OHRC Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall commented, “The year began with a dual celebration, as we marked the 50th anniversary of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the welcome addition of two new Code grounds, gender identity and gender expression. Yet, 50 years after Ontario’s Human Rights Code (the Code) was enacted there are still many people who believe that human rights violations are a thing of the past; everyday I am reminded that is not the case.”
For example, over the past year, the OHRC saw a young man stopped by the police for “driving while Black,” a woman fired because she was pregnant, a man who could not serve on a jury because his kirpan (a small ceremonial dagger that is a symbol of his faith) was not allowed in the courtroom, and a group of teenaged girls with mental health issues denied a safe place to live because of arbitrary zoning bylaws.
This report sets out some of the ways the OHRC is working to create systemic change to protect and improve human rights for all Ontarians.
- releasing Minds that Matter, a consultation report on human rights, mental health and addictions based on the OHRC’s biggest-ever public consultation. The report lays the groundwork for developing a policy on mental health to advance human rights for people with mental health and addiction issues.
- focusing on human rights in housing – OHRC wrapped up two public interest inquiries into rental housing licensing and worked with municipalities on zoning issues and taking legal action both at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the Ontario Municipal Board.
- addressing competing human rights issues – principles and approach set out in OHRC’s Policy on competing human rights were reflected in two important decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada: R. v. N.S. about a woman’s right to testify in a criminal proceeding wearing a niqab (face veil), and Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott about balancing the right to freedom of expression and religion with equality rights.
- identifying and eliminating discrimination based on race – continued working to embed a human rights culture in police services, build organizational change within the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the Ministry of Government Services, and drawing on the work of colleagues at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, identified First Nations and Aboriginal issues as a priority for building stronger and lasting relationships with First Nations communities.
- increasing public education efforts – the OHRC expanded its reach in social media, produced video vignettes featuring some of Ontario’s human rights pioneers, and worked with the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to produce Working Together, a video on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the Human Rights Code. This video is now required viewing for all Ontario Public Service employees.
This year’s Annual Report is available at: www.ohrc.on.ca.
Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall will be available for interviews on Tuesday, September 10th from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. as well as Wednesday, September 11th from 2:30 p.m. to 5:00. To arrange for an interview, please call Afroze Edwards, Communications, at 416-314-4528.
For more information:
Sr. Communications Officer
Ontario Human Rights Commission