| Oct 11, 2007

Feature Article - October 11, 2007

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Legalese - October 11, 2007

Enforcement of Human Rights in Ontario

by William A. Florence, Barrister and Solicitor

Legalese is a column of general information and opinion on legal topics by the lawyers of Rural Legal Services, Box 359, Sharbot Lake, ON, K0H2P0, 613-279-3252, or 1-888-777-8916. This column is not intended to provide legal advice. You should contact a lawyer to determine your legal rights and obligations.

The United Nations, on December 10, 1948, adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 1 states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” While having a human right is the simple part, enforcing a human right is another matter altogether.


The Ontario law, which affirms the inalienable nature of human rights and sets out how human rights are to be enforced, will soon be changed. The legislation is called the Ontario Human Rights Code. Section 1 of the Code states: “Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability.”

On June 30, 2008, the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2006, comes into effect. This will reorganize the procedure for the processing of “complaints” made about human rights violations in Ontario.

Currently, complaints are made to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The Commission investigates the complaint, and if an attempted settlement is unsuccessful, the Commission determines whether the complaint should proceed to adjudication. The entity that adjudicates the disputes is called the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The amendments to the Code will transfer the initial receipt of complaints directly to the Tribunal, as opposed to the Commission. The Commission will continue to be an active participant in Ontario’s human rights system, and promote the enforcement of human rights. For instance, the Commission is going to:

Expand its role in promoting a “culture of human rights” in Ontario;

Initiate its own “applications” (the new term for complaints), at the Tribunal;

Conduct public inquiries;

Act as an “intervener” in proceedings at the Tribunal; and

Conduct public education, develop policy, etc.

The changes to the human rights system in Ontario will also include the creation of a new entity, which will be called the Human Rights Legal Support Centre. This will provide independent legal and support services, ranging from advice to legal representation. Another resource, which already exists, is the Legal Aid clinic system. Clinics can assist with providing advice and legal representation on human rights matters for individuals with low income.

The “launch date” for the new human rights system is June 30, 2008. Until then, complaints are filed directly with the Commission. There will be a transition period of six months and a special procedure put in place for those complaints that the Commission has not completed dealing with, which were filed prior to the launch date.

If someone is considering delaying filing a complaint, so they can file an application directly to the Tribunal, it is important to keep in mind the limitation requirements. In general, the time frame in which complaints need to be filed to the Commission is six months from the date of the alleged discriminatory incident. When the new system is in place, the time limit for applications will be one year.

One of the Ministry of the Attorney General’s objectives behind instituting these changes to the system is to ensure that “all cases that meet the requirements of the legislation will receive early access to an adjudicator to be resolved fairly, effectively and quickly”. It is expected that there will be greater efficiency, due to redundancies in the current two tier system being eliminated. However, there was considerable debate regarding the proposed implementation of the changes, and the degree to which access to justice will improve remains to be seen.

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