Avvy Go, Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
- McGuinty's Government
has announced plans to dismantle Ontario Human Rights Commission and
move to a 'direct access' model.
- This means no more access to free investigation, mediation and legal
representation through the Commission, forcing people to hire lawyers
to represent them at the Tribunal.
- This means bigger barriers for people whose rights have been violated.
- We need a solution
that improves human rights protection, not one that puts money in the
hands of lawyers at the expense of most Ontarians.
- We are calling for immediate public consultation before any legislation
Please Confirm Your
Margaret Law At (416) 443-7656 or firstname.lastname@example.org
LONDON FREE PRESS FRIDAY MARCH 31, 2006
losing its clout
This letter concerns
the article, Human rights reforms chided (March 17), on the McGuinty
government's proposal to change the way human rights commission complaints
I find this an insidiously
regressive step that piles even more discriminatory barriers upon those
least likely to be able to withstand the financial implications.
I'm suspicious of the expertise of the "handful of human rights
lawyers" mentioned in the article, who apparently favour a "focus
on broader issues."
How many cases have
they fought before human rights tribunals on behalf of people with disabilities
who were trying to improve their lives and communities?
Where were they
when complainants with disabilities were trying to get the Toronto Transit
Commission to call out the stops for blind and visually impaired riders,
the Famous Players Theatres to renovate a beloved mid-town Toronto venue,
and the Woodstock Little Theatre to accommodate patrons who needed level
access to washroom facilities? Were these cases not sufficiently broad?
Where were their
voices when people with mental, physical and sensory disabilities were
fighting for 10 long years for a strong, effective Ontarians with Disabilities
I strongly urge
Dalton McGuinty to strengthen the Ontario Human Rights Commission instead
of ripping out and privatizing its teeth, guts and soul.
20, 2006 Via Fax and Mail
The Honourable Dalton
Re: Proposed Reforms
to the Ontario Human Rights Code
I wish to convey
the MS Society of Canada's serious concerns about the Attorney
General's recent announcement of plans to change the human rights system.
In our view, the proposal to reduce the powers and role of the Ontario
Human Rights Commission in the enforcement of the Ontario Human Rights
Code, and instead provide "direct access" to the Ontario Human
Rights Tribunal may very well disadvantage Ontarians who experience
Under the Code,
the Commission receives, investigates, mediates and litigates human
rights complaints in Ontario. We share your Government's concern that
the current human rights enforcement system takes too long, doesn't
adequately serve the needs of people who face discrimination and needs
to be improved.
However, we believe that your Government's proposal, though intended
to fix this situation, may inadvertently make things worse.
Currently, any person
who files a complaint of discrimination with the Commission has the
statutory right to have the Commission investigate that complaint, so
long as it is within its jurisdiction, not frivolous, vexatious or brought
in bad faith, and is not sent to another appropriate external complaint
If the Commission
investigates a human rights complaint, can't settle it between the parties,
and decides that the case warrants a hearing before the Ontario Human
Rights Tribunal (OHRC), one of the Commission's team of publicly-funded
lawyers will present the case before the Tribunal. In other words, people
who experience discrimination don't have to be able to afford a lawyer
or qualify for Legal Aid to ensure that a lawyer with specialized knowledge
in human rights will present their case to the Tribunal. The proposed
changes appear to take away that guarantee.
People with disabilities
will rarely be able to afford the costs of privately investigating their
own case. They won't have the public investigation powers that the OHRC
now has. Although the Attorney General has stated the Commission will
retain the power to intervene in cases before the Tribunal if it chooses
to, the implication is that other complainants will have to fight their
own cases. Unfortunately, this may result in "two-tier justice"
and is a step in the wrong direction.
We are also concerned
that these proposals run contrary to the basic understanding of how
the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) will be
enforced. When the new Act was being debated, many groups called for
a new, independent enforcement agency to be established, to enforce
the removal and prevention of barriers to access.
Your Government took the position that no such new independent agency
was needed, because Ontario already had the
Commission, with all its powers to receive, investigate and prosecute
human rights complaints. The proposed changes may seriously impact AODA
If the proposed
changes to the Human Rights Code are not revised, then we urge your
Government to amend the AODA to provide for the establishment of a new,
well-funded, independent enforcement body with a formal individual complaints
process and mandatory investigation duties.
We commend your
Government for recognizing the need to reform the Ontario Human Rights
Code enforcement process. However, we ask that you not proceed with
reform until the concerns we and many others have raised can be addressed.
We suggest as a
next step the development of a public consultation process before introducing
legislative change. We are eager to be involved with this process and
look forward to working with you on any plans for human rights enforcement
reform. Please contact Deanna Groetzinger, Vice-President, Communications,
at 416 967-3007 or via e-mail at
Thank you for your
consideration of this important issue.
Alistair M. Fraser
and Chief Executive
CARP'S OPEN LETTER
TO PREMIER MCGUINTY:
Re: Human Rights Commission "Reform" Violates Human Rights
CARP is disturbed
by your government's ill-proposed changes to the Human Rights Commission
- as well as the process chosen to carry them out. By splitting the
roles of the Commission and the Tribunal, you are imposing barriers
to Ontarians' human rights.
What you are considering
will weaken the Commission's current effective service to Ontarians
- and, in turn, strip many of their human rights. First of all, the
present free system will automatically be replaced by litigation. This
will be costly to the consumer. In fact, the major beneficiaries will
be the proponent of the changes: the legal community - and probably
the Province because the cost to the consumer will limit the number
of decisions by the Tribunal. Needless to say, many Ontarians will be
unable to pay legal fees.
In CARP's experience,
it is very important for the Commission to be directly engaged in human
rights issues. By limiting this role, the depth of their reports and
their capacity to act on their findings could be seriously eroded. CARP
worked with the Commission on "Time for Action," an outstanding
document which we promoted across the country as a model to fight age
Mr. Premier, do
the right thing! Put your proposal on hold and engage in broad public
consultation. Otherwise, the message to Ontarians is that you are willing
to violate their human rights based on their ability to pay. The example
of British Columbia's tampering with its Human Rights Commission shows
that ill-conceived changes do impede the course of justice.
Surely such a major
action must include input from all Ontarians. We urge you to reconsider
you plan until you have heard the voice of the people.
CARP is Canada's
Association for the Fifty-Plus. A non-profit organization with about
250,000 members in Ontario -- and 400,000 across the country. CARP's
mandate is to promote and protect the rights and quality of life for
Judy Cutler/Bill Gleberzon
Directors of Government & Media Relations
416 363-8748 ext. 241
of Ontario Accessibility Advisory Committees (COAAC)
Ontario L2S 2K1
March 27, 2006
Premier Dalton McGuinty
Re: Changes to the
Ontario Human Rights Commission's complaints process
I am writing as
the coordinator of the Coalition of Ontario Accessibility Advisory Committees
(COAAC) representing some 70 accessibility committees throughout Ontario.
We are a grassroots organization formed to give people who volunteer
their time to work on municipal and regional AACs a way of sharing information
and a voice when something they uniformly oppose arises.
We oppose the Attorney
General's intentions to make changes to the Human Rights Code without
consulting those affected by the changes.
for Ontarians Act (2005) and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2001),
legislated accessibility advisory committees to help municipalities
and regional governments accessible to all Ontarians. The work AACs
do touches everything from developing facility standards to lobbying
for grab bars in city hall washrooms, large type printed documents used
by employees and the public, employees' awareness training and looking
over architectural plans for new development. Thousands of people throughout
Ontario are involved in making the city or region they live in more
accessible by serving on these committees. The fact that there is now
a complaint process in place through the Ontario Human Rights Commission
gives us clout. If all else fails, we can go to the OHRC for advice
or start the complaint process.
I know our local
AAC in St. Catharines gave advice on a new sportsplex being built and
we were ignored. It took the architect a year to get back to us with
a letter saying he would take our suggestions into consideration. He
didn't and now the elevator in the complex is too small. One of our
members, who uses a fairly large reclining wheelchair was stuck in it,
unable to reach the buttons to open the door. We could have taken the
architect to the Ontario Human Rights Commission but he was working
on behalf of the city that passed the plans. We need the leverage of
the OHRC to be heard by the city and the people they hire.
This is also the
leverage some private citizens must use to try to make people in the
private sector see that training their employees how to work on a daily
basis with people who are disabled or to make their restaurant, hotel
or office building accessible is just plain good business and the humane
thing to do. If they simply ignore us, we can suggest that there is
a process through the Ontario Human Rights Commission that can help
them see the error of their ways.
A recent local incident
brought this home to me. A man in a wheelchair waiting in line to pay
his bill at a fast food restaurant was constantly being ignored. The
cashier kept telling people to go around him, he could wait. Finally,
someone said, "No he can't wait, he deserves to be served... take
his money, I will wait." The cashier was adamant. The champion
had enough clout to have her fired. The man in the wheelchair has experienced
a terrible form of discrimination...that of being ignored because he
is disabled. It is something that happens often but shouldn't. He could
have taken the restaurant owner and the cashier to the OHRC. He won't
because it is just too much work, it will take years for the case to
be heard, and after that length of time, no one will really be served
by it. That's as things stand now. If the new proposals are implemented,
he would likely have to go to a tribunal, present his own evidence,
hire his own lawyer, and fight the restaurant owner. His leverage will
be gone because there is no way on earth he can do what is required.
He can't fight back. In my books, this is picking on the weakest of
the weak. That man, who likely fights every day just to get up and out
of the house, will just sink a little lower in his wheelchair every
time someone does this to him. He'll feel smaller for being discriminated
against and having absolutely no recourse because the provincial laws
have been changed and do not take into consideration his inability to
fight on his own behalf.
I urge you, please,
do not let any change be made until the disabled community is heard.
Please do not take the teeth out of the AODA. Please don't make the
job of the thousands working on accessibility advisory committees throughout
Ontario more difficult.
We also endorse
the position of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
Alliance in their February 27 and March 23, 2006 letters to the Government.
CM, O.Ont., O.M.C., B.A., LL.D. (hon.)
- Accessible Niagara guide and www.accessibleniagara.com
cc - Michael Bryant
- Attorney General of Ontario
Peterborough Council for Persons with Disabilities
(Community Accessibility Advisory Committee)
c/o 500 George Street North
March 30, 2006
Premier of Ontario
281 Main Legislative Building
Dear Premier McGuinty:
Our Council for
Persons with Disabilities (CPD) wishes to add our voice to the many
others alarmed by the proposed changes to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
We are a member of the AODA Alliance and support the position they have
taken. Our CPD has been in existence since the 1980s and our membership
consists of people with disabilities of various types and we are joined
by others who are able-bodied with their own personal reasons for their
interest in the common cause. In keeping with the passage of your Government's
strengthened Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
in June of 2005, our CPD has continued in the capacity of the advisory
body namely, the CAAC for the City of Peterborough. This relationship
was initially formalized by a City Council resolution when the original
ODA was enacted in 2001. Throughout the years of the existence of our
CPD, our experience and established good reputation within the city
has been recognized as well as our activities in other broader endeavors.
This included the participation in the development of the original ODA
through the regional meetings reflecting the Government's view of the
wisdom of seeking the advice and input of people with disabilities themselves,
to ensure a meaningful piece of legislation. During this process we
were fortunate to have within our membership, Lois Harte-Maxwell, a
former City Councilor with a disability who had also been involved in
the earlier stages of the evolution of the Ontario Human Rights Code
in her participation in the coalition of the United Handicapped Groups
of Ontario (UHGO). In her capacity as its Executive Director, the group
joined in the successful effort to have the Code amended to include
disabilities. Thus, we feel we can make an informed initial judgment
as to the potential for a regressive piece of legislation regarding
this topic at hand should the Government of Ontario continue along the
path outlined in your proposed changes. We feel the recent gains made
by your Government in the AODA will also be impacted negatively as well
as the Ontario Human Rights Commission itself, given your current model
for its restructuring.
Please heed the
voices of the many people with disabilities who stand to be adversely
impacted by your proposed changes to the OHRC. It seems inconceivable
to us to witness the same Government that was moving in the right direction
to the great pleasure of persons with disabilities through the implementation
of the AODA with its associated requirements and goals for a barrier
free Ontario; with the added protection of the OHRC; now proposing deleterious
changes to the OHRC. To make matters worse, this action appears to be
taking place, minus the former attitude of inclusiveness and openness
to input and advice of the majority of affected citizens namely, people
with disabilities. We urge you to reconsider your position and ask that
you reach out once again, to Ontario's citizens with disabilities with
your former attitude of inclusiveness. How can we expect to enjoy a
barrier free Ontario in respect of the AODA if the Government itself
follows through with perhaps the implementation of possibly the greatest
barrier of all; an encumbered pathway to acquire a fair hearing for
those who need access to defend their human rights. The Government needs
to raise the bar to its former level or risk weakening the accomplishments
already gained through your enlightened leadership for a barrier free
Yours Very Truly,
Chair of Council for Persons with Disabilities
C. Michael Bryant,
Attorney General of Ontario
Sandra Pupatello, Minister responsible for the AODA
John Tory, Leader of the Official Opposition
Howard Hampton, Leader of the New Democratic Party
Jeff Leal, MPP for Peterborough
Catherine Dunphy, Chair, AODA Alliance
David Lepofsky, Former Coalition Chairperson
Jack Doris, Peterborough City Council Representative on CPD
Lisa DeFlorio, Access Co-ordinator & Liaison City of Peterborough/CPD
CPD Members & Members of the Standing Committees